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.
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 CĂ´te dâ€™Ivoireâ€™s parks and primates
(03/25/2015) CĂ´te dâ€™Ivoire, the worldâ€™s 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 worldâ€™s 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 arenâ€™t 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 weâ€™re not doing nearly enough to protect them, says a recent report.
Citizen scientists help demystify Serengeti's wildlife with photos
(03/10/2015) Africa's Serengeti conjures up romantic images of millions of migrating wildebeest and zebras, prides of lions feasting on their prey, and hyenas prowling in the background. But not everyone is fortunate to see them up close. Snapshot Serengeti, a citizen science project, is changing that. It lets anyone, with or without a background in science or ecology, become a part of Africa's wilderness from their homes.
Firewood fervor may turn Zimbabwe into an 'outright desert'
(03/05/2015) In developing countries like Zimbabwe and in much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, fuelwood is a major source of energy for cooking and heating for people who can't afford electricity. A 2014 study published in Resources and Environment highlights the severity of this issue in Zimbabwe.
Somali charcoal: funding terrorism through deforestation
(03/05/2015) Militant terrorist group Al-Shabaab funds itself, in part, through the illegal production and sale of charcoal, turning Somaliaâ€™s trees into â€śblack gold.â€ť Because areas of the country controlled by the group arenâ€™t accessible to researchers, itâ€™s difficult to determine just how many trees are cut down to fuel Al-Shabaabâ€™s violent agenda.
Researchers, locals work together to save Ethiopia's 'church forests'
(03/03/2015) Presenting a workshop on ecosystem services to a roomful of priests in Ethiopia may seem like an unlikely scenario for a conservation biologist to end up in, but for Meg Lowman, itâ€™s an essential part of spreading her passion for bottom-up conservation. â€śCanopy Meg,â€ť as sheâ€™s fondly referred to by her colleagues, believes in the power of local communities to be part of the solution, often in ways that are more effective than researchers can make alone.
How the Sahara keeps the Amazon rainforest going
(03/02/2015) Scientists have just uncovered an incredible link between the world's largest desert (the Sahara) and its largest rainforest (the Amazon). New research published in Geophysical Research Letters theorizes that the Sahara Desert replenishes phosphorus in the Amazon rainforest via vast plumes of desert dust blowing over the Atlantic Ocean.
To keep big cats out, use a cat door
(02/26/2015) As a hunter searches for prey, heat radiates off the sun stroked horizon distorting the landscape. At the snap of a twig and a rustle in thorny acacia the hunter is off. Keen eyed hearing pinpoint its prey: the cheetah spots an impala and immediately gives chase. The chase won't last long though. The impala lives on a farm and is protected by a high fence to keep predators out. But these fences aren't fool proof.
Rainforest loss increased in the 2000s, concludes new analysis
(02/25/2015) Loss of tropical forests accelerated roughly 60 percent during the 2000s, argues a paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The findings contradict previous research suggesting that deforestation slowed since the 1990s. The study is based on a map of 1990 forest cover developed last year by Do-Hyung Kim and colleagues from the University of Maryland. The map, which includes 34 countries that contain 80 percent of the world's tropical forests, enabled the researchers to establish a consistent baseline for tracking forest cover change across regions and countries over time.
Selective logging causes long-term changes to forest structure
(02/18/2015) Selective logging is causing long-term changes to tropical forests in Africa by facilitating the growth of weeds and vines, which reduces plant diversity and diminishes carbon storage, reports a new paper published in the journal Ecological Research. The paper is based on field data from more than 500 plots in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon and Gabon.
Illegal logging still a big issue in Cameroon
(02/13/2015) Cameroon is struggling to make progress in combatting illegal logging. Regulatory budgets are too thin to protect the countryâ€™s vast tracts of Congolian Rainforest. And demand domestically and abroad make the financial incentives for both the informal sector and Cameroonâ€™s leaders too difficult to pass up, leading to an illicit timber trade beset with corruption.
Pollinator collapse could lead to a rise in malnutrition
(02/09/2015) Saving the world's pollinators may be a public health issue, according to recent research. Scientists have long believed that pollinators are important for human nutrition, but this is first time they have tested the hypothesis. What they found is disturbing: pollinator collapse could increase nutrient deficiency across local populations by a up to 56 percent in four developing counties.
Madagascar establishes a sanctuary for sharks
(02/06/2015) The government of Madagascar has established the Indian Ocean island's first shark sanctuary in an area famous for its marine biodiversity, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Videos: new film series highlights bringing Gorongosa back to life
(01/29/2015) Tracking lions, photographing bats, collecting insects, bringing elephants home: it's all part of a day's work in Gorongosa National Park. This vast wilderness in Mozambique was ravaged by civil war. However, a unique and ambitious 20-year-effort spearheaded by Greg Carr through the Gorongosa Restoration Project is working to restore this rich and little-studied African wilderness.
Adorbs: scientists capture first photos of African golden cat kittens
(01/28/2015) The African golden cat is arguably the continent's least known feline, inhabiting dense tropical forests, almost never seen, and, of course, long-upstaged by Africa's famous felines. But a few intrepid scientists are beginning to uncover the long-unknown lives of these wild cats. Researchers working in Uganda's Kibale National Park have captured remarkable photos of African golden cats...with kittens.
1,215 rhinos butchered in South Africa in 2014
(01/22/2015) 1,215: that's the total number of rhinos butchered last year in South Africa for their horns. The number represents another annual record—the seventh in a row—topping last year's total by 195 rhinos. South Africa houses the bulk of the world's rhinos (around 80 percent), but has also become the center of the illegal poaching trade.
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.