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The importance of Acacia species in rural life in dryland Africa and the Near East cannot be overstressed. Acacia formations are the major component of 817 million hectares of dry and very dry woodlands and steppes of Sub-Saharan Africa. They are always present even in the heart of the Sahara and the Kalahari, where other hardy species have given up in the harsh dry conditions; they are an important link in the ecosystems of dry zones on which many wildlife species rely; they are a major support to the livelihood of the population in large expanses of the Sahelian steppes up to the woodlands of the Sudanian zone and the deserts of the Near East.
Acacia formations are central to the sustenance of the huge herds of cattle, sheep and goats of these regions; they contribute to the increasing energy needs of households in rural as well as in urban areas and they provide timber for shelter, handicrafts and utensils. The non-wood tree products that they offer to human communities include the universally used gum arable, tannin from pods, leaves or bark, medicines and many other commodities. All these are still intensively used in Africa and the Near East and will remain so for some time to come.
The influence of Acacia species as individuals and stands in maintaining and restoring soil fertility is of paramount importance to populations who cannot always afford to buy fertilizers to sustain their agricultural production. Finally, one should not forget the role of Acacia trees in the landscape and in beautifying villages and individual dwellings.
The Forestry Department of FAO has, since 1990, accumulated information on the Acacia species and corresponding formations with particular reference to their contribution to rural development in Africa and the Near East. A number of specialists have provided useful reports on West Africa (Pr. Guinko Sita of the University of Ouagadougou); East Africa (Mr. Abul Ghasim Seif El Din from Sudan); Near East (Professor Ibrahim Nahal of the University of Aleppo, Syria). Dr G.E. Wickens has prepared the present report from the contribution of A.G. Seif el Din "A first synthesis for Africa" and other documentation available in FAO, the U.K. and elsewhere. It is hoped that it will be useful to researchers and development agents in the field. FAO is greatly indebted to these colleagues mentioned above and to all who commented on previous drafts.
This work was conceived and coordinated by E.H. Sène, Chief, Forest Conservation, Research and Education Service, Forest Resources Division, Forestry Department. Colleagues in this arid the Forest Resources Development Service, and members of the Subgroup on Desertification of FAO's Interdepartmental Working Group on Environment and Energy, which deals with drylands, contributed valuable and helpful guidance and comments.
Information will continue to be gathered on the role of local and exotic Acacias in Africa and the Near East, especially in relation to their contribution in combating desertification, for future updating of this report.
Forest Resources Division
Always present... where other hardy species have given up.
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