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Chapter 16. East Africa

Figure 16-1. East Africa: forest cover map

The subregion of East Africa lies between 21° north latitude and 11° south latitude. The Tropic of Cancer crosses southern Egypt near its border with the Sudan. With eight countries (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania),[31] East Africa covers a land area of 5.9 million square kilometres. The Sudan, with a land area of 2.4 million square kilometres, is the largest country in Africa. The subregion is bordered by the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean on the east (Figure 16-1).

East Africa is a relatively dry area strongly influenced by the Sahara Desert. Desert covers more than 1 million square kilometres, including all of the northern Sudan. The climate is characterized by high temperatures and low precipitation (less than 200 mm). Very arid and semi-arid climates are also found in Somalia, Djibouti and along the coast of Eritrea, with annual rainfall ranging between 400 and 750 mm. Most of Ethiopia and the mountains of Kenya have montane climates with higher rainfall and lower temperatures. Uganda and the coast of the United Republic of Tanzania are mostly characterized by a very humid climate with high temperatures and a very short dry season. The rest of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda have typical tropical climates with a long dry season.

East Africa has suffered from many social problems. The Sudan is involved in a civil war in the southern part the country and Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia have been devastated by war. Much of the population of Rwanda crossed the border to seek refuge in Tanzania and Uganda. Refugees from Somalia are in Ethiopia and Kenya. The effects of war, combined with the severe climate, have placed increased pressure on the land and have had a heavy impact through deforestation. Fires are a major problem. Desertification has increased, especially in the Sudan where 13 of its 26 states have been declared "affected by desertification" by the UN Convention for Combating Desertification (El Hassan and Mohamed 1999).

Table 16-1. East 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





2 317













11 759

1 563


1 585










110 430

4 377


4 593










56 915

16 865


17 096










62 734

7 512


7 515










237 600

60 986


61 627










19 964

4 147


4 190









United Republic of Tanzania

88 359

38 676


38 811









Total East Africa

590 078

134 132

1 291

135 423



-1 357






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.
*Partial result only. National figure not available.

Because of the very difficult social situation, there is little information on the forest resources of East Africa. Only three countries have relatively new data. Eritrea has recent forest cover mapping with a reference year of 1997 (FAO 1997). Tanzania has recently completed a land cover/forest mapping project with a reference year of 1995 (United Republic of Tanzania HTS 1997). Uganda has a biomass inventory dated 1992 (Uganda FD 1996). The Sudan has a partial forest inventory that covers the "gum belt" regions (Sudan FNC 2000). The other countries (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia) have old and fragmented information. Estimates by local experts provided the data for these countries (Bekele 2000; Ndambiri and Kahuki, 2000). The total forest area assessed by forest inventories is less than 0.5 million square kilometres and corresponds to about a third of the total forest cover. The largest area of the forest cover is in the Sudan, with 46 percent, followed by Tanzania with 29 percent and Kenya with 13 percent. The remaining 12 percent is located in the rest of the subregion. The forest area of the subregion accounts for 21 percent of the total forest area of Africa and 4 percent of the world's forests (Figure 16-2, Table 16-1).

Natural forests in East Africa total 134 million hectares. Uganda has the highest deforestation rate, but the largest area of deforestation occurs in the Sudan, where it is estimated that almost 1 million hectares are deforested annually.

The heavy deforestation occurring in the subregion is not balanced by tree planting. The primary use of wood in East Africa is for fuel. Despite successive wars the Government of Eritrea has set up a programme to protect natural forests by permanent and temporary closures of areas of natural vegetation, replanting of indigenous species and increases in the areas of plantations (FAO 1997). The tree planting programme focuses to a large extent on planting Acacia senegal for the production of gum arabic. The most recent tree planting efforts in Ethiopia were in the 1970s when significant areas of eucalyptus plantations were established. Today most of these areas are degraded. The Ethiopian Forestry Action Plan of 1994 recommended a serious programme of tree planting within the next 20 years. Kenya established significant areas of plantations during the 1970s and 1980s (Kenya MENR 1994), but the area planted declined in the 1990s. Because of civil war almost no tree planting activity has been reported in Somalia. The Sudan has the largest area of plantations with significant areas of Acacia senegal and A. nilotica (Sudan FNC 2000). Plantations in Tanzania are estimated to be 0.3 percent of the total forest area and this is predicted to increase in the future. The most important product is fuelwood. To meet increasing demand and secure its sustainable resources, Tanzania has recently revised its forestry strategic plan. Forests supply about 90 percent of the energy demand in Uganda. However, plantations only account for 1 percent of the total forest area.

Figure 16-2. East Africa: natural forest and plantation areas 2000 and net area change 1990-2000


Information on forest management is generally lacking for East Africa. Ethiopia was the only country in the subregion that provided national-level information to FRA 2000 on the forest area covered by a formal, nationally approved forest management plan (Table 16-1), while Kenya provided partial information (plantations only). Although not reported for FRA 2000, some forests in natural reserves and national parks are also covered by management plans in several East African countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

In several countries, the available forests cannot meet the increasing demand for fuelwood. At the same time, countries of this region recognize that indigenous forests are able to provide a variety of valuable products when well managed. Biodiversity is regarded as a potential source of income, especially when wildlife is considered.

Although the Sudan has had forest legislation for a long time, forest management is not well established. A forest policy was issued with the objective of reserving 20 percent of the area of the country as forests under sustainable management at the end of the 1980s. At the beginning of the 1990s, about 4 percent of the total forest area had been reserved under a presidential decree, but none of the areas were reported as under management for FRA 2000 (Sudan FNC 2001).

Ethiopia is mainly an agricultural country with limited forest cover. The indigenous forest is still shrinking owing to rapid deforestation. Forestry activities are currently being reorganized (Bekele 2000). The government is moving towards a federal system and, in the future, the regions will carry out forest management activities. During this transition period little activity has taken place.

Eritrea has no tradition of formal forest management. A forest policy has been developed since independence and the major effort has been to try to reduce the degradation of the country's resources by planting trees on mountains and escarpments and along roadsides.

Forest management activities are almost non-existent in Somalia. There is little information on fuelwood requirements and most areas are under strong pressure.

In Kenya, the forest areas under management are mainly industrial forest plantations (Kenya MENR and FINNIDA 1992) and some indigenous forests in protected areas, although the government recognizes the role of these forests in agriculture and livestock management and their key role in sustaining wildlife. The tourism industry in this country is highly dependent on wildlife and provides a major contribution to the country's income.

Fuelwood is a major use in Tanzania, but the forests are also a source of income from non-wood forest products (honey, tannins, gum arabic, etc.) and tourism. According to the National Forest Policy (United Republic of Tanzania MNRT 1998), about a quarter of the forest area is devoted to national parks, forest reserves and game reserves. All these areas are reportedly under management although no information was provided for FRA 2000 on the area of forest management plans. In the latest revision of the National Forest Policy, published in 1998, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism declared that sustainable management of the resources is a major issue to be addressed and that it will also try to promote sustainable forest management outside forest conservation areas. These forests are subject to conversion to other uses such as shifting cultivation and grazing and also suffer from degradation due to repeated forest fires.

Deforestation is a major problem in Uganda. Forests are rapidly decreasing even though the country is the most humid and wet in the subregion. The main reason is conversion to agriculture and clearing for fuel. In 1992 the government tried to address the problem with a National Tree Planting Programme (Uganda 1998). The programme was also assisted by NGOs and the private sector in afforestation and reforestation programmes under agroforestry practices, in peri-urban plantations and in private woodlots. The government and NGOs also agreed to promote the use of energy-efficient technologies.


Assessment of forests was not straightforward for this region. Most of the work was carried out in close cooperation with local experts who supplied information and local knowledge. The results highlight a situation of progressive degradation and reduction of East African forests due to social conditions created by war, population pressure and the limited potential area of forests. Wars also increased poverty in the area and were a disincentive to donors and investments.

Forest fires are a major problem in most of the region and, unfortunately, although the countries are conscious of the consequences, there are almost no programmes to monitor and control them.

Desertification is progressively affecting the hot, dry areas of the Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Forest resources are seriously threatened by droughts and adverse human activities such as grazing, fires and shifting cultivation. Afforestation and reforestation programmes are badly needed. Degraded areas around large settlements require immediate action. Programmes are also needed to substitute other sources of energy, at least for industrial needs.

Adequate forest policies need to be developed and applied. There is a strong need for sustainable forest management, especially in countries dependent on forests for fuelwood, timber, non-wood forest products and tourism. Countries with small or diminishing forest resources, such as Eritrea, Somalia and the Sudan, need forest policies to support tree planting and forest management.


Bekele, M. 2000. Ethiopia submission to FRA 2000.

Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement - Institut d'élevage et de médecine vétérinaire des pays tropicaux (CIRAD-IEMVT). 1991. Carte de la végétation et des ressources pastorales. 1/250 000. Institut de la carte internationale de la végétation (1987).

El Hassan, H.M. & Mohamed, Y. 1999. Personal communication.

Ethiopia. Ministry of Natural Resources Development and Environmental Protection (MNRDEP). 1994. Ethiopian Forestry Action Program (EFAP).

FAO. 1993. Forest plantation inventory and management planning - Kenya - project findings and recommendations. FO:DP/KEN/86/052. Terminal report. Nairobi.

FAO. 1997. Support to forestry and wildlife sub-sector. Pre-investment study. TCP/ERI/6721. Rome.

Getachew, E. 1999. Assessment of fuelwood resources in Acacia woodlands in the rift valley of Ethiopia. Towards the development of planning tools for sustainable management. Doctoral thesis. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeaa, Sweden.

Hawkes, M.D. 1991. Lower Shabelle Region woodland inventory starter kit - Forestry development and strengthening of the forestry department. GCP/SOM/042/FIN. Rome, FAO.

Kenya. Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR) & Department for International Development Cooperation, Finland (FINNIDA). 1992. Kenya Forestry Master Plan. First incomplete draft.

Kenya. MENR. 1994. Kenya Forestry Master Plan. Kenya.

Ndambiri, J.K. & Kahuki, C.D. 2000. Kenya submission to FRA 2000.

Sudan. Forest National Corporation (FNC). 2000. Country submission to FRA 2000.

Sudan. FNC. 2001. Summary brief on the forestry sector in the Sudan.

Uganda. Forest Department, Ministry of National Resources (FD, MNR). 1996. The national biomass study (NBS). Kampala.

Uganda. 1998. Country report on assessment of the intergovernmental panel on forest proposal.

United Republic of Tanzania. Hunting Technical Services (HTS). 1997. Forest resources mapping project. National Reconnaissance Level Land Use and Natural Resources Mapping Project. Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT).

United Republic of Tanzania - Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT). 1998. National Forest Policy. Dar es Salaam.

[31] For more details by country, see

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