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Forestry in Eritrea has undergone many changes as a result of which the vegetative cover which was about 30 % a century ago is now a little over 10 % of its total land area. In the past, Eritrean forests woodlands and pastoral savannahs hosted a wide diversity of wildlife species. As it would be expected, the deforestation and general degradation of the environment has negatively affected the survival of wildlife. Increased hunting and deforestation have triggered the decline of wildlife and affected the viability of many animals and forest resources.

This paper examines the past and present management practices, and also puts forward suggestions and recommendations on what should be done for the next two decades so that the forest and wildlife resources can be managed on a sustainable basis. The paper consists of five sections. Section one covers the general background of Eritrea i.e. Geography, Demography, Economy and Forest types. The second section deals with the change drivers i.e. the main factors, which brought about the changes in the environment in general and to forests and wildlife resources in particular. The third section discuses about the past and present forest management practices and principles undertaken. The fourth elaborates the change facilitators i.e. the steps and measures that should be taken in order to improve the forestry and wildlife sector of the nation. Summary and conclusions are dealt with in the last section. Relevant tables, Organisational Chart of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest Cover Map of Eritrea are annexed.


The primary objective of this paper is to introduce the past and the present forest conditions and activities and management principles undertaken, and future proposals on what should be done to alleviate the precarious and fragile environment and how to sustainably manage the forest resources of Eritrea.

One other objective might be Eritrea, through the Forestry Outlook Study for Africa (FOSA), will be able to incorporate a long term vision into the planning horizons; place forestry into a larger economic and social context; and will also be provided with a framework help for shaping its own national forestry programmes. Eritrea will be able, through FOSA, to form a basis for a review of forestry projects and make contacts with lending and/or donor institutions so that the sector can get benefit. In this context FOSA will also be able to incorporate national forestry ideas into regional once. Eritrea will have all the rights and privileges and will enjoy these by virtue of being an FOSA member state.

This forum will facilitate the exchange of views and new ideas and share experiences with FOSA experts in general and with experts of sister African countries. One can learn a lot from this type of forum such as the causes and effects of deforestation, socio-economic structures, customs, history, the past and present forest management practices and principles and future proposals of sister African countries. In addition to these the forum will create a linkage among different countries through say exchanging experts.

As it is known to most of the FOSA member countries Eritrea is a new country that was liberated in 1991 and has got its formal independence in 1993. Since independence, as shown in this paper a lot has been done in the field of forestry as in other sectors, however, a lot is remaining still to be done. This forum will give one an insight on what and how to tackle forestry problems.


Area, Location and Population.

The State of Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa i.e. northeastern part of Africa between latitudes 120N and 19oN and longitudes 36oE and 44oE. It is bounded by the Red Sea on the east, Djibouti on the southeast, Ethiopia on the south, and the Sudan on the west and north. It has a coastal line of 1,200 km stretched along the Red Sea Coast.

The country has more than 350 small and medium sized islands on the Red Sea. It has a total area of 125,788 square kilometers and although no population census has been taken place since 1991 the population is estimated to be about 3.5 million, which is growing at the rate of 2.9 % per annum. Some 65% of the population live in the central highlands, which is equivalent to 16% of the total area.

According to the Human Development Report, 2000 published for UNDP the total population of Eritrea in the year 2015 will be 5.5 million. The annual population growth rate from year 1998 to 2015 is 2.6 %. The urban population as percentage of the total in the year 1998 was 18 and in the year 2015 it will be 26.2; and one can estimate that by the year 2020 the population will be 6.5 million and the urban population as percentage of the total will not be higher than that of 2015. This is because of the following reasons:

The policy of the GoE is to narrow the gap between the urban and rural life styles. More emphases are given to the development of rural areas of course without forgetting urban development. The over all plan in the coming two decades is to construct and develop new infrastructure and maintain the existing ones such as opening up new factories, health clinics, veterinary clinics, hospitals, schools, roads, rail ways, water points, electricity supply, telephone lines, etc.). The GoE has already started in initiating some of these projects.

As population increases the demand for fuelwood will increase as a result of which deforestation will increase. But with proper manpower utilisation and proper resource management and environmental oriented policy it is possible to improve the vegetation cover of the country. If properly managed and as the same time if some sort of alternative energy sources are introduced the supply of fuelwood would be enough to cater for the demand of the people for the coming two decades.

Administratively, Eritrea is divided into 6 Zobas (Regions). They are Maekel, Debub, Gash- Barka, Anseba, Debubawi Keih Bahri and Semienawi Keih Bahri. These Zobas are sub divided into 53 sub-Zobas.

Eritrea is a young country, which is liberated in May 1991 from Ethiopia after a thirty-year war of liberation. Two years later, a UN supervised referendum was conducted to ascertain the wishes of the people. In the referendum 99.8% of the people voted for independence and the State of Eritrea was officially proclaimed. Soon after, Eritrea was admitted to the UN, OAU, and many other regional and international organisations and institutions


Topography and Climate

The rugged and bisected central highland plateaus dominate the topography of Eritrea, which rises to 3,000 m. a. s. l. in the center and north of the country. The highest peak is the "Emba Soira" which is 3180 m.a.s.l. The eastern edge of the plateau falls in a dramatic escarpment of the coastal plain, which around Bada drops to 100-120 m. below sea level. To the west of the highland is the Western Lowlands of elevation 1000-1500 meters, the main features being the Gash-Barka rivers which drain the highland waters to the Sudan.With such a variety of landscapes, a wide variety of ecosystems are represented, ranging from deserts through savannas to montane forests.

The topography determines the climate in Eritrea. Hot and arid temperatures are prevalent in the lowlands, particularly in the eastern part of the country, while temperatures in the highlands are cooler. Maximum temperatures in the highlands are 26 0C in May, and the minimum may reach freezing points in December to February at night. Extreme high temperatures of over 500C are recorded in the hottest period of the year in the Bada Depressions. Although there are three major ecological zones in the country i.e. the highlands, the eastern and the western lowlands, many agro-climatic zones at the micro-level are found determined by the topography.

There are two rainy seasons in the country. The main rainy season in the highlands and western lowlands is June to August, but this is normally preceded by small rains in April and May. In the eastern lowlands rains fall from November to March. Annual precipitation in the highlands varies from 400 to 700 mm, and increases from north to south. In the lowlands, rainfall varies widely with extreme low averages. In the desertic climate of the coastal plains, mean annual precipitation is below 200 mm. The Green Belt Zone receives the highest annual rainfall averaging about 900 mm (LRCPD, MoA, 1999).


The soils of Eritrea are varied and complex. In the northern and southern sections of the Red Sea coastal plains, they are predominantly sandy desert soils. In other part of the plains, ortho-solonchaks, regosols, and andosols are to be found. In the highlands, the predominant soils are chromic, eutric, and calsic cambisols of strong red colour. Other soils found in the highlands are lithosols, xerosols and fluvisols. Soils in the western plains include vertisols and fluvisols (LRCPD, MoA, 1999).


The Eritrean economy declined continuously during the 30-year-war-for-liberation between early 1960’s and early 1990’s. However, the Government of the State of Eritrea (GoSE) has made remarkable achievements since independence. There is a positive economic trend. An impressive GDP growth of 9.8 % was in fact recorded in 1994, although this dropped to only 3 % in 1995 mainly due to drought. In 1996 and 1997 robust GDP growth of 6.8 % and 8 % were achieved, respectively poising the economy from a further sustainable growth, as inflation was reduced from a double digit in 1995 to 3.2 % in 1996 and 2 % in 1997. Since mid 1998, the economy has suffered a setback following border war with Ethiopia, as trade and trade routes between the two countries were disrupted. Therefore, GDP growth for 1998 amounted only to 4% and inflation increased to 9%. Figures for 1999 and 2000 are not yet available, but expectations are that the economic performance for these years should not be much different from that of 1998 because of the continuation of the war. The economic expansion, in spite of the war, is mainly due to an outstanding growth of agriculture, which was blessed with good rains. As an important sector in the country, the performance of agriculture has a major impact on the whole economy (FAO, 2000; World Bank, 2000).

80% of the population is engaged in agriculture, (crop cultivation and animal husbandry) and this is the main source of their livelihood. During good seasons such as 1998 and 1999, the sector is able to produce sufficient food for the population, hence reducing the country’s import bill. In addition, agriculture is the main supplier of raw materials to the local industries including cotton, skin, hides and oil seeds. It is also the main foreign exchange earner through the export of live animals, skin, hides, gum Arabic and incense.

With its diverse agro-climatic endowment, Eritrea has a very high potential for growing a variety of temperate and tropical crops. Of the estimated arable land of 3.2 million hectares, about 10 % are presently cultivated indicating wide scope for agricultural expansions. Moreover, prospects for agricultural intensification are ample given the low average yield of the major cereal crops such as maize, sorghum, taff, barley and wheat. The country’s irrigation potential of some 0.6 million hectares is also yet to be exploited.

Apart from agriculture, the country is believed to have important natural resources such as precious metals, petroleum and natural gas. Exploration to assess these resources is underway, and it is hoped that mineral exploitation will commence shortly, although more explorations are believed to be needed before petroleum could be exploited.

Fish is a firmly known resource in Eritrea, and important investments in infrastructure and human development programmes are being implemented in order to utilise the resources systematically. Food production and export are expected to provide the country with significant foreign exchange incomes.

Tourism is also a sector that has high potential for development as the country is endowed, inter alia, with naturally attractive coral reefs and wildlife species.

In general Eritrea’s economic development policy is based on the establishment of a dynamic private sector-led, outward looking market-economy. The intention is to make the private sector the lead actor in the economic life of the country. The role of the government is limited to creating a conducive environment for development by maintaining law and order, sound macroeconomic policies, and by providing the social overhead capital, (health facilities, schools, access roads, rural electrification) that is necessary to facilitate development.

The GDP in Eritrea at the end of 1999 was estimated at U.S.$ 677 million. GDP per capita is some U.S.$ 200-220. According to data available in the Ministry of Finance the sectoral shares in the year 1999, which average 26.3 percent for agriculture, 19.5 percent for industry and the balance for services, fluctuate with rainfall, which is the main determinant of agricultural output. (However, according to the World Bank the sectoral shares are 12 % for agriculture, 27 % for industry and the balance in services).Changes in the agricultural share are compensated mainly by movements in the share of services. The share of industry would have been more stable until the recent war, when tertiary exports to Ethiopia nearly collapsed (World Bank, 2000).

Within the rural sub-sector, staple crops contribute 35 to 40 percent of agricultural GDP, cash crops perhaps a quarter, and livestock, forestry and fishing the remaining 40 percent. Cereals dominate within the staple crops and ruminant livestock within the animal sub-sector (World Bank, 2000).

The agricultural contribution to GDP is low despite the fact that 80 % of the population are engaged on it. The reasons are:

Farmers are ill equipped. Majority does not use modern agricultural inputs such as fertilisers, improved seeds and other inputs that boost yield. In some localities farming is done by means of oxen, which is not productive.

Only limited number of farmers does use farm mechanisation and those who use are on limited localities only.

Agriculture in the country is mostly rain fed. Eritrea is drought prone with average annual rainfall of between 200 mm to 700 mm except on the Green Belt of the eastern escarpment, which receives about 1000mm annually. Rainfall is low and is erratic. Rains may come before or after the usual time, which is not conducive to the growth of crops. Soil moisture is poor. Farm holdings are small and are distributed in bits and pieces and in far areas.

There is crop loss or damage during pre and post harvest periods and due to the attack by pests, insects and viruses. Threshing is done by oxen and is primitive. There is also loss of yield while threshing and collection.

Raising crops for cash is very little. Export of crops is on its infant stage, however, it is developing now.

Work on crop diversification is in its beginning though some work is being done on small scales on pilot areas.

Because of these factors the yield both qualitatively and quantitatively is poor. There is low yield per land area in addition to wide variations in the area cultivated and estimated total production. The crops the farmers get is only for subsistence, in fact in some areas the yield is below subsistence level and there is food shortage.

In a country where primitive agricultural system is practised it is difficulty to obtain high yield that supplies the demand of the people. The product from such a system may not be enough for subsistence let alone for export.

Because of the above reasons, even if it is true that 80 % of the population depend on agriculture its contribution to the GDP is very low.

During the next two decades more emphases will be given to the development of industry and services. As said earlier too much dependency on rain fed agriculture does not pay off much. Hence efforts will be made to increase land under irrigation whenever possible.

Eritrea’s strategic location provides an easy access to African, European and Middle Eastern markets. The motivated workforce combined with improvements to infrastructure, such as transport and communications network, enhance the country’s comparative advantage in export- oriented manufacturing industries. Eritrea is well placed to offer competitive services in the region. When its infrastructure is improved substantially, it will be positioned to become a successful export of tourism, transport and financial services. Its pleasant and divers climatic conditions its Red Sea gateway and its proximity to major tourist markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa offer substantial potential for the development of tourism and transport services, as well as offshore banking and other financial services.

The contribution of the different sectors to the GDP in the coming two decades is given in Table 1.



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