Dried earth, Tunisia
Yvette Tavernier/Still Pictures
The Northern African sub-region has an arid climate and desert or semi-desert environments are dominant. Forests and woodlands are therefore not common in most of the six countries of the sub-region except along the coast of the western Mediterranean countries, the Atlas Mountains, and in the tropical zone which cuts through parts of Sudan. There are also some mangroves along the coast of the Red Sea. The total forest/woodland area in Northern Africa is estimated as 68 million hectares and constitutes 8 per cent of the total land area and about 10 per cent of Africa's forests (FAO 2001a). Although some countries have actually shown increases in forest cover in the past 30 years (owing to establishment of plantation forestry), the major concern in the region is still loss and degradation of natural forests and wooded areas.
Non-forest types of woody vegetation in Northern Africa include forest-like stands of trees, shrubs, and large bushes found in sandy wadis (wetlands) and depressions. The summits of coastal and inland high mountains support many wooded plants. Hydrophilous reeds occur in wetlands, and trees are cultivated as windbreaks or hedgerows around farms, along roads and canals constituting additional forest-like resources in the region. All wooded areas, although not counted in the forest area figures, are important for forest products, grazing and control of desertification through soil stabilization and regulation of hydrological systems (AOAD 1998, Hegazy 1999). No significant commercial timber production is practised or planned in the subregion, although small plantations do exist. Local people use over two-thirds of forest plants for food, medicinal purposes, construction, energy, and livestock rearing, and 35 per cent of plants are known to be multipurpose, that is to say useful for more than one application (FAO 1999, UNESCO/UCO 1998). In most countries in the sub- region, forestry's contribution to GDP is low. Sudan is the only country in the sub-region in which the forestry sector contributes significantly to GDP-as much as 13 per cent. Production of industrial wood is very limited with about two-thirds of the demand for industrial rounded wood and processed wood products in the sub-region being met by imports (FAO 1999).