Conserving the woodlands of central and southern Africa

Geographical location:

Africa/Madagascar > Central Africa > Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaïre)

Africa/Madagascar > East Africa > Tanzania
Africa/Madagascar > Southern Africa > Mozambique
Africa/Madagascar > Southern Africa > Namibia
Africa/Madagascar > Southern Africa > Zambia
Africa/Madagascar > Southern Africa > Zimbabwe

Miombo woodland. Miombo plant communities are dominated by trees belonging to the family Caesalpiniaceae, and characterized by Brachystegia and Julbernardia species. North Eastern Zambia.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY


Covering much of central and southern Africa, the Miombo ecoregion is an area of 3.6 million km2 ranging across parts of Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The region is home to a diverse range of wildlife that includes numerous antelopes, giraffes, rhinos, lions and some of the largest populations of elephants in Africa. The word “miombo” is Bantu for the oak-like trees that characterize these central and eastern African woodlands. The region is also a centre of diversity for other tree species; of the 98 major species known in Africa, 86 are found in this area.

Much of the region remains sparsely settled and the resulting human population pressures are minimal, thus leaving large areas of the habitat relatively intact. Future population growth and associated activities, however, are seen as a potential threat. WWF is working on the ground with local communities, organizations and governments in the region to promote the use of natural resources in a more sustainable way, such as through conservation agriculture, sustainable charcoal production and reduction of water pollution from mines and industries. Alternative livelihoods, such as bee keeping, fish breeding and game ranching, are also being researched.


With close to 3.6 million km2 the Miombo ecoregion has a mix of agricultural activities, natural resource based livelihoods and its own share of poverty.

The ecoregion is dominated by a woody component whose dynamics can be attributed to 3 interacting disturbance factors: people, fire and wildlife (especially elephants). Anthropogenic activities centre on the partial to complete clearance of woodland, conversion of woodland to cropland, resource extraction and grazing leading to the modification or transformation of the ecosytem.

Land-use change is often the first consequence of population and economic growth and it can be argued that low soil fertility, lack of infrastructure and the presence of diseases have been the main factors preserving Miombo. They are all now subject to change as technological advances and infrastructure improvements are carried out as regional political stability is attained.

At the same time, the ecoregion's human population growth rate remains high and so will the spectre of poverty. The growing population will accelerate the rate of agricultural expansion, as most of the people are too poor to marshal resources with agricultural intensification.

Much of this expansion will be at the expense of the Miombo woodlands and will in the end entrench poverty as well as undermine livelihoods.


- Make people central to conservation and development.

- Increase the local population's participation in poverty alleviation programmes as well as all the facets of sustainability.

- Tackle inequitable and insecure access to woodland goods and services.

- Select economically valuable resources, adding value to natural resources, involving benefit sharing, encouraging sustainable management and together leading to poverty reduction.

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