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Chapter 17. Southern Africa

Figure 17-1. Southern Africa: forest cover map

The subregion is bordered by the Indian Ocean in the east and the Atlantic-Indian basin in the south and includes the countries of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Saint Helena, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.[32] The total area is 6.49 million square kilometres, a substantial part of which belongs to the Kalahari Desert ecosystems. Despite the vast area of the Kalahari Desert, the forest cover in this subregion is moderately high at around 30 percent of the countries' total land area (Figure 17-1).

The subregion is characterized by different climatic conditions depending on location. On the southern side of South Africa the climate is warm-temperate humid (Gelgenhuys 1993). It becomes subtropical north of the Cape region, in Lesotho and southern Mozambique and then tropical in the remainder of the subregion. In the western strip, from Angola to north of the Cape region, the dry climate of the tropical Kalahari Desert dominates. The rainfall regimes also vary greatly. The average annual precipitation is very low and limited to a few rainy weeks in the desert area to more than 2 200 mm in the mountains of Tsaratanana in Madagascar (Madagascar ONE 1997) and Gurue and Chimanimani in Mozambique (Chidumayo 1997).

Economic, social and environmental functions of the forest cover and resources vary greatly among countries. Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zambia have the greatest timber production capacities from natural forests. The ecological conditions in Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and South Africa do not favour timber-producing natural forests. In countries such as Malawi and Zimbabwe, natural forests of high timber potential were largely eliminated through clearing for agriculture, fuelwood and pole collection, infrastructure development and overstocking of domestic animals. The forestry sector continues to be a huge reservoir providing an array of goods and services vital to the livelihood of local populations in all countries. The proportion of the population in these countries living in rural areas is still very high and people rely to a large extent on forest resources for shelter, food, energy, construction material, employment and other products for domestic consumption as well as for trade (Howell and Convery 1999).

To alleviate the lack of natural forest cover in countries such as South Africa and Swaziland, considerable effort was undertaken to create and maintain artificial forests that are nowadays highly productive.


Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland have relatively recent data from national forest surveys prepared during the 1990s. The national forest inventory of Mozambique was an updating of the first one carried out in 1980. It is the most complete in terms of maps and statistics and was produced from successive inventories at ten-year intervals. Data sets for Angola, Saint Helena and Zambia were produced from surveys done in 1983, 1980 and 1978, respectively. Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe do not have information from inventories with national coverage. Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland prepared detailed forest maps of their forests.

In this subregion only Mozambique and Swaziland have complete updated and historical data which facilitate the estimation of forest cover and forest cover change for 2000. In Botswana, the only information is the soil map, which is of limited usefulness for forest cover estimation. The description of vegetation for each soil type is vague and inaccurate (De Wit and Bekker 1990). Angola's baseline information covers the entire country, but it is generally based on crude secondary sources of low reliability (Horsten 1983). In South Africa, information on natural forests is incomplete and refers merely to broad classes of vegetation, including shrub and forest formations, whose reclassification into the FAO classes is not straightforward for lack of clear definitions. It was produced from the National Land Cover Survey (South Africa DWAF 2000). The same source provides better information on plantations. It gives total planted areas, their distribution by zone and species and the volume of various products extracted.

Namibia and South Africa are among the countries with the least forest cover in the subregion. This is because they include a substantial part of the Kalahari Desert where woody vegetation is sparse whenever it exists. Lesotho and Saint Helena have the least cover. The lack of forest cover in Lesotho is reportedly the result of unfavourable natural factors for forest development (climate and poor soils) combined with excessive use of the limited resource by rural people for fuelwood and construction material and the demand for land for other uses (Lesotho Forestry Division 1996).

Angola's forest cover accounts for 36 percent of the subregion's total forest area, followed by Mozambique and Zambia with 16 percent each (Table 17-1). These three countries total about 68 percent of the forest cover while their land area makes up only 43 percent of the subregion. The subregional forest cover is about 30 percent of the continent's forest area. Compared to the world, it is about 5 percent, although the total land area amounts to only 22 percent of Africa and 5 percent of the world.

The extent of the natural forest cover is closely correlated with the level of annual precipitation. Natural forest is more abundant and developed in areas where precipitation is more than 400 mm per year. Below this amount, woody vegetation tends to be shrubs and bushes. On the eastern side of Madagascar, and to a lesser extent at some sites in the north of Angola, where rainfall is high and frequent all year round, moist and tropical rain forests are common.

Forests are also widespread across the tropical dry regions where miombo, mopane and Acacia woodlands are dominant. According to Chidumayo (1997) woodland is an ecological designation for stands of trees in relatively dry regions with pronounced seasonal effects and distinct physiognomic and structural characteristics. Miombo woodland is the most extensive vegetation type and covers a substantial area of Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It extends north to the United Republic of Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Miombo woodland is dominated by the presence of leguminous trees of the genera Brachystegia, Isoberlinia and Julbernardia, which are associated with others such as Uapaca kirkiana, Acacia spp., Afzelia quanzensis, Pericopsis angolensis, Bauhinia spp., Burkea africana and Combretum spp. Mopane woodlands occupy areas of low rainfall and high temperature from Inhambane and Tete provinces in Mozambique to north of Namibia and southern Angola and large areas of Zimbabwe and Botswana. The main species in this formation are Colophospermum mopane associated with a wide range of other species such as Adansonia digitata and Sclerocarya birrea (Chidumayo 1997; White 1983). Acacia woodland is common in various parts of the Zambezian phytoregion where the rainfall is low and the soil is suitable. Along the coast from Cabo Delgado to the Cape of Good Hope, woody vegetation is characterized by coastal forests with different floristic, structural and physiognomic properties from the woodland types (White 1983). Dry montane forest occurs in small patches at higher elevations.

Table 17-1. Southern 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



124 670

69 615


69 756










56 673

12 426


12 427










3 035













58 154

11 378


11 727










9 409

2 450


2 562










78 409

30 551


30 601










82 329

8 040


8 040









Saint Helena













South Africa

121 758

7 363

1 554

8 917










1 721













74 339

31 171


31 246










38 685

18 899


19 040









Total Southern Africa

649 213

192 253

2 601

194 854



-1 741






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.
Mangroves are very common along the coast of the tropical regions with a large concentration in Mozambique, where the area was estimated in 1990 at 396 000 ha (Saket 1994a), in Madagascar, estimated at 332 000 ha (WCMC 2000) and in Angola, where there are an estimated 28 000 ha (Horsten 1983).

With the exception of Swaziland, where the forest cover has changed positively over the last ten years, all other countries show various levels of deforestation (Table 17-1, Figure 17-2). Angola, Mozambique and South Africa show relatively low deforestation rates of 0.2 to 0.1 percent per year. Rates of deforestation depend on the combined effects of many factors in relation to development and conservation policies, reigning ecological conditions, the fragility of ecosystems and the social environment such as the size and economy of the rural population, employment opportunities for rural people, intensity of use, etc. South Africa (South Africa DWAF 2000) reported that 46 percent of its national population is rural and 9.2 million rural dwellers live in and around the forests and woodlands. About 31 percent of the national population use wood as their main energy source. Commercialization of forest products was reported to be increasing as more people seek additional opportunities for cash income. The causes of deforestation in South Africa seem to be mostly from unsustainable exploitation. In Angola and Mozambique, a positive effect on natural forests of the long-running civil wars was reported by various studies. Vast areas in these countries became totally inaccessible for security reasons as local people fled to large settlements and safe corridors, thus creating conditions for recovery of the forest vegetation. Since the restoration of peace in Mozambique in 1992, signs of accelerated deforestation have become more visible everywhere as a result of the return of refugees to their homelands. The unbalanced distribution of people prevails in Angola and, while deforestation is very high in some safe zones, it does not occur in the large unsafe areas (Saket 1994a).

The largest deforestation rates in the subregion occur in Malawi and Zambia, where forests are being converted into agriculture and settlement areas (Zambia MENR 1998). In absolute terms, Malawi loses 71 000 ha per year and Zambia 851 000 ha. The losses in Zambia amount to 49 percent of the deforestation in the subregion. Zambia is losing 14 times more forest per person than Malawi. The lower per capita rate in Malawi, despite its low living standard, has to do with the establishment of national conservation policies for natural resources that have already become scarce (FAO 1999).

The final group of countries, composed of Botswana, Madagascar, Namibia and Zimbabwe, has moderate deforestation. When deforestation is expressed in terms of area, Zimbabwe has the highest rate with 320 000 ha per year followed by Botswana and Madagascar. Expressing deforestation as area per person, Botswana takes the lead with 0.08 ha followed by Namibia with 0.05 ha and then Zimbabwe with 0.03 ha.

South Africa reported the largest planting programme with 1 554 000 ha, or 1.3 percent of its national land area. Swaziland's total plantation area of 160 500 ha amounts to 9.3 percent of its land area. Madagascar, Angola and Malawi spent moderate efforts in tree planting. Most of the forest plantations in these countries are for industrial purposes such as wood pulp.

In terms of woody biomass, Angola accounts for almost 27 percent of the subregional total, followed by Zambia with 23 percent. Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zambia have 78.1 percent of the biomass while the total land area accounts for less than 52 percent of the subregion. Madagascar shows the highest tonnage of biomass per hectare. Malawi and Swaziland also have relatively high biomass per hectare owing to well-stocked plantations.


Lesotho was the only country in southern Africa that provided national-level information to FRA 2000 on the forest area covered by a formal, nationally approved forest management plan (Table 17-1). Partial information was available from three countries (Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) in the form of the forest area which had obtained third party certification by the end of 2000. For South Africa, this area corresponds to 9 percent of its total forest area. Madagascar reportedly had 397 000 ha of natural forest under management (Madagascar MEF 1999), although no information was provided for FRA 2000.

Figure 17-2. Southern Africa: natural forest and plantation areas 2000 and net area change 1990-2000

Mozambique prepared its first forest management plan in 1999 as a model for a 45 000 ha timber concession. Application of management planning policy to productive natural forest is a national concern that is reflected in the newly revised legislation but remains dependent on factors external to the forestry sector and on a number of practical concerns (Saket 1999a). South Africa's management planning covers mainly plantations (South Africa DWAF 2000). Woodland and natural forests are still largely unmanaged. Zimbabwe has recently initiated some work on woodlands and a technical note on woodland management in Zimbabwe was prepared in 1992 (Hofstad 1992).

Zambia's management policy is described in its Forestry Action Plan, which recognizes the need for sustainable forest management if the nation is to be able to curb the considerable deforestation every year, to sustain timber production and secure protection of biological diversity and watersheds. In Malawi, the annual consumption of fuelwood was estimated at 6.4 million cubic metres against an annual growth of 5.3 million cubic metres (as of 1995). The deficit was thus 1.1 million cubic metres that had to be taken from growing stock, further depleting the resource (Moyo et al. 1993).

In South Africa, 95 percent of the protected areas do not have complete inventories of all groups of fauna and flora (South Africa DWAF 2000). According to White (1983), the South African ecosystems constitute a reservoir of biological diversity. In South Africa, the contribution of the forest to biodiversity includes 40 to 71 mammals, 106 birds, 649 woody plants and 649 herbaceous plants. Sixteen percent of the mammals and 13 percent of the birds are rare and endangered (South Africa DWAF 2000). There are at least 8 500 plant species in the Zambezian phytoregion of which 4 600 are endemic, more than 7 000 species in the Cape phytoregion with about half of them endemic, 3 500 in the Karoo-Namib phytoregion with more than half endemic, 3000 in the Inhambane-Zanzibar phytoregion with several hundreds endemic and about 3 000 in the Kalahari-Highveld phytoregion but with only a few endemic. The southern African countries have moved to protected areas of various types under such designations as national parks, game reserves and forest reserves (White 1983).

The forestry resources of the southern African countries are predominantly in State ownership. In Mozambique, for instance, all the lands, and thus the resources, are owned by the State. The situation is similar in Zambia and Angola. In the other countries, the private sector has limited access to ownership of forest resources (Saket 1994a).

Owing to a climate characterized, in most of the subregion, by pronounced wet and dry seasons, high temperatures and low air humidity and frequent droughts, the vegetation consists of open to relatively close-canopy deciduous forests, thickets or shrubs with an abundant grass layer. The long dry season, the loss of tree foliage and the accumulation of abundant dry material on the ground from leaf litter, dry grass and fallen dead branches create optimal conditions for intensive fires each year from May to October. In Mozambique, for instance, 40 percent of the country is burnt by fire every year and more than 80 percent of the area affected is forested (Saket 1999b). If an average of 7 tonnes per hectare of dry biomass (leaf litter, grass and dead branches) are burnt, the total biomass consumed by fire in Mozambique alone amounts about 157 million tonnes (Chidumayo 1997).

Forest fires are mostly caused by humans for various reasons such as improving visibility for hunting, facilitating timber exploitation, clearing land for agriculture, protecting households, opening land for settlement and charcoal making. Sometimes people set fires for no obvious reason. Fires are also frequently set during honey collection or cooking or accidentally by cigarettes. Forest fires started naturally (e.g. by lightning) are rare.


Assessment of forest cover and change for the southern African countries was not straightforward. National definitions of forests and trees and the classification systems differed widely from those used in FRA 2000. However, close collaboration with these countries permitted local experts to work with the FRA team to reclassify the national vegetation, land use and land cover classes into the global classification system.

The quality of information on the status of forest cover in southern Africa is governed by the economic, social and environmental importance of the resources. In countries where natural forests do not produce timber and the priority of the subsector in national policies is very low, little information is available. Existing data in some countries are frequently generated from land use, soil or other thematic mapping work that pays little attention to the forest cover. The low timber potential of the forests in the subregion, compared to the tropical rain forest, also contributes to the scarcity of up-to-date information, even in the most forested countries. The only country in the subregion that has carried out two successive national inventories in the 1980s and 1990s is Mozambique, but further updating is not yet programmed. In some countries wildlife development projects were the origin of information on forests within these limited protected areas.

Land clearing for agriculture, forest fires and overexploitation for fuelwood and timber are reported as the major causes of deforestation in all countries. Zambia has the highest deforestation rate. In Mozambique, pressure on resources is mounting since the return of refugees following restoration of peace in 1992. Forestry legislation is usually outdated and practical implementation is still very limited in many countries for a number of reasons, including lack of operational funds, understaffing, insufficient training of technical staff and weak policing systems (Saket 1999b).

Pastures are widely overused, with subsequent soil erosion and desertification in large parts of the subregion where rainfall is low and irregularly distributed over the year. In countries where timber is exploited under licences for selected species and quantities without regard to proper silviculture, the forests have been deeply degraded or even stripped of a number of their most valuable species and their biodiversity adversely affected (Saket 1994a; Saket 1999b). Deforestation and degradation of natural forests may in some areas be attributable to international demand for tropical timber and to increasing demand for fuelwood. The loss of forest cover is contributing to soil erosion, causing water pollution and siltation of rivers and dams.


Angola. Ministère de l'agriculture et du développement rural (MADR). 1994. Rapport de la mission de consultation pour le sous-secteur forestier. Luanda, Institut de développement forestier (IDF).

Chidumayo, E.N. 1997. Miombo ecology and management, an introduction. Stockholm, Environment Institute.

De Wit, P.V. & Bekker, R. 1990. Explanatory note of the land system map of Botswana. Gaborone, Soil Mapping and Advisory Services.

FAO. 1999. State of the World's Forests 1999. Rome.

Gelgenhuys, C.J. 1993. Composition and dynamic of plant communities in the Southern Cape Forests. Pretoria, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Hofstad, O. 1992. Technical note on woodland management in Zimbabwe. Harare, Forestry Commission.

Horsten, F. 1983. Madeira, uma análise da situação actual. Luanda, Sector de Divulgação e Informação, Direcção Nacional da Conservação da Natureza (DNCN), Ministerio da Agricultura.

Howell, D. & Convery, I. 1999. Socio-economic study on communities in future concession areas: recommendations for equitable and sustainable management. Maputo, Direcção Nacional de Florestas e Fauna Bravia (DNFFB).

Lesotho. Forestry Division. 1996. Lesotho national forestry action plan. Programme document. Maseru.

Madagascar. Ministère des eaux et des forêts (MEF). 1999. Rapport national sur le secteur forestier malgache, by Randriama Ampianina, V. & Razafiharison, A. Proceedings of sub-regional workshop on forestry statistics. EC-FAO Partnership Programme GCP/INT/679/EC, subregional workshop for Congo Basin countries, Lambarene, Gabon, 27 September-1 October 1999. Rome, FAO.

Madagascar. Office national pour l'environnement (ONE). 1997. Bulletin statistiques, environnement. Antananarivo.

Moyo, S.P., O'Keefe, P.O. & Sill, M. 1993. The Southern African environment, profiles of the SADC Countries. London, Earthscan Publications.

Saket, M. 1994a. Report on the updating of the exploratory national forest inventory. Maputo, DNFFB.

Saket, M. 1994b. Study for the determination of the rate of deforestation of the mangrove vegetation in Mozambique. Maputo, DNFFB.

Saket, M. 1999a. Management plan for the timber concession area in Maciambose, province of Sofala. Maputo, Direcção Nacional de Florestas e Fauna Bravia (DNFFB).

Saket, M. 1999b. Tendencies of forest fires in Mozambique. Maputo, DNFFB.

South Africa. Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF). 2000. Report on the state of the forests in South Africa. Pretoria, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry.

White, F. 1983. Vegetation of Africa - a descriptive memoir to accompany the Unesco/AETFAT/UNSO vegetation map of Africa. Natural Resources Research Report XX. Paris, UNESCO.

World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC). 2000. Forest and protected areas, Madagascar.

Zambia. Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR). 1998. Zambia forestry action plan, volume 1 - Executive summary. Lusaka, MENR.

[32] For more details by country, see

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