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Acacia species are widely distributed through the drier regions of tropical and southern Africa, often the dominant tree and in some areas forming monospecific communities. In North Africa eastwards to Sind the genus is less well represented, mainly due to overexploitation, although in Arabia through Iraq and Iran eastwards to Pakistan and India species of Prosopis may replace Acacia both ecologically and economically.
Most species are important sources of browse, fuel and pole timber; some are important commercial sources of gum and tannin. Many are utilized by the rural populations in local medicines, for fibre, domestic utensils and handicrafts. Nitrogen-fixing, their potential for use in agroforestry, apart from a few species, has been neglected. Some can be effectively utilized for shade, shelter, live fences, soil stabilization as well as street trees and ornamentals.
In the past, the role of Acacia species in the rural economy and their economic potential has not been fully appreciated. For some rural communities they are absolutely essential for their survival, in others they may be of secondary importance. Importance is a relative concept, governed by availability and quality. Acacia seeds as a source of food are only just beginning to arouse interest, stimulated by the nutritional studies of seeds eaten by the Australian Aborigines!
The part played by Acacia species in the ecosystem is still imperfectly understood, the autecology of only a very few species has been studied; their associated biota are virtually unrecorded. Species of Acacia from Australia tend to be better understood and have consequently been widely introduced for timber, fuel, browse and ornamentals. That does not imply that they must be more suitable, just that knowledge leads to appreciation and helps to make them easier to manage.
Recent environmental and sociological changes resulting from prolonged drought, desertification, internal strife, AIDS and dwindling national resources and their effect on the rural economy are largely unrecorded. Indeed it would require a major international input to provide a proper assessment. Without such a study it is difficult to fully appreciate the role Acacia, and other species, must play in the rural economy of the present day.
Some of the information has been conflicting; deforestation has meant that species that were formerly economically important may have been replaced by other, often less effective, species. Changing economies has also meant that some usages are no longer required. However, the demand for fodder and fuel is likely to remain.
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