Protecting East Africa's coastal forests

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > East Africa > Kenya

Africa/Madagascar > East Africa > Tanzania
Africa/Madagascar > Southern Africa > Mozambique

View of coastal forest looking towards the Indian Ocean, Zaraninge Forest. Tanzania.
© WWF-Canon / Edward PARKER


The coastal area stretching from southern Somalia through Kenya and Tanzania to southern Mozambique is marked by tropical dry forests, wetlands and savanna and grassland habitats. This unique forest ecoregion is home to more than 630 bird species as well as a number of mammals, including the Pemba Island flying fox, Sokoke dog mongoose, Zanzibar red colobus, Tana mangabey and the Zanj elephant shrew.

The area, however, is highly fragments and threatened by increasing human settlement and expanding agriculture. Since the early 1990s, WWF has supported the management and conservation of the East African coastal forests through projects in Kenya and Tanzania. Much of WWF’s work is focused on including the participation of local communities in ensuring the sustainable use of the forest resources.


The East African Coastal Forests Ecoregion is comprised of the Northern and Southern Zanzibar-Inhambane coastal forest mosaics. It stretches from Southern Somalia through Kenya and Tanzania, to Southern Mozambique, and is characterized by tropical dry forests within a mosaic of savannahs, grassland habitats and wetlands areas. Generally, the forests are found just inland from the coast with outliers occurring along rivers and several locations where it grades into sub-montane forests at the foothills of mountain ranges.

The forest habitat in this ecoregion is highly fragmented, and the remaining natural habitats are becoming even more fragmented as agriculture and other human activities increase.

The biodiversity values of the forests are recognized as being of global importance. Although the last decade has seen an increase in conservation efforts in this region, threats, problems and pressures still persist and are even increasing, including overexploitation of natural resources, lack of coordinated activities, lack of implementing and integrating policies, and a decline of fundamental resources for the responsible government sectors.

Areas between the forests have different characteristics depending on the country in question; in Kenya it is mainly farmland, in Tanzania and Mozambique it is generally savanna woodland/thicket with farmed areas increasing. The ecoregion also includes the larger offshore islands of Pemba, Zanzibar, Mafia and the Bazaruto Archipelago, as well as the smaller isles in the Indian Ocean close to the coast.

As the East African Coastal Forests have long been isolated from other regions of tropical moist forests by expanses of drier savannahs and grasslands, it has an exceptionally high level of plant endemism that has recently led to part of it being classified as the Swahili Centre of endemism. Elsewhere within the region (Somalia and Mozambique), studies at a few sites have also noted the occurrence of endemic trees, but overall the number of endemic species is thought to be greatly underestimated due to civil strife that has prevented further exploration.

At present it is estimated that forests cover 2km2 in Somalia, 660km2 in Kenya, 697km2 in Tanzania, 16km2 in Malawi, 3km2 in Zimbabwe and possibly more than 1,790km2 in Mozambique. Most forests are small (less than 20km2) and over 80% of the coastal forests are located on government land, mainly gazetted as forest reserves. Only 26.2km2 in the region are designated as national parks: Arabuko-Sokoke (6.2km2), Kenya; Mlola forest on Mafia Island (20km2), Tanzania; and tiny patches in Zimbabwe.


Conserve the biodiversity of the East African Coastal Forests while ensuring sustainable use of the forest resources in harmony with the needs and aspirations of Eastern Africa people.


Ecoregion Secretariat: the programme has established a functional enabling environment Ecoregion Secretariat. National Task Forces (NTFs) and Regional Task Forces (RTFs) have been conducted in Kenya and Tanzania, bringing key stakeholders together and agreeing on mechanisms to develop detailed national action plans that will support the implementation of the 20 year EACFE strategy.

EACFE Strategy Document: this 20-year (2005-2025) Strategic Framework for Conservation document has been finalized and disseminated, and gives a long-term vision of the EACFE programme. It is endorsed by the 4 government representatives of Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zanzibar Island.

National reviews: these have been synthesized and summarized in one document, “The state of the forests - Eastern Africa Coastal Forests”. A study on “The impact of the Mkapa Bridge on Timber Trade in Southern Tanzania” was facilitated by TRAFFIC.

Book: through the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) financial support, 400 copies of the IUCN, 2000, Neil Burgess et al, Eastern Africa Coastal Forests book were received from Cambridge. The copies of this book have been distributed to key institutions and individuals within the EACFE.

Livelihood initiatives: the Kaya Kinondo village bank and the Ecotourism Centre are now operational. The Kaya Kinondo project received the Jihde Award (WWF Sweden), and has assisted the Kaya Kinondo ecotourism initiative in securing a vehicle.

CEPF grants: through the CEPF supported activity, WWF has assisted civil society organisations in securing funding for conservation activities in Kwale. These include the Kaya Kinondo Ecotourism project, the MLIMAZO group and Kaya Muhaka.

Capacity building: training grants have been offered to practitioners for the Arusha-based courses in collaborative management of natural resources, including Participatory Forest Management course and Training of Trainer’s component.

Landscape initiatives: 2 landscape conservation initiatives have been initiated in Kwale (Kenya) and Matumbi hills in Tanzania. The Landscape Restoration concept has had a positive buy-in by communities and key players in the 3 landscapes of Kwale, Matumbi-Kichi and East Usambara.

- In the Matumbi-Kichi Hills Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) project, 7,121ha of Village Forest Reserve (VFR) and more than 24,253ha under government protection status (forest reserves) have been surveyed and demarcated. The VFR will form an important connectivity of the coastal forests in Matumbi-Kichi landscape, thus improving conservation of the same.

- Capacity building activities have been carried out among 200 Village Natural Resources Committee (VNRC) members in 11 villages on participatory forest management and for district staff for natural resources management. In totality, this has contributed towards more effective planning for resource use and support for law enforcement among the VNRCs.

- In terms of improving livelihoods, communities in 4 villages have been mobilized to establish 11 groups for beekeeping projects. The 11 groups have also adopted community beekeeping banks (savings and credit facility) with a share capital of TZS 5 million (USD 4,500). With this capital, 120 hives have been loaned to groups in Rufiji.

Support to CSOs in Kenya and Tanzania: the programme has provided support for civil society conservation initiatives in coastal forests and Eastern arc forests in Kenya and Tanzania, mainly from CEPF.

Eastern Africa Coastal Forests Ecoregion map: the EACFE atlas is being finalised and will be shared with partners and key stakeholders for use as a roadmap document.

Result chains: the programme has completed a results chain process that will enable planning for implementation based on actual results.

Good Woods Project/Component (GWP)
- Farmers and carvers organised into groups thus facilitating capacity building in certification and business management skills. By January 2005, the Akamba Cooperative Society and Coast Tree Products (marketing outlet for certified products) both acquired the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, while the Coast Farm Forestry Association received the FSC farm management certification.

- Conservation of 20,000 indigenous trees per year due to utilization of good woods.

- Livelihood options developed through income derived from sale of trees and other tree related products like seeds and leaves.

- Access to environmentally conscious, stable and reliable markets thus leading to increased sales.

- Implementation of good tree management practices.

- Contribution to the development of FSC Small and Low Intensity Managed Forests (SLIMFs) policies.

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