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Forest genetic resources, which represent the value of hereditary variation between and within species, are a necessary and essential value to forest permanence and the maintenance of their productivity. They constitute an essential component of the biological diversity of forest ecosystems.

Forests in Sahelian and North-Sudanian Africa include closed and open forests, plantations, parklands, savannah and steppe formations. They supply a wide range of goods and services essential to the life of rural communities as well as to the development of local and national economies. Trees and shrubs contribute to the production of building timber, fuelwood, forage, foods, essential oils, gums, resins and rubber, medicines, and provide shade. They also encourage soil protection and regulate water flows, and represent living receptacles for fundamental values regarding aesthetics, ethics, culture and religion.

These forests are located in areas dominated by subsistence agriculture and numerous herds. Forestry and agroforestry systems have frequently been disrupted by changes in land use, particularly over the last 20 to 30 years, together with a succession of drought years and considerable population growth. In many places, the growth of agriculture, increased fuelwood harvesting, and intensification of grazing, have brought about strong pressures on forests.

The genetic resources of forest trees and shrubs are most commonly stored in living trees, in contrast to most agricultural crops for which genetic diversity can be relatively easily stored and conserved in seed banks. Variations in forest cover, quality and composition have therefore direct impacts on the extent and patterns of genetic variation of forest trees and shrubs.


The consequences of man-made pressures and climatic fluctuations on the integrity of forest genetic resources in the Sahelian area have been only partly documented and analysed in a systematic way but are worrying enough to be the object of growing concern both for national and international institutions.

Given the urgency of the problem in Sahelian Africa and in other regions of the world, FAO brought up the issue of forest genetic resources in order to discuss it in greater depth with representatives of Member States during the thirteenth session of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO) in March 19971.

1 See also FAO. 1997b; FA0. 1997c; FAO. 1998a.

After discussion, the Committee on Forestry decided that “there was an urgent need for concerted action to strengthen national, regional and international activities in the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources, to help enhance country capacities and to support the exchange of information, experiences and know-how”(extracts of the report of the Thirteenth Session of the Committee2). “Efforts in this regard, which rested on the principles of national sovereignty over natural resources, as set out in the Forest Principles and the Rio Declaration, should be country-driven in recognition of the fact that the most appropriate action varied according to environmental, social and economic circumstances, institutional and legal frameworks, and prevailing needs and priorities of countries concerned”. Finally COFO added that “FAO, in conjunction with Regional Forestry Commissions and countries that request it, could convene regional and sub-regional forest genetic workshops complementary to those already held in 1995 for boreal and temperate zones3”.

2 Report of the Thirteenth Session of the Committee on Forestry, Rome, Italy, 10 – 13 March 1997. Document COFO-97/REP. FAO, Rome.

3 See Canadian Forest Service and FAO. 1996; Rodgers, D.L. and Ledig F.T., 1996.

Following up on these recommendations, FAO adopted a certain number of provisions to help countries which so wish to prepare sub-regional and regional action plans for the sustainable utilization and conservation of forest genetic resources, through the convening of regional workshops.

In September 1997, FAO, the International Plant Genetic Resource Institute (IPGRI) and the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) united their efforts to assist national institutions in Sahelian and North-Sudanian Africa to organize a sub-regional workshop on the conservation, management, sustainable development and valorization of forest genetic resources.

Two consultants, Messrs. B. N. Kigomo4 and A. Nikiéma5, released from institutions in the sub-region, visited several countries to discuss the process in 1997 and 1998. It was agreed that each country willing to take part in the initiative would prepare a national report beforehand summarizing the status of forest genetic resources. The form and contents of these reports were decided in close collaboration with the countries and harmonized so that all aspects associated with forest genetic resources be studied and in order to develop a regional synthesis at a later date6. Based on 12 reports received in mid August 1998, a synthesis project was drafted by Dr O. Eyog Matig (Cameroon), IPGRI consultant, for presentation to participants to the workshop.

4 Kigomo, B.N. 1998b.

5 Nikiéma, A. 1998.

6 See Appendix 12 for details on the format recommended for drafting national reports

The sub-regional workshop was held at the National Forest Seed Centre in Ouagodougou (Burkina Faso), 22-24 September 19987. Participants examined and commented on the regional synthesis project and put forward a number of observations. They also debated and adopted a project for a sub-regional action plan on forest genetic resources, and discussed the ways and instruments for its implementation. The current document summarizes the results of these efforts.

7 See Summary Report of the Workshop in § II.7 and in Sigaud et al. 1998.

The sub-regional workshop had also been prepared during a training session on forest genetic resources organized by IPGRI in collaboration with FAO, ICRAF and other international, regional and bilateral partners, for French-speaking countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This training session8, the first of its kind in the region, gathered nearly all the national focal points responsible for drafting the national report in francophone Sahelian Africa. A proposal to launch a research programme on forest genetic resources in sub-Saharan Africa (SAFORGEN) was made by participants and later developed in Ouagadougou in September 1998.

8 The report of the training workshop is available in the publication “Vers une approche régionale des ressources génétiques forestières en Afrique sub-saharienne”, A.S. Ouédraogo and J.M. Boffa, editors. IPGRI, 1999.


This document comprises two parts:

- a part describing the State of forest genetic resources in Sahelian and North-Sudanian Africa. The technical information was provided by countries through the national reports on forest genetic resources prepared before the workshop. A first draft synthesis prepared by Dr O. Eyog Matig was reviewed and complemented by the national experts during the meeting. The contributions of workshop participants, and data from national reports received after the workshop, are included in this final version. General data on forests and trees in dry-zone Sahelian Africa, used especially in the first part of the work, were taken from State of the World’s Forests9 and other publications mentioned in the bibliographic references.

9 State of the world’s forests, FAO, 1999.

- a part devoted to the compilation at sub-regional level of tree and shrub species considered priority at national level, and to outlining action identified as priority in the regional context by participants at the Ouagadougou workshop. This part makes up the Sub-regional action plan on forest genetic resources in Sahelian and North-Sudanian Africa.


For better harmonization of current or forecast initiatives concerning forest genetic resources, action has focused on an eco-geographic zone within which natural, social and economic conditions are likely to bear certain similarities. This approach was expected to facilitate the identification of issues and opportunities that are common to several countries in the given zone. The initiative outlined in this document only considered data from areas with annual average rainfall higher or equal to 300 mm and lower or equal to 1 000 mm. Information on the Guinean, Sudano-Guinean and Saharan forest areas has not been included.

This document concerns those countries which are fully integrated into the western Sahelian zone (Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad) and the eastern Sahelian zone (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan)10. In addition, a certain number of countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea with a considerable proportion of dryland forests were included in the analysis. In particular, this was the case with Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Togo, where forest formations in northern areas offer similar aspects to those in the Sahelo-Sudanian or North-Sudanian areas.

10 Due to fragmentary information and the lack of updated national reports, four countries (Cape Verde, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau and Somalia) are not included in the tables of data on genetic resources.

The map in Appendix 3 depicts the dry tropical forests of Sahelian and North Sudanian Africa and the limits of the zone considered in this document.


Scientific names of certain species which lacked consensus in national reports had to harmonized on a case-by-case basis. This is the case with Acacia albida or Faidherbia albida (called Faidherbia albida in this report), Butyrospermum paradoxum subsp. parkii or Vitellaria paradoxa (the name used is Vitellaria paradoxa) and Cassia siamea or Senna siamea (here referred to as Senna siamea). The verification work for species scientific names did not extend to all taxa, and a certain number of species might thus be described by several names. A short index of Latin, French and English names is provided in Appendix 2.

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