Eastern Africa has a diversity of forest types – vast open miombo woodlands, remnant coastal forests and unique mountain forest in the Eastern Arc. East Africa’s coastline is one of the continent’s most biologically diverse areas, offering a rich mosaic of coral reefs, mangroves, lowland forests and savanna woodlands. Unfortunately, for all its natural resources, Coastal East Africa is seen to have some of the highest rates of poverty in the world.
Although precise figures are hard to calculate in this region, remote sensing analysis suggests that forest loss has been greatest in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. The coastal forests of Tanzania and Kenya have been reduced to just 10 per cent of their original area.
In addition to outright land conversion, the region’s forests are under pressure from over-harvesting for timber and fuelwood. Over the past ten years, global demand for the region’s abundant and often undervalued natural resources led by Europe, Asia and particularly China has resulted in trade that is not only unsustainable but sometimes also illegal.
Forest conversion has also wreaked havoc on the region’s biodiversity. “Slash and burn” clearing has destroyed huge tracks of ancient coastal forest and increased human-wildlife conflict. This situation is being exacerbated by unregulated investment in commercial agriculture throughout the coastal region.
Across Africa, oil, gas and mining projects are driving investment in new and improved infrastructure. Forests within these development corridors are vulnerable to loss or severe degradation through conversion to agriculture or colonization by settlers seeking employment and other economic opportunities.
The combination of unsustainable management and uncoordinated externally driven resource extraction, exacerbated by climate change, threatens to destabilize the region’s development and natural resource base.