FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

NENA Forests Need Paradigm Shift, Sustainable Practices

Contribution of forest sector to GDP of regional countries accounts to over US$11 billion

The losses in the forests and Other Wooded Lands (OWL) in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) Region are considerably high as forest policies, strategies and regulations, if present, are outdated and most countries have no updated data on their forest resources.

NENA countries are among the least gifted with forestry resources and are also among those with the scantest information, despite the considerable importance of such resources for socio economic development, food security and the provision of various environmental services.

Successive Global Forest Resources Assessments (FRA) reports have confirmed that forestry information in the NENA region is still poor and most countries lack the capacity to collect and report timely and reliable data on forest resources, forest cover changes, forest uses and users. This represents a major obstacle for sound national policies, proper planning, informed decisions and adequate reporting on the status of the resources at national level and to regional and international processes.

FRA 2015 data for NENA region revealed that forest cover is significantly small, estimated at 42 million hectares (3.0 percent of region’s land area) while other wooded land is estimated at 35.4 million hectares. In total both forests and OWL represents 5.4 percent of the land area of the region. Despite that, the region’s forest and forestry ecosystems play significant role in the livelihoods of rural people, in biodiversity and environmental conservation and in adaptation to, and mitigation of climate change.

Studies showed that during the last 25 years (1990-2015), NENA forest cover has decreased from 43.7 hectares to 42.4 hectares, with a total loss of 1.3 million hectares. OWL cover has also decreased from 41,180,100 hectares, to 35,418,700 hectares equivalent to a total net loss of 5.7 million hectares. The conversion of forest and OWL to other land uses was accelerated during the period of 2010 to 2015, and attributed mostly to conversion of OWL to agriculture.

Table 1: Estimated area of forests and OWL (000 hectares) in NENA Region for each FRA since 1990


Area of forests (000 hectare)

Area of OWL (000 hectare)

Total area of forest & OWL (000 hectare)

% of forests & OWL from total land area






















“Many NENA countries have the capabilities to prioritise the expansion of forests and OWL areas by adopting innovative mechanisms," said Abdul Hamid Adam, FAO regional forestry expert. "These countries would need to exploit all available opportunities to scale up their tree planting programmes. Forests in many countries are one of the pillars of the national strategies for poverty alleviation, socioeconomic development, food security and preservation of the multiple environmental services.”

He added: “In doing so, countries may need to seek investment options beyond their public finance. A major investment opportunity that has not been fully utilised is the public participation, including in the private sector finance. Other global financing mechanisms could also be sought.”

FRA 2015 has shown that some countries are moving towards investing in afforestation activities for multiple purposes such as landscape restoration, production of wood energy and development of urban and per-urban forestry. Such initiatives would need to be encouraged and scaled up.

Conversion of forests and OWL in the region to other land uses is significantly high. Countries would need to take effective measures to curb the high rate of loss in their forest and OWL cover, if they have to conserve what have remained from their forest ecosystems. A paradigm shift is needed towards the adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices and integrated land use systems.   


Types and functions of NENA forests

Figure 1 below shows that the majority of NENA forests are naturally regenerated (72 percent) with planted and primary forests representing, respectively, 23 percent and 5 percent of the total forest area.


Source FRA 2015


NENA forests are managed primarily for the protection of soil and water, conservation of biodiversity and production of wood and non-wood forest products (NWFPs). Historically, the majority of the growing stock has been used for fuel in the region. Nearly 87 million people (19.4 percent of the population) still use fuelwood for cooking.  In some countries, fuelwood still plays an important role in the energy balance where it constitutes between 30 and 45 percent of the total primary energy supply.

NWFPs contribute significantly to the rural household economy. In some countries, the revenues from the exports of NWFPs are significant, exceeding by far those from wood products. At the regional level, the contribution of the forest sector to the gross domestic product of the countries accounts to more than US$11 billion. This reflects only part of the real contribution, since large quantities of NWFPs used by the local populations for their daily subsistence are not accounted for in the national statistics.


Area Changes in forests and other wooded land

Figure 2: Total area of forest and OWL by year (000 ha)

Source FRA 2015


Figure 3: Protected Areas in NENA region since 1990


 Source FRA reports 1990, 2000, 2010 2015


Figure 4 below also shows positive evolution of the size of forests assigned to the protection of soil and water in the region, with an increase of 2.4 million hectares in the last 25 years.

Figure 4: Forest area designated for protection of soil and water


 Source FRA 2015

The area of planted forests in NENA region has also steadily increased in the last 25 years from 7.6 million hectares in 1990 to 9.7 million hectares in 2015 (figure 5). However, looking at the extent of planted forests and that of the natural forests and OWL (table 1), the gain in the area of planted forests (2.1 million hectares) is significantly small as compared with the total loss in the areas of forests and OWL (7.1 million hectares).

Figure 5: Area changes in planted forests from 1990-2015 in hectares 


 Source FRA 2015