The vast majority of Africa's tropical moist and tropical rainforests exist in West and Central Africa. However,
these forests are rapidly vanishing; according to the FAO, Africa lost the highest percentage of rainforests during the
1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s of any biogeographical realm.
Around the turn of the century, West Africa had some 193,000 sq. miles (500,000 sq. km) of coastal rainforest but today the tropical forests of West Africa—mostly lowland formations easily accessible from the coast—have been largely depleted by commercial exploitation, namely logging, and conversion for agriculture. Now, according to the figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, only 22.8 percent of West Africa's moist forests remain, much of this degraded. In more populous states, notably Nigeria, human population pressures have put a tremendous strain on forests, while other countries like Côte d'Ivoire have suffered extensive forest loss as a result of commercial logging and agriculture. The effects from forest loss are yet to be fully understood, though erosion has greatly increased as has the incidence of drought in the interior countries of Mali and Niger. These coastal forests appear to play a substantial role in maintaining rainfall in these interior countries.
The rainforests of Central Africa still cover a substantial area, although this expanse is declining. More than 70 percent of Africa's remaining rainforests are located in Central Africa, covering about 720,000 square miles (1.875 million square km). The bulk of this region's forests are found in the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Congo, and Gabon. Over the past decade, these forests have been threatened by masses of refugees fleeing rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the movement of local militias. Now that some form of peace has returned in most areas, logging and other development activities are expected to increase.
Sub-Saharan Africa has long been considered one of the poorest regions on earth despite its rich biological diversity and
mineral wealth. The poor turn to the forests for subsistence agriculture, the collection of fuelwood, and the poaching
of forest animals for food. The rapid population growth of the region—among the highest in the world—combined with high
rates of urbanization have promoted these unsustainable activities by creating demand for bushmeat, fuelwood, and other
forest products. Fuelwood makes up more than 8o percent of the total roundwood produced in the region.
On a commercial level, logging has greatly accelerated in Central Africa, much of it carried out by West African
firms (Côte d'Ivoire especially) in the early 1990s which had largely cut through their own forests. However the situation changed
rapidly in the mid-1990s after the January 1994 devaluation of the African (CFA) franc by 50 percent under the Structural
Adjustment Program. Before devaluation, the difficulties of access, transport, and dealing with unstable governments,
as well as the overvalued currency had made Central Africa a relatively expensive place to operate and slowed investment
in timber industries. After devaluation, production costs fell and logging in the Central African rainforests became
more competitive. Additionally, in order to improve their own economic situation (devaluation is especially hard
on the poor since goods become relatively more expensive in their currency), many poor farmers cleared new fields from
forests to plant higher-yielding crops that require the nutrients released by freshly slashed-and-burned forest.
In the past few
years, logging has skyrocketed as European and Asian timber firms (facing restrictions in their homelands from
years of overharvesting) have moved into the region. Between 1990 and 1997, the volume of timber exported annually
from countries of the Congo basin increased ten-fold to two million cubic meters. Though Asians only entered
the African timber market in 1995, already the greatest demand for African wood comes from the Far East. For example,
85 percent of timber production in Gabon now goes to Asia. During 1996 alone, Asian timber firms gained control of 10-12.5
million acres (4-5 million ha) of rainforest in Central Africa. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 had a major
impact on timber production and log prices in Central Africa. Today, European and Asian firms are particularly active in Central Africa.
Logging roads are opening vast areas of forest to colonists and poachers. Numerous infrastructure projects have been initiated by foreign companies. One major French aid agency that works in the region boldly states that its development projects only finance infrastructure necessary to French timber interests. The new government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) is working on several large infrastructure contracts with South Africa to open up the forests for mineral and timber development. China has invested in infrastructure projects in several African nations.
The inflow of foreign firms does not necessarily bring benefits to most poor farmers and colonists. Though in many areas these
industries provide the only form of work for these people, pay is menial and jobs are temporary. After the firm has exhausted the forest of its resources, it moves on, leaving a community that had become dependent on the firm for employment. Settlers then may burn surrounding forest lands, now degraded, for short-term, subsistence agriculture. In addition, most timber leaves the country as raw logs since export laws, like environmental regulations, are poorly enforced. Thus, the country does not maximize its potential benefits that could be derived from timber processing and the
export of value-added goods like furniture. Finally, it is only a privileged few who generally share in the spoils of logging, oil, and mining. Virtually no benefits are returned to the people who are most impacted by development projects. Corruption is a major problem in many of these countries: Nigeria and Cameroon were recently rated among the most corrupt in the world. Post-colonial kleptocratic governments "produced
by strong-man rule have proved uniformly inept, with a partial exception for pillage . . . [Most] foreign aid ends
up in numbered accounts abroad" (Landes, 1998).
The outlook for Central and West Africa's rainforests is not promising. Many countries have agreed in principle to conventions on biodiversity and
forest preservation, but in practice these concepts of sustainable forestry are not enforced. Most governments
lack the funds and technical know-how to make these projects a reality, and "paper parks" are common.
Funding for most conservation projects comes from foreign sectors and 70-75 percent of forestry in the region is funded
by external resources. Additionally, high population growth rates combined with rural poverty make it difficult for the government to control local subsistence clearing and hunting. Equally
challenging are the tremendous debt obligations facing the governments of these countries. Already terribly poor
(16 of the world's 20 poorest countries are in Africa), by 2002 African countries with tropical rainforest had
accumulated a foreign debt of more than US$200 billion, an almost insurmountable sum considering the low annual GDPs of
most member countries. The easiest, most expedient way for such governments to service these debt payments is to
sell their forest products and resources.
Nevertheless, there is hope for Africa's remaining rainforests. The Asian economic slow-down has provided precious
time for African nations to reexamine their forestry policies. Various government agencies, NGOs, conservation organizations, and private industries have developed innovative schemes to incorporate locals into the sustainable management of rainforests. These community management programs show potential, but thus
far represent only a minuscule fraction of forest land. Recently several organizations including the U.N. have put
pressure on African governments to abandon tax incentives for practices that encourage deforestation, but provide
virtually no return to most African people. In addition, the region, with its biodiversity and varied landscapes,
has excellent potential for eco-tourism, though it is stymied by poor infrastructure and concerns over political
stability, health, and safety. Finally, the region's biological wealth offers tremendous potential for bioprospecting
for potentially useful drugs, food products, and other non-wood forest products.
Scientists identify frog through DNA without leaving forest
(05/05/2015) Yesterday, a team of Italian scientists caught a frog in a montane forest in Tanzania. And then they made history: using a small blood sample the team were able to extract, purify, and amplify the amphibian's DNA—all in the forest—through a new, battery-powered device called the Expedition Genomics Lab.
Ongoing overkill: loss of big herbivores leading to 'empty landscapes'
(05/01/2015) Ten thousand years from now, human historians—or alien ones—may view the current wave of biodiversity loss and extinctions as concurrent with the Pleistocene extinction. At that time, peaking around 11,000 years ago, many scientists argue that human hunters killed off the majority of the world's big species. According to a paper today in history may be repeating itself.
Kenya's Karura Forest, symbol of GreenBelt Movement, suffering death by 1,000 cuts
(04/29/2015) The founder of Kenya's GreenBelt Movement, Wangari Maathai, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 because she talked environmental truth to power. She also walked the walk. Especially on a January morning in 1999 when she strode into the Karura Forest, Nairobi's flagship preserve, to plant trees to protest government approved plans to build a private golf course on protected land there.
Illegal ivory trade alive and well on Craigslist
(04/28/2015) As it has become more difficult to buy illegal ivory from slaughtered elephants on places like eBay, Etsy, and Amazon.com, traders and buyers in the U.S. have turned to another venue: Craigslist. A new report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) finds that the ivory trade is thriving on Craigslist.
'Deforestation fronts' revealed
(04/27/2015) Environmental group WWF has released a new report projecting where the organization believes the bulk of global deforestation is likely to occur over the next 15 years. The analysis, published today, highlights eleven regions where 'the bulk of global deforestation is projected to take place' by 2030.
Zimbabwe selling baby elephant calves to China, says environmental group
(04/17/2015) A hundred thousand African elephants were killed by poachers for their ivory between 2010 and 2012. Now a new threat looms: a growing wildlife trade in baby animals to satisfy international tourism. Zimbabwe has reportedly taken 80 elephant calves from their mothers and families in the wild, and is currently holding them in two heavily guarded facilities in Hwange National Park and near Victoria Falls. The baby animals await transport overseas for sale to unidentified buyers, possibly in China or other countries, says the international elephant rights organization, Global Action Ending Wild Capture (GAEWC).
Empowering women in order to save the harvest
(04/16/2015) There are plenty of technological challenges to reducing food waste in sub-Saharan Africa, but a challenge that might prove more important to overcome is gender inequality. Women are responsible for nearly half of agricultural labor in sub-Saharan Africa, with some estimates reaching up to 90 percent. But they often don't have the authority to make financial decisions for their families, even when it comes to managing or selling the crops they've grown themselves.
Criticism of GAR and Wilmar African oil palm projects highlight global âno-deforestation' challenges
(04/16/2015) Despite high-profile no-deforestation policies, palm oil giants Golden Agri-Resources and Wilmar have attracted criticism recently over their projects in Africa, particularly regarding the correct implementation of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of affected communities. Some NGOs have suggested these persistent problems indicate no lessons have been learned from years of bad practice in Indonesia.
Expedition in the Congo rediscovers lost primate
(04/14/2015) The last time there was a sighting of Bouvier's red colobus disco was all the rage, the Internet was non-existent, and Madonna still referred solely to the mother of God. But then the African monkey vanished and conservationists feared it had gone extinct—a victim of the bushmeat trade. For years, research groups called for an expedition to find out if Bouvier's red colobus still survived.
Innovative community fisheries initiative wins top social entrepreneurship prize
(04/13/2015) A program that helps restore overfished areas through community-based marine conservation has won the Skoll Foundation's top prize for social entrepreneurship. Today the Skoll announced Blue Ventures, which piloted its approach in Madagascar a decade ago before expanding to other regions, was one of four organizations to be honored with the $1.25 million Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
Australia becomes first country to ban lion trophies
(04/09/2015) Last month, Australia became the world's first country to ban the import or export of lion trophies, often taken from so-called canned hunting where lions are raised solely to be shot by foreign hunters.
New group hopes to raise global profile of the peace-loving bonobo
(04/08/2015) Of the world's six species of great ape (not including us), it's safe to say that bonobos (Pan paniscus) are the least studied and least known publicly. But a new organization, the Bonobo Project, is hoping to change that. To the untrained eye, a bonobo looks little different from their closest relative, the chimpanzee. But the differences between these two cousins are actually quite large.
Kenya crackdown on terrorism threatens NGOs, wildlife, media
(04/03/2015) The terrorist attack that killed at least 147 people at Garissa University on April 2nd was another tragic milestone in Kenyaâs ongoing battle with the al-Shabab terrorist group based in Somalia. In response to several other brutal attacks on civilians, Kenyaâs government recently passed and proposed harsh new laws that are alarming environmental activists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the media, opposition politicians and the public.
Big surprise in the greenhouse: study finds economic costs of climate change hugely underestimated
(03/30/2015) Look at most climate change projection graphs and you will see a smoothly rising red line of increasing temperature, melting ice and other impacts. But climate does not work that way. Studies of the paleoclimate record indicate that when heat energy is rapidly added to the atmosphere -- as humans are doing today -- the climate can experience âtipping points,â with abrupt shifts and potentially disastrous results.
Elephant poaching rate unchanged â and still devastating
(03/25/2015) New figures show essentially no change in the number of elephants killed in Africa by poachers last year, despite a high-profile meeting on the crisis which was attended by 46 countries and a number of commitments. Data from CITES' Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) estimated that around 20,000 elephants were killed in 2014, the same as in 2013.
Illegal cocoa plantations threaten CĂŽte dâIvoireâs parks and primates
(03/25/2015) CĂŽte dâIvoire, the worldâs largest producer of cocoa, also boasts an ecosystem of great biological richness and species diversity, with over 2,250 endemic plants and 270 vertebrate species. Unfortunately, it also has the highest deforestation rate in all of sub-Saharan Africa, largely due to its rise as a significant player in the global agricultural economy after years of civil unrest.
DRC mulls changing Virunga's boundaries for oil
(03/19/2015) Last Friday, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced it was considering changing the boundaries of Virunga National Park to accommodate oil exploitation. Africa's oldest park, Virunga is home to around a quarter of the world's mountain gorillas as well as thousands of other species, many of them threatened with extinction.
Declining palm oil prices: Good news and bad news for smallholders
(03/16/2015) Declining crop prices usually spell bad news for farmers, and poor smallholders in particular. The drop in the price of palm oil from a recent high of US$860 per metric ton in March 2014 to below US$640 in March 2015 (and far below 2010-2012 prices which exceeded US$1000) heralds a shift in perceptions of oil palm from an economic boon to poverty-stricken smallholders, to a liability that ties small-scale farmers to a less profitable commodity.
Road rage: scientists denounce $60 trillion infrastructure expansion
(03/14/2015) Last November, at the annual G-20 summit - for the 20 wealthiest of the worldâs nations - in Brisbane, Australia, a staggering commitment was made to invest $60 to $70 trillion worldwide in new infrastructure over the next 15 years. This is akin to doubling the current value of all global infrastructure put together.
Conservationists announce program to protect East Africa's largest elephant population
(03/12/2015) The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Tanzanian government have launched an ambitious new initiative to protect East Africa's largest population of elephants (Loxodonta Africana). With funds from USAID, the plan aims to reduce poaching and protect biodiversity - including the area's 25,000 elephants- across an 115,000 square kilometer ecosystem.
Local land rights may be in danger from push for palm oil in Liberia
(03/12/2015) The rights of local and indigenous peoples arenât being adequately protected in the drive for economic development, according to a report published in February by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of forest-oriented organizations. For a place like Liberia, reeling from both decades of persistent poverty and the recent Ebola epidemic, economic development seems critical at just about any cost.
UN report warns of grave consequences if mangroves not protected
(03/11/2015) According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), global destruction of mangrove forests impacts biodiversity, food security, and the lives and livelihoods of some of the most marginalized communities in the world. Mangroves, which are forests of salt-tolerant trees and shrubs that lie along coastlines in the tropics and subtropics, are also invaluable carbon sinks. And weâre not doing nearly enough to protect them, says a recent report.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from mongabay.com operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region. Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.
"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.