Four major forest types are recognized (White 1983):
a. Tropical rain forests (TRFs): They occur in areas with annual rainfall of >2500 mm, are ever-green, luxuriant with great species diversity. They contain most of the region's biological diversity - significant both in terms numbers of species (quantity) and species endemism (quality). TRFs as a whole contain higher stocks of carbon per hectare than any other terrestrial ecosystem in SSA. The genetic material they sustain also has significant development potential. The dense types of TRFs cover nearly 86.5 million hectare and are concentrated in the rich Guineo-Congolean belt in West and Central Africa. This belt holds over half of all the species in the Afro-tropical realm, including 8,000 plants, 80 per cent of which are endemic. About 20 per cent of the remaining forests in West Africa and 7 percent in Central Africa are now in protected areas. But a recent review has identified important gaps in the existing protected area system within the Guinea-Congolian belt.
b. Tropical dry forests: They dominate the continent, and represent 75 per cent of the total amount of this forest type in the world. The moist deciduous forests occur in areas with annual rainfall of 1000-2000 mm, while forests of the dry and very dry zones occur in areas with rainfall of 500 to 1000 mm per year. They mostly comprise open woodlands and forest fallows. Although tropical dry forests contain far less biomass per unit area than TRFs, they have important consequences for soil protection and water regulation in the fragile dry country. They also provide valuable habitats for wildlife and contribute significantly to carbon sequestration.
c. Tropical montane forests: They occur at an altitude of 500 m and above, in the highlands of Ethiopia, Central Kenya, parts of Tanzania and Malawi and the mountainous areas around Lake Victoria. They cover about 35 million hectares (including hills). Although less diverse than TRFs, they have global significance because of the many rare and endemic species (e.g. the primates in the mountainous regions of Rwanda and Uganda), consequences for regional development, and protection of watersheds of international rivers.
d. Mangrove forests: They are often lumped with TRFs, cover about 3.5 million hectares, and occur in the inter-tidal zone or estuaries and creeks at scattered points along the East African coast. They stretching from small patches on the Red Sea coast, and on the Indian Ocean, South of Mogadishu, extending southward towards the Kenyan -Tanzanian border to southern Africa and along the West African coast line. These ecosystems are important as spawning habitats for fish and other marine life, and ensure the protection of water quality in coastal areas.
Unique wetland forests also occur along riverbeds, lakes and swamps in drylands. These forests support important habitats for biodiversity that provide food and various raw materials of socio-economic importance, but are currently under mounting pressure from harvesting of utility products and conversion to agriculture.
Ownership determines the type and quality of forest management and the state of the vegetation. Three categories of forest ownership are common:
i. Forests in the forest and wildlife reserves, and traditional parks. They are managed by the central government according to government policies. The vegetation in wildlife and game parks is managed for game development and viewing by tourists. By contrast, the forest estate is managed for production of utility products, conservation of environment and biodiversity. The public is only allowed to collect specified products such as dried fuelwood and medicines on allocation of appropriate permits.
ii. Forest on Customary and Trust land: Such forests were gazetted under the trust land or related Act, and are managed under agreements with the chiefs or local councils on behalf of communities.
iii. Forests on private land: Such forests vary in size from a few hectares in individual holdings to large blocks in commercial estates.