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Chapter 13. North Africa

Figure 13-1. North Africa: forest cover map

The subregion is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and includes Algeria, Egypt, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Morocco, Tunisia and Western Sahara. The area is 6 million square kilometres, of which 94 percent is in the desert ecosystems of the North African Sahara.[28] The forest cover in this subregion is among the lowest in the world at around 1 percent of the land surface (Figure 13-1).

The subregion is characterized, in general, by a hot and dry to very dry climate. Its northern part falls under the temperate influence of the Mediterranean, while the central and southern regions are desert. Owing to the latitude range from 19° to 37° N and altitude of up to 4 165 m in the High Atlas of Morocco, the rainfall regime is quite variable. The average annual precipitation is below 100 mm in the Sahara but as high as 1 500 mm in the regions of Ain Draham and Djebel El Ghorra in Tunisia and up to 2 000 mm in the mountains of Morocco. However, less than 10 percent of the subregion receives more than 300 mm per year. A hot, dry sirocco wind blowing north from the Sahara is frequent during the summer season, bringing blinding sand and dust storms to the coastal regions.

In the past, under the combined effects of severe climate, growing populations and lack of adequate land use planning, the forest cover suffered from large-scale deforestation. Clearing of forests and the use of fire for cultivation and grazing reduced the cover to patchy relics as compared to the reported cover present during previous centuries. Overgrazing, fires (particularly in Algeria) and droughts continue to hamper efforts to conserve and develop forests. In the absence of adequate forest cover in most of the region, the process of desertification has continued, critically affecting fragile ecosystems as well as the economy.


Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia prepared national forest inventories in 1982, 1995 and 1996, respectively. Morocco's national forest inventory included Western Sahara (Morocco AEFCS 1996d). The Algeria data set is obsolete. Information used by FRA 2000 was generated from a countrywide inquiry led by a local consultant. It was a simple updating of the 1982 inventory on the basis of local knowledge. Tunisia and Algeria have started updating their forest inventories. Their new inventories involve comparable mapping methodologies and sampling designs. The sampling schemes are, however, based on independent sets of temporary plots. Results from Egypt and the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya were produced from secondary sources.

Table 13-1. North Africa: forest resources and management


Land area

Forest area 2000

Area change 1990-2000 (total forest)

Volume and above-ground biomass (total forest)

Forest under management plan

Natural forest

Forest plantation

Total forest

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha


ha/ capita

000 ha/ year


m3 / ha


000 ha



238 174

1 427


2 145










99 545












Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

175 954













44 630

2 491


3 025










16 362












Western Sahara

26 600












Total North Africa

601 265

4 569

1 693

6 262









Total Africa

2 978 394

641 830

8 036

649 866



-5 262







13 063 900

3 682 722

186 733

3 869 455



-9 391






Source: Appendix 3, Tables 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9.
Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia account for 91 percent of the forest cover in the subregion, although the land area of these countries accounts for less than 50 percent of the total land area of the subregion. The subregional forest cover is about 1 percent of the continent's forest area and about 0.16 percent of the world forest area, although the subregion's total land area accounts for 20 percent of Africa and 4.5 percent of the world (Table 13-1, Figure 13-2).

The extent of natural forest cover is closely correlated with annual precipitation. Natural forest is thus more abundant in a 100 to 200 km zone in the north of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco where annual rainfall ranges between 300 and 2 000 mm. It decreases, becomes scarce or even completely disappears as annual rainfall decreases towards the south and the east of the subregion.

These findings are based on FAO definitions of forests and trees. At the national level, however, other vegetation components are reported as part of forest cover. Shrub formations of garrigue and maquis, without a tree layer, are widespread. They consist of two main groups of species. The first includes shrubby species that, under all edaphic and climatic conditions, remain below tree size when mature. Among these species are Arbutus unedo, Alnus glutinosa, Calycotome villosa, Myrtus communis, Prunus avium and Rosmarinus officinalis. The second group consists of species that are dwarfed because of soil and or climate unsuitability. Among these are Pinus halepensis, Quercus suber, Quercus ilex, Quercus coccifera, Olea europaea, Pistacia lentiscus and Ceratonia siliqua. The area of garrigue and maquis is estimated at 1 249 640 ha in Morocco (Morocco AEFCS 1996d), 1 662 000 ha in Algeria (Ikermoud 2000) and 328 000 ha in Tunisia (Selmi 2000). The steppes of Stipa tenacissima (alfa), which is an herbaceous ecological succession of garrigue from pine forest, are reported as part of the forest domain in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Except for Morocco, forest cover change is positive in all countries of the subregion. Egypt shows the highest change rate of 3.3 percent followed by the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (1.4 percent), Algeria (1.3 percent) and Tunisia (0.2 percent). The positive change of forest cover in this region is mainly the result of tree planting efforts and also of policies oriented towards resource conservation. The high rate of change in Egypt is due to the fact that the amount of forest cover is very small and any tree planting makes a significant difference.

In terms of area, Algeria reported the largest planting programme. An average of 29 411 ha are planted every year, followed by Tunisia with 4 500 ha, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya with 1 100 ha and Egypt with 100 ha. Morocco reported an average annual planting of 40 ha. The area of planted forests was estimated at 1 693 000 ha and accounts for about 27 percent of the total forest cover of the subregion.

Figure 13-2. North Africa: natural forest and forest plantation areas 2000 and net area changes 1990-2000

The largest amount of woody biomass is found in Algeria, which accounts for 50 percent of the total biomass in the subregion. Algeria is followed by Morocco with 38 percent, Tunisia 4 percent and the rest of the countries with 7 percent. The relatively high biomass in Algeria is due to the high stocking level of forest plantations.

There are no systematic studies on biodiversity. The information available was produced from national forest inventories or from spatially limited vegetation community and wildlife surveys. Despite the droughts and aridity that characterize the area, this subregion has conserved an important part of its original fauna and flora. Tunisia's flora, for instance, is still rich at 2 200 species (Selmi 2000). Among the endemic vegetation species in North Africa, 20 are found only in Tunisia (Tunisia DGF 1997).

Morocco's relief and diversity of climate have favoured a great diversity of ecosystems, which means an appreciable floristic wealth. Over 4 200 species and subspecies have been recorded, of which 800 are endemic. In Algeria, the various bio-climatic conditions, ranging from Saharan in the south to humid in the north, has favoured a rich flora; 3 300 vegetation species have been recorded of which 640 are threatened and 256 are endemic (Algeria DGF 2000).


Formal management of forests in the North African countries started gradually in the early 1950s. Since then important achievements have been made in putting a substantial part of the resources under management plans. Only two of the six countries in North Africa provided national-level information for FRA 2000 on the forest area covered by a formal, nationally approved forest management plan (Table 13-1). Algeria reported that 597 000 ha or 28 percent of its forest area was covered by a formal management plan, whereas Tunisia reported that 400 000 ha or 78 percent of its forest area was covered by such a plan. Auxiliary reference sources indicate that a large percentage of the forest area of Morocco (about 80 percent) was also under management (Morocco AEFCS 1996c) although no information was provided for FRA 2000. Egypt and the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya did not provide information on the status of forest management for FRA 2000.

In Tunisia, management planning covers the productive forests. Because of their high environmental, social and economic value, maquis and garrigue are also planned for future management. Among the existing plans, 50 percent need updating (Tunisia DGF 1997).

Algeria's achievements in forest management planning are notable. Plans essentially cover productive forests of Pinus halepensis, Pinus pinaster, Quercus faginea, Quercus afares, Quercus ilex and Quercus suber. Priority for management planning and implementation is given to P. halepensis because of its environmental and economic importance. For other species, particularly Q. suber, Q. faginea and Q. afares, there are delays in implementing management plans (Tunisia DGF 2000).

In Morocco, priority has been given to natural forests where stands are composed of species that have high social and economic value. Management has been extended to various formations of Cedrus atlantica, Pinus spp., Q. suber and a number of other broadleaf and coniferous species (Morocco AEFCS 1997).

Since the main function of forest cover is protection of soil against erosion and the landscape from further degradation, efforts have been employed to establish protected areas in national parks and natural reserves. Tunisia has established eight national parks covering about 200 000 ha, of which 12 percent are composed of various forest formations. The national parks were designed to protect relics of forests or threatened wildlife and vegetation species. Therefore, they cover a wide spectrum of ecosystems (Tunisia DGF 1997).

Algeria's protected areas system, excluding the desert parks of Ahagar and Tassili in the south, extends over an area of 250 000 ha, of which 113 000 ha are covered by various forest formations and 59 000 ha by maquis. As in Tunisia, the protected areas include a large array of ecosystems of particular interest for their biodiversity (Algeria DGF 2000).

The biodiversity of Morocco is among the highest in the Mediterranean basin. In order to protect this national heritage Morocco has identified a network of protected areas composed of ten national parks and 146 reserves (Morocco AEFCS 1996b). This protected area system harbours an important array of ecosystems. The forest area in the national parks is estimated at about 120 000 ha.

Algeria's forest resources are mainly State-owned with only 8.7 percent belonging to private entities (Ikermoud 2000). In Tunisia, the private sector owns about 5.2 percent of the forest cover, all of it in plantations (Selmi 2000). Privately owned forest in Morocco was estimated at 2.9 percent of the total forest cover. All the private forests are planted. Information on ownership is not available from Egypt or the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

Forest fires are a great threat to forest resources despite efforts to limit their negative impact. In Algeria, the number of fires recorded in the forest domain varies from year to year. The lowest number recorded during the past 15 years was 562 fires and the largest was 2 322, with an average of 1 256 (Ikermoud 2000). The average area affected by fire each year over the same period was estimated at 37 917 ha or 1.8 percent of the national forest cover. Over the same period Tunisia recorded 134 fires with an average impact of 1 783 ha per year (Selmi 2000), which accounts for 0.4 percent of the nation's forest cover. No information is available on forest fires for the other countries in the subregion, but in view of the social, economic and environmental similarities among the countries, the impact of forest fires is likely to be analogous to that in Algeria and Tunisia.


Assessment of forest cover and change for the North African countries was not straightforward. National definitions and classification systems differed widely from those used by FRA 2000. Close collaboration with Tunisia and Algeria permitted national experts to reclassify their national classes into the global classification system. Information on the forest cover of Morocco is the most recent (Morocco AEFCS 1996d). Results of its national forest inventory were published in 1996. This included information on the forest cover of Western Sahara, which was extracted. The existing sets of data from all countries were produced from single inventories without information on change over time. As Tunisia is more advanced in updating its inventory, preliminary results were used and gave preliminary trends.

Reported data on forest plantations are sometimes misleading. They often include enrichment planting in naturally regenerated stands or shrubby species such as Atriplex spp., Acacia spp., Calligonum comosum, Prosopis juliflora, Opuntia ficus-indica and Parkinsonia aculeata used as fodder, for dune fixation or for soil stabilization (FAO undated).

Forest resources have been recognized by the countries in the subregion as important economic, social and environmental assets. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, the most forested countries, deploy considerable effort in the conservation, development and exploitation of their resources on a sustainable basis through improved legislation, sustainable management and implementation of challenging development programmes. As a result, effects of desertification are minimized despite unfavourable natural and social conditions and the sector's productivity has improved significantly. Many products are extracted from the forests including timber and other wood and non-wood products. The contribution of the forestry sector to the national economies and to meeting the needs of rural people in these countries is appreciable. In Morocco, for instance, the contribution of the forestry sector to the national economy is estimated at 10 percent of the agricultural gross domestic product if all resource uses are considered (Morocco AEFCS 1997).

In addition to timber and fuelwood, cork produced from Quercus suber bark generates important income. Morocco has 366 000 ha, Algeria 230 000 ha and Tunisia 46 000 ha of this species, producing about 15 000 tonnes (Morocco AEFCS 1996c), 9 600 tonnes (Ikermoud 2000) and 8 100 tonnes (Tunisia DGF 1997), respectively.

Forest ecosystems in these countries have many functions, not only economic, sometimes discordant. Under climatic conditions that are sometimes extremely severe the forest is expected to perform multiple functions to produce various wood and non-wood products for household consumption and industrial processing for the local market or even export, to protect biodiversity, to conserve soil and water and to combat desertification (Algeria DGF 2000; Morocco DGF 1997).

Forestry and wildlife legislation varies considerably among the countries of the subregion. It was recently revised in Tunisia and Morocco, where new concepts of local population involvement, incentives for tree planting and the condition that "the forest domain should not be reduced" were introduced. Although legislation has succeeded in reducing the rate of deforestation in some countries and in halting it in others, the forest cover in the subregion continues to diminish because of fires and particularly overgrazing. The North African countries, despite their recent social and economic development, still have large rural populations that graze livestock. A substantial part of the livestock pasture is in the forest, which has led in places to severe degradation because of a complete failure of natural regeneration (Algeria DGF 2000; Tunisia DGF 1997; Morocco AEFCS 1996a).

Increasing pressure on resources by people in the subregion, in addition to the severe climate and low soil fertility, has rendered ecosystems even more fragile, and in some places their renewal is jeopardized. Natural forest, where it is under the strict control of local foresters enforcing appropriate legislation, is protected from significant conversion to other land uses. The problem that still remains, which can deeply affect the resource, is the general degradation of forest cover and biodiversity over time. Desertification is also progressing northwards, making the recovery of vegetation on cleared and abandoned land impossible without human assistance through soil preparation, use of fertilizer and watering during regeneration (Algeria DGF 2000; Tunisia DGF 1997; Morocco AEFCS 1996a).


Algeria. Direction Générale des Forêts (DGF). 2000. Etude prospective du secteur forestier en Algérie. Algiers.

FAO. Undated. Ressources forestières de la Libye. Working Paper. Rome. (unpublished).

Ikermoud, M. 2000. Evaluation des ressources forestières nationales. Algiers, Algeria, DGF.

Morocco. Administration des Eaux et Forêts et de la Conservation des Sols (AEFCS). 1996a. Colloque national sur la forêt, rapport des modules. Rabat.

Morocco AEFCS. 1996b. National parks and natural reserves of Morocco. Rabat.

Morocco AEFCS. 1996c. Maroc. Rabat.

Morocco AEFCS. 1996d. Rapport final, inventaire des ressources forestières du Maroc. Rabat.

Morocco AEFCS. 1997. 17ème session du comité CFFSA/CEF/CFPO des questions forestières méditerranéennes, Silva Mediterranea, rapport national. Rabat.

Morocco AEFCS. Undated. Apperçu sur le Maroc forestier. Rabat.

Selmi, K. 2000. Tunisia, rapport sur les ressources forestières en Tunisie pour le FRA 2000. Tunis, Tunisia, DGF.

Tunisia. Direction Générale des Forêts (DGF). 1995. Résultas du premier inventaire forestier national en Tunisie. Tunis.

Tunisia DGF. 1997. Plan directeur national des ressources forestières et pastoral. Tunis.

[28] For more details by country, see

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