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African forest resources and their development


An extract from the FAO Africa survey shortly to be published

Forests and forest policy

EXPERIENCE in Africa has shown that, in the absence of careful forestry planning, in the broad context of general land-use planning, the nations' forest resources will not be used to best advantage and may be dissipated by unwise exploitation or neglect. In some African countries, the forest capital is already being rapidly depleted, a fact hitherto largely obscured.

The disappearance of the forest can be seen where communities clear the land on the forest edge, and where crops are introduced even on steep hillsides as in the montane regions of Kenya, Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia, or in bordering savanna areas where the subdesert encroaches. Future field work will undoubtedly indicate what modifications are necessary in tropical Africa to principles for forest protection accepted in other regions.

Throughout the Sahelian zone, from Senegal to Sudan, the shrub and thorny forest along the desert fringes may be of relatively limited value in themselves, but to their value should be added the much more important ability to reduce the force and to check the sting of the desert winds, to check shifting sands and the advance of subdesert, and to restore conditions favorable to human life and grazing. The destruction of Acacia and Commiphora forest and their replacement by pure but thin grass cover represents in itself a change towards more desiccated conditions and erosion. Land-use planning should provide where essential for the maintenance of tree vegetation, since the new establishment of a tree cover in semi-arid zones with long periods of drought is most difficult and costly.

In the Sudanian and Guinean zones of the Upper Volta and north Ghana, the need for the useful protective effects of tree cover is particularly evident. Sound management of the Volta watershed can help to achieve regular stream flow, limit flood damage, check river bank erosion, reduce the silting of reservoirs for the hydroelectric industry and irrigation. "Gallery forests" along African rivers should be subjected to a very strong conservation effort.

The protective effect of tree plantations as shelterbelts to reduce wind erosion and evaporation is well understood in humid areas, in drier regions of Africa, in the miombo and mopane woodlands in the eastern and central plateau, it is well to remember that in some circumstances the trees themselves may use, or cause the evaporation of, more water than grass cover. In Kenya, the question of water control in both aspects, run-off and evaporation, is being studied for forests in comparison with tea plantations.

For the land use policy in these drier tropical parts of Africa, it is important to distinguish between plantations which have dominant protective functions and plantations which are established for purely production purposes, such as timber and fuel supply, or for fodder supplement. Although the latter plantations afford protection this is not their main function and they can be harvested solely on economic grounds, e.g., highest yield per rotation. On the other hand, natural protection forests, for instance, large areas in Uganda, and protective plantations must be managed with the objective of improving water yields, stabilizing soil and conserving its properties, and preventing erosion and desiccation. The protective forests and plantations have to be maintained permanently and the harvesting of the timber and fuel must be only a secondary consideration.

Coming to the closed forest formation, a major planning task must be to define clearly the forest areas to be set aside on the one hand for production and on the other as protection forests although in most cases these two roles can be combined. A particular case arises in Ghana and other west African countries, where maintenance of a certain minimum forest cover is essential to preserve the microclimate necessary for the proper growth of cocoa. An estimate for tropical Africa would be that at present some 60 million hectares have been classified as forest reserves1. These reserves should be extended to at least 100 million hectares, which have proved to be productive, and which is the figure of the forest area that is actually in use in tropical Africa today. But in determining the extent of forest reserves the existing reserves should be re-examined make sure that they conform to present-day standards of land-use planning. Such planning must also extend to the 650 million hectares of what was once forest land and is now under some form of shifting cultivation.

1The term "reserve" should not be misinterpreted. These forest areas represent demarcated forest, whore proper forest management and utilization are planned. They have both productive and protective functions. is also necessary to get some idea of the intensity of management and utilization. It may not be possible for an African country to secure all this information for all its forests in a first inventory survey.

In regard to the use of forest land the First Session of the FAO African Forestry Commission (Ibadan, Nigeria, 1960) stressed that:

(a) Systematic forestry can be satisfactorily practiced only in areas specifically and permanently set aside for that purpose. Their location, extent and nature depend upon the forest's protective and productive roles.

(b) Where the retention or extension of forest cover is necessary for the maintenance of land stability and climatic conditions, and for the regulation of water supplies, this becomes the overriding consideration.

(c) As to the productive role of the forest, the satisfaction of present and future local and national requirements, and the provision for export of timber and other produce derived from natural forest or tree cover and plantations on a sustained yield basis must largely determine the distribution and size of such areas.

(d) On land outside such areas, the role of trees in providing additional sources of fodder, fruit, fuel and other produce of value to the agricultural and pastoral communities should be maintained and encouraged.

In practice, the most suitable percentage of forest land in relation to agriculture and other nonforest land will be influenced by topography, climate and soils; by population density and settlement pattern; by economic circumstances including the infrastructure of the region; and of course the condition of the forest itself - accessibility, growing stock, net growth and allowable cut. It is not possible to specify a minimum forest area as a percentage of the total land area of a country or region. Only the consideration of all factors can lead to a proper distribution of the tree cover and to a sound land-use pattern.

There are other measures necessary for the formulation and implementation of forest policy, especially forest resources inventories and timber trends studies. A national forest policy cannot be formulated unless the basic facts are known on the location and extent of the forest stands; their ownership; the volume of standing timber; the potential productivity (annual growth less losses); and their importance for protective purposes. It

In Liberia, for example, a country in the closed rain forest belt, the national forests have been delineated (1.6 million hectares - 17 percent of the total land area2), based on the interpretation of aerial photographs. The second step is the inventory of these national forests; as they will not all come immediately into use, the inventory will be organized in two phases. First, a low percentage of stratified random samplings will delimit the more valuable areas with regard to species; secondly, a higher percentage enumeration to produce improved data for the more accessible areas of economic timber. It is estimated that another 1.6 million hectares of primary and secondary forests are located outside the national forests. Under the new forest land-use policy, an inventory of this area has to be undertaken by the forest industry (concessionnaires) and reported to the Bureau of Forestry before utilization can start.

2It is interesting to note that also in the neighboring Ivory Coast, where forests cover some 50 percent of the country, 17 percent of the total land area has been classified as forest reserves (forêt classée).

When considering how much money a country should spend on forest inventories, it is necessary to take into account the capital value of the forests as a national asset, the money to be spent on their development, the income to be derived from them, and the losses that would result from faulty planning.

The demand for forest products grows with increasing population and rising standards of living and the pattern of requirements changes. Timber trends studies establish orders of magnitude for the principal trends of timber requirements and possibilities of supply, and are basic to the planned development of a forest industry. They set out the pattern of wood consumption; they assess forest resources and their utilization by geographic areas; they forecast trends of timber utilization and of losses in the forest; and they assess net balances between prospective requirements and supply, and appraise the resulting problems. Studies of this kind have been made by government agencies in some of the more advanced countries, and by FAO for Europe, the Far East and Latin America. FAO, in conjunction with ECA, has completed or nearly completed studies of this type in Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika and is soon to undertake one in Sudan. Ghana has requested a similar study. However, the entire African continent will not be covered by such country studies for some years to come.

Forestry production and forest industries

Africa has 17 percent of the forest area of the world, but only 9 percent of the world forest area in use. These forests contribute only 7 percent of the total forest removals and a mere 1.5 percent of the industrial wood output of the world.

The three classical methods of increasing forest production fit in well with the African picture:

1. Bringing forest into use and production. This means on the one hand making accessible more of the closed rain forests and managing and using them properly; on the other hand, establishing new forest plantations in the savanna;

2. Growing more on the forest land already in use. This means improving existing stands and creating more quick-growing plantations as part of an already productive forest area;

3. Making better use of forest products. This means establishing modern integrated wood-using industries and using fully all removals from the forests and plantations, by employing the latest techniques for making particle boards, fibreboards, pulp and paper, and so on.

Experience in more advanced parts of the world shows that all three ways can be employed together. By means of higher agricultural yields per unit area, the area of marginal arable and grazing land, especially lands highly susceptible to erosion, can be reduced and the surplus changed back to forest. Better forest techniques can lead to higher increment per unit of area. Mechanized extraction can bring into use previously inaccessible forest resources. Improved mechanical and chemical methods of processing can lessen waste and manpower and achieve higher outputs of forest products.

Closed rain forest

Since commercial timber cuttings in the closed rain forests in Africa are generally "selective," involving the removal of the few best merchantable species, there are two main ways in which production can be improved. The first is to increase the proportion of species now recognized as valuable; the second is to find ways of using economically a larger number of species. Recognized methods of achieving the first aim are:

(a) encouragement of indigenous economic species by appropriate management and silvicultural treatment (like the tropical shelterwood system, essentially natural regeneration);

(b) enrichment of existing forest by planting (artificial regeneration) in blocks, groups, lines, or other patterns of valuable indigenous or exotic species;

(c) replacement of the original forest or "broken bush" and Forestation of former forest land by plantations of commercially valuable species, often in connection with agricultural crops.

On the second way of improving productivity, it is encouraging to note that progress in marketing and processing of timber is leading to the use of many for. merry unmerchantable species. Thirty years ago, African forest exploitation was linked with trade names like mahogany and okoumé. Triplochiton scleroxylon, a west African timber (trade names: obeche, wawa, samba, ayous), did not begin to play an important role on the world market until the last decade.

To achieve the greatest value of these closed forests, the primary natural stands have to be encouraged and enriched - as described above - by the improvement of existing stands and the gradual conversion of mixed forests into less heterogenous types. One useful technique is to form timber crop plantations of quick-growing species within the environment of the natural forests, which can provide intensive production of a uniform raw material for the wood-using industry. If, as in western and eastern Nigeria, the pressure on the closed rain forest area is so great that parts of the forest proper must be converted into cropland, it is often sound land use for areas of lower agricultural potential, generally former forest land, to be made available for forest plantations, together with an allotment of funds. This is one of the obvious examples where a change in land use can provide for a fuller use of natural resources.

A good example of development of forests comes from Gabon; as supplies of okoumé are vital for the maintenance of future production at the present level, it is necessary to carry out a planting program. okoumé plantations are being established at the rate of 2,000 hectares per year based on a target yield of 300 tons per hectare in a 60-year rotation which would provide 600,000 tons of okoumé annually. Furthermore, naturally regenerated okoumé stands are subject to silvicultural improvement operations to arrive at an average yield of 50 tons of timber per hectare, against 10 to 15 tons per hectare in unimproved natural forests.

Another example of possible yields comes from Liberia. The National Forest Service made estimates that the volume of merchantable wood of the primary and secondary forests is 4,000 board feet per acre (56 cubic meters per hectare). Thus the 9 million acres (365,000 hectares) of that forest represent a stumpage income for the government of U.S. $ 144 million. The average stumpage price is $4 per 1,000 board feet (5.6 cubic meters). In addition, yearly land use taxes of 6 to 10 U.S. cents per acre (15 to 25 U.S. cents per hectare) and 25 percent income tax over net profits are paid to the government by the wood industry.

The price obtainable for timber in effect rules what can be spent on its extraction, so that extraction costs vary with species and markets served. Timber logging and transportation costs in general form the major item in extraction costs, and in most cases may represent 70 percent or more of the total cost. It is for this reason that improvements to roads, railways and waterways, as well as to carriers - trucks, railway engines and tugs - are so necessary for an extension of the economic zone from which timber can be extracted. Railway improvement have been largely responsible for the rapid postwar development of production in Ghana and improved roads in the case of Ivory Coast. In Nigeria and Gabon, where the waterways play an important part, the improvement of tugs and rafting systems has helped, while the advent of the diesel truck has lengthened the economic haulage distance from the forest to the launching point on the rivers. The effect of the improvements is noticeable not only in the expansion of the area for extraction, but also in the range of species extracted. The notable postwar rise in volume of production of utility species such as Triplochiton has been made possible by transport improvements, together with the application of timber preservatives to protect logs vulnerable to insect and fungal attack.

Seasonal (deciduous) forest, open woodland, miombo and mopane woodland

The multiple use of these types raises some difficulties, the main problem being the competition between primitive agriculture and forestry. Forestry can be made economically important here if the forests and woodlands are properly used and especially by establishing forest plantations. The best indigenous woodland can supply an average of 20 tons per hectare on a 20-year rotation, an annual production of 1 ton. per hectare. Exotic species such as eucalyptus and pines, can be used to replace this low production woodland and give a much greater yield. In the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland for instance, it is planned to double the existing area of plantation to a total of 200,000 hectares. Miombo woodland, montane areas and even grassland will be made available for this purpose. It is estimated that these plantations, with a rotation of up to 30 years, will yield eight to ten times as much as the indigenous woodlands. Such plantations should be attractive to private and communal enterprises. It can provide not only local structural and mining timber and fuelwood, but also possibly pulpwood for the paper industry, if supplies can be planned on a regional basis to meet the minimum needs for raw material for a factory of economic size.

In the seasonal forest, purely protective measures are not especially necessary except in areas bordering the savanna. The establishment of forest cover, however, in the open woodland (tree savanna) has important protective objectives: as shade on grazing land, as protection against soil erosion and to check advancing desiccation.3

3FAO is publishing a series of volumes on phases of forest planting. Species suitable for tropical Africa are suggested, and techniques for the reforestation of seasonal forests and open woodlands or tree savannas are described in Tree planting practices in tropical Africa, FAO Forestry Development Paper, No. 8, 1956.

In view of the importance of making better use of the seasonal forests, woodlands and savannas for the economic development of many countries of Africa, the African Forestry Commission decided during its first session (Ibadan, Nigeria, 1960) to set up an ad hoc working party:

1. To enquire into and determine as far as possible the requirements necessary for the successful establishment of plantations within the woodland and savanna areas by:

(a) examination of work already carried out in order to:

(i) determine the methods which have met with success and to identify the main difficulties which have been encountered;

(ii) suggest possible methods for the assessment, before planting, of suitable sites (e.g., by the use of indicator species, soil surveys, water table surveys, etc.); and

(b) examination of such species trials as have already been carried out in order to give guidance for the choice of species.

2. To recommend with some precision the lines of research likely to yield information which will enable the difficulties to be overcome.

3. To suggest possible species for trial in Africa by examination of species used or occurring in areas of other regions having similar climatic factors to the woodland and savanna areas of Africa.

Shrub and thorny savanna and acacia-commiphora woodland

These types and also miombo woodlands are essentially zones in which forestry and grazing must be closely integrated. The difficulty and indeed the conflict arises because, under the present system of management, grazing requires annual late burning, whereas such burning is a main factor inhibiting tree growth. This conflict must be resolved in the framework of sound land use planning. In this, three different requirements need to be distinguished:

1. Those areas to be used primarily for grazing on which the improvement or even the survival of woody vegetation is considered secondary. Here, burning can be regulated solely with grazing management in mind.

2. Areas where close integration between forestry and grazing is desirable. Here, early burning must be the practice since this is less harmful to woody growth than late burning. This second area would normally lie nearer to the closed forest than in paragraph 1 above.

3. Areas set aside specifically as forest reserves, with both productive and protective functions, either formed of the natural species or plantations of fast-growing species. In these areas burning must be prohibited, despite the difficulties of excluding accidental fire from these areas.

The magnificence and variety of wildlife in these zones is a heritage unique to Africa. A clear and constructive declaration of policy and the establishment of machinery to implement it is needed in each country, so that this great asset can play its proper role in the economic, scientific and cultural development of the continent. It is essential to designate areas where wild animals are protected, and to carry out surveys on the economics of wildlife management. The view has been endorsed by the African Forestry Commission (1960), which set up an ad hoc working party on wildlife management.

Development of forest industries

Where readily procurable, whether from national sources or from import, wood in some form or other is a traditional building material in tropical Africa. The demand is generally for poles rather than sawnwood, to build the simple huts used by the farmers who form the bulk of the population. Where dense forests exist these are well able to satisfy this demand, but in many other areas - savanna, for instance - there is often a serious shortage of building poles.

The demand for sawnwood is mainly from industrial and urban centers. In the vicinity of the west coast, it is met from the rain forest belt. Elsewhere, it is met partly from the widely dispersed pockets of better formed trees to be found in the woodlands and savannas, and partly from imports, mostly of softwoods. The heavy sawmill industry is thus concentrated on the west coast, whereas elsewhere production is from small sawmilling units, supplemented, heavily in places, by primitive pitsawing.

With intraregional trade in forest products in tropical Africa of such minor significance, the heavy west African timber industry produces a large surplus to domestic offtake. The west African timber trade is, therefore, markedly oriented towards export, with most of the output going as logs for the plywood and sawmilling industries of highly developed countries, such as those of western Europe. Thus, taking the Ivory Coast, Gabon and the Congo (Brazzaville) together, sawnwood exports are less than 3 percent by volume of log exports; for Nigeria, they are about 11 percent. The export of major forest products (non-coniferous) from the leading west African producers in 1959 is given in Table 1.



Sawlogs and venner logs




1,000 m3 ®2

1.000 m3 (s)2






Ivory Coast



3 0.1






















Congo (Brazza- ville)





Congo (Leopold-ville)





1Yearbook of forest products statics 1960 - FAO, Rome, 1960.
2m3 ®: cubic meter of roundwood m3(s): cubic meter of sawnwood.
4Unofficial figure.

In Cameroon, the export of logs and sawnwood occupies the fourth place in value of exports, following cocoa, coffee and aluminium. The potential of the

Cameroon forest is certainly greater than the 300,000 tons of current removals: it has been estimated, on a basis of 12 to 15 tons of commercial timber per hectare and a 60-year rotation, that annual removals could be of the order of 600,000 tons.

With the approaching exhaustion of areas being "salvage-felled" for agriculture in west Africa, it seems probable that west African timber removals and production will decline in the future in some of the major producing areas, unless production from reserves coupled with improved sylvicultural techniques can make up for the deficit. It is significant that in Nigeria it is even being forecast that within the next two decades or so the export trade in timber will have virtually ended. The situation will undoubtedly direct attention to secondary timbers now in poor demand, and also to hitherto somewhat neglected areas, such as Liberia and eastern Nigeria. It is also certain that a larger local demand will develop as a consequence of the rising living standards of a rapidly increasing population, and that this will lead to an increase in local sawmilling. On balance, however, there is some prospect of the volume of exports being maintained for some time to come.

On the west coast there is a busy plywood industry, with large and efficient units in Gabon, Nigeria, Ghana and the Congo (Leopoldville). The west coast has logs of fine veneer quality, and material for expansion of its plywood industry could be drawn if necessary from the heavy log exports. West coast production of plywood has increased from 14,000 cubic meters in 1950 to 97,600 cubic meters in 1959. Elsewhere in Africa south of the Sahara there are two small plymills; material for plywood manufacture apart from the west coast is far from plentiful.

Fibreboard and particle-board consumption in tropical Africa has been rising fairly rapidly in recent years, but in individual countries the demand is still below the quantities on which an industry can reasonably be based. Once conditions warrant the establishment of an industry, raw material needs as far as wood is concerned should be ample throughout the region, whether on the west coast or elsewhere.

Paper consumption has also been rising rapidly and in a number of tropical African countries the situation is approaching where it may be possible to base pulp and paper production on domestic needs. In the Ivory Coast, a large pulp mill based on local hardwood resources is soon to be instated as a successor to the pilot plant that once operated. Nigeria is about to begin an investigation into the pulping prospects of its raw materials. But the only two mills now producing paper in Africa south of the Sahara are in Southern Rhodesia, small mills by modern standards, producing kraft, newsprint and carton from local pine plantations, with additional waste paper and some imported pulp. In due course, it should be possible to replace pulp import with pulp from local resources. The manufacture of paper and paperboard with the help of imported pulp supplies is a sound proposition in that skills in processing and the handling of machinery are created in good time to take full advantage of the development of an adequate supply of local raw material.

Though it would undoubtedly give rise to many organizational problems, the installation of a substantial pulp and paper industry in tropical Africa could be realized sooner on a regional rather than on a national basis. This would entail co-operation between bordering countries, in which individually the home consumption of paper products would be insufficient for some time to come to warrant the heavy capital expenditure for a pulpmill of economic size. Here it may be mentioned that the hardwoods of tropical Africa offer in general no technical difficulties for modern pulping processes and that the long fibre requirements for paper production, which may be taken as 20 to 25 percent of the whole, may be provided by conifer plantations on selected sites.

Looking further ahead, and if supplies of raw material can be assured either from natural forests or plantations (and much research is still required into the sylvicultural management of closed forests and of plantations), the growing world demand for wood and wood products offers possibilities for the development of integrated forest industries for export on a regional or country basis.


1. The closed rain forest area of tropical Africa, about 200 million hectares, is more limited than generally believed, whereas drier seasonal forests, woodlands and savannas are scattered throughout the whole tropical part of the continent south of the Sahara. The present inadequate demarcation of forest areas and the encroachment by other forms of crop, the lack of homogeneity and poor stocking of commercial species in the natural forests, inadequate capital investment to improve accessibility and to establish forest plantations, as well as the lack of trained and adequately paid personnel, are limiting forestry development.

2. However, over the past decade, the annual increase in timber exports by value, mostly from west Africa. has exceeded 12 percent, and local and external demands are certain to increase further. The availability of commercial timber in forests at present in use is diminishing but there are possibilities of bringing untapped areas into production.

Tropical Africa is a net importer of forest products in terms of value (U.S. $ 30 to 40 million), and a small hut key item is cultural and industrial papers, representing now only 2 to 3 percent by value of the imports. According to FAO estimates, paper needs will quadruple by 1975.

3. Forest land tenure should be developed to arrive at a balanced pattern of ownership. Government ownership has special importance in implementing long-range policy, since fragmentation is not as likely to happen as under private and tribal ownership. Concessions or long leases are feasible to open up forest areas; partnership arrangements should be developed. Where forest plantations are established, co-operative schemes may be appropriate. Thus, the income from forest resources will flow to the state, communes (local, tribal authorities) and private owners, and create forest consciousness among policy-makers and the public.

4. Forest policy should be framed under the concept of multiple use of the forest for timber, grazing, watershed, wildlife and recreation within the overall agricultural land use plan. In most cases, the protective and productive roles of the forest and tree cover can be combined. The protective functions, always difficult to measure in terms of value, are especially important in the drier parts of Africa, whereas the productive functions are more significant in the moisture zones.

5. Total world industrial wood removals amounted to 985 million cubic meters ® in 1959; Africa's share was only 13 million cubic meters ®.

Forest production can increase by making accessible more closed rain forests and establishing new forest plantations with quick-growing species as part of already productive forest and in the savanna, and establishing modern integrated wood-using industries. A beginning has been made to place sawmilling and veneer/plywood production near the forest resources. Board and pulp/paper manufacture - today close to the great coniferous resources and markets in highly developed countries - should now also be guided to African forests as new centers for development, to make better use of, and at the same time safeguard, forest resources.

Planning for future forest production and industrial development must be based on forest inventories and timber trends studies and on estimates of yields and costs of the natural forests and plantations and forest industries. Special protection measures in specific areas must be taken with regard to shifting cultivation, grazing and burning, desiccation and erosion.

6. The shortage of trained staff at all levels is one of the most serious obstacles to the development of forestry and forest industries in Africa. It is urgent to survey the present conditions and needs for both professional (university) education, and technical training and to develop facilities to meet these needs. Regional co-operation within language groups should be feasible.

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