Mongabay.com is considered a leading source of information on tropical forests by some of the world's top ecologists and conservationists. TROPICAL RAINFORESTS: TROPICAL RAINFORESTS

AFROTROPICAL REALM

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.

Map of Africa - Rhett Butler 2000
Click for larger image
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 Cte 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.

Threats


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 (Cte 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).

Outlook


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.

Suggested reading - Books


Recent articles | Africa environmental news updates | XML

Pet trade likely responsible for killer salamander fungus
(10/30/2014) As if amphibians weren't facing enough—a killer fungal disease, habitat destruction, pollution, and global warming—now scientists say that a second fungal disease could spell disaster for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of species. A new paper finds that this disease has the potential to wipe out salamanders and newts across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the Americas.


Dissolving pulp: a growing threat to global forests
(10/30/2014) Dissolving pulp is not just a threat to the forests of Indonesia. It is a growing industry across the globe, and it’s putting several of the world’s endangered forests in jeopardy.


Destroyed habitat, fewer resources, Ebola: the many repercussions of Liberia's deforestation
(10/29/2014) Liberia is one of the last strongholds of intact forest in West Africa. These forests are the home of many unique species of plants and animals, and many Liberians rely on the forests for direct economic benefits. The presence of intact forests may even be important for preventing the future outbreak of disease such as Ebola, which can be transmitted to people from animal vectors displaced by deforestation.


Tigers vs. diamonds: India’s protected areas rampantly downgraded to make room for people, industry (PART II)
(10/29/2014) In India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh lie 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) of protected land demarcated as the Panna Tiger Reserve. Recently, however, its protection status has been questioned, and global-scale analyses show Panna is far from alone among India’s many threatened Protected Areas.


World's rarest gorilla gets a new protected home
(10/28/2014) The Cross River Gorilla, the rarest and most threatened of gorilla subspecies, has reason to cheer. Last month, on September 29, the Prime Minister of Cameroon, Philemon Yang, signed a decree to officially create a new protected area – Tofala Wildlife Sanctuary – in the southwestern part of the country.


How protected are they? Report finds world's Protected Areas may relax, shrink, even completely disappear (PART I)
(10/28/2014) On March 1, 1872, the United States Congress declared 3,400 square miles of land spanning three states as the country’s - and the world’s - first national park. We call it Yellowstone. Today, there are over 160,000 PAs spanning 12.7 percent of the planet’s land surface.


Photos: slumbering lions win top photo prize
(10/27/2014) The king of beasts took this year's top prize in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which is co-owned by the Natural History Museum (London) and the BBC. The photo, of female lions and their cubs resting on a rock face in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, was taken by Michael 'Nick' Nichols, a photographer with National Geographic.


Google's new Gombe Street View lets users 'walk' along chimp trails and into Jane Goodall's house
(10/24/2014) Google Maps is now available for Tanzanian forest paths. Users can walk virtually along the same trails Jane Goodall has used for her decades of chimpanzee monitoring -- and even into her house.


Beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products from 8 countries responsible for 1/3 of forest destruction
(10/23/2014) Four commodities produced in just eight countries are responsible for a third of the world's forest loss, according to a new report. Those familiar with the long-standing effort to stop deforestation won't be surprised by the commodities named: beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products (including timber and paper). Nor will they be very surprised by most of the countries: Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia.


Demand for rhino horn drops 38 percent in Vietnam after advertising campaigns
(10/22/2014) A new poll finds that consumer demand for rhino horn in Vietnam has dropped precipitously following several advertising campaigns. According to the poll by the Humane Society International (HIS) and Vietnam CITES, demand has plunged 38 percent since last year.


Forest restoration commitments: driven by science or politics?
(10/10/2014) During September's UN Climate Summit, three African nations were recognized for their commitments to restore collectively millions of hectares of forest. But several organizations declined invitations to sign the pact because they say it fails to lay out “concrete action” to fight climate change, and some experts in the field worry that the announcements are little more than political posturing.


INTERPOL launches African environmental crime unit
(10/08/2014) To help fight illegal poaching and trafficking, INTERPOL, the world's largest international police organization, has launched an environmental crimes unit in Africa.


Elephants worth much, much more alive than dead, says new report
(10/06/2014) Elephants are worth 76 times more when they’re alive than dead, according to a new analysis released this past weekend. The report follows on the heels of findings by WWF that the world has lost 50 percent of its wildlife over the past 40 years, with more than half of African elephants killed for ivory in just one decade.


The Zanaga iron ore mine – a test of best laid plans for preserving wildlife
(10/06/2014) One of the largest iron ore deposits in Africa is located in a strip 47 kilometers long and three kilometers wide in the Republic of the Congo (RoC), bordering Gabon. A core section of the Guineo-Congolian Forest rises above this vast mineral deposit, and provides a home to flagship endangered species like western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, and forest elephants.


Joint force uses Google Earth to find elephant poaching camps in Mozambique, captures poachers in raid
(09/30/2014) On Monday, September 22, two ivory poachers were arrested in Mozambique during a late-night raid near Niassa National Reserve. The arrest followed on the heels of nearly two-dozen reported kills in the reserve in just the first two weeks of the month.


Climate change to boost farmland, diminish harvests, says new study
(09/29/2014) Climate change is likely to alter how we humans grow adequate amounts of food for a swelling global population. Assessing just how much and where those changes will occur has been difficult. But a new study takes aim at those very questions and could provide a guide for the debate over feeding the planet while also preserving biodiversity and the forests that filter out the carbon we produce.


Four countries pledge to restore 30 million hectares of degraded lands at UN Summit
(09/25/2014) In 2011, Germany and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature launched the Bonn Challenge, which pledged to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested lands by 2020. Several countries have already made commitments—including the U.S.—but this week at the UN Climate Summit four more jumped on board.


Scientists use genes, feces to study disappearing monkeys
(09/24/2014) Human pressures through tree clearing and poaching are reducing both forest and fauna in West Africa. In response to dwindling primate populations, scientists used genetics techniques to examine their makeup and outlook – demonstrating the usefulness of such methods in the study of animals that are becoming ever-fewer in number and ever-harder to find.


Camera traps capture ‘fantastically bizarre’ animal behavior in South African park
(09/17/2014) Cowbirds ride cattle to pick off their parasites; egrets pal around with wildebeest and eat the small creatures disturbed by their grazing. But mammals riding other mammals is something long-thought pretty much isolated to humans and their domestic creatures. Then, earlier this month, a camera trap in a park in South Africa captured something that contradicts this assumption: a genet riding around on giant herbivores.


WCS-led raids lead to six arrests near Mozambique’s largest reserve
(09/12/2014) A joint force of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and government authorities are in the midst of carrying out a series of raids against poachers in Mozambique aimed at halting the illegal killing of elephants in Niassa National Reserve, the country’s largest protected area. Six men, thought to be responsible for killing 39 elephants in 2014, were arrested in an early morning bust in the town of Marrupa, just south of the park.


Illegal tropical deforestation driven globally by “agro-conversion”
(09/11/2014) Nearly 50 percent of tropical deforestation to make room for commercial agriculture between 2000 and 2012 was done so illegally. That’s a key finding of a report published by the U.S.-based nonprofit organization Forest Trends looking at the global tide of tropical forest “agro-conversion.”


Thought wiped out by climate change, 'extinct' snail rediscovered in Seychelles
(09/09/2014) The Aldabra banded snail was declared extinct in 1997 as one of the world’s first recorded direct casualties of climate change. But last month, a monitoring team found a population on one of the atoll’s islands, surprising the team and giving hope that other species whose habitats are being degraded by climate change may still be able to cling to existence.


Zambia ends trophy hunting ban, elephants fair game
(09/09/2014) After 20 months, Zambia has lifted its ban on hunting, allowing trophy hunters to target numerous species in the wildlife-rich country including elephants. The announcement was made by the country's Tourism and Art's Minister, Jean Kapata, who stated that the ban had resulted in a loss of revenue to the Zambia Wild Life Authority (ZAWA).


Where should the roads go? New map offers a solution to the 'Pandora's Box of environmental problems'
(08/27/2014) Roads make it possible to bring goods to market, to get to the office, to log a forest, to hunt its wildlife. Without roads, human society as we know it could not exist. However, to build roads, trees must be cleared and swamps drained, shrinking valuable wildlife habitat and fragmenting populations in the process. A new study unveils an innovative map that defines which areas of the world would be best used to build roads – and which should be left alone.


How do we save the world's vanishing old-growth forests?
(08/26/2014) There's nothing in the world like a primary forest, which has never been industrially logged or cleared by humans. They are often described as cathedral-like, due to pillar-like trees and carpet-like undergrowth. Yet, the world's primary forests—also known as old-growth forests—are falling every year, and policy-makers are not doing enough to stop it.





Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]

Other resources

Contact me if you have suggestions on other rainforest-related environmental sites and resources for this country.




Last updated: 4 Feb 2006






what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2013

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.