Forestry development in East Africa

4th December 2019

The recently published World Bank African Pulse report (October 2019) indicated that average economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rise modestly from 2.5 percent in 2018 to 3.2 percent by 2021.

The report identified Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda as the top 10 countries in terms of economic growth. These countries produce 25 percent of the region’s total GDP and house 35 percent of the region’s population.

The five East African countries listed among the top 10 (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) have average projects GDP growth rates for 2019 to 2024 of between 7.85 percent for Rwanda to 4.0 percent for Tanzania (Table 1). The total population for these five countries is estimated to increase from 250 million to 278 million people between 2019 and 2024.

Table 1: Percentage change in Gross Domestic Product per year (Constant prices) (IMF, 2019)

The regional increase in economic growth and population require establishment of timber processors and associated plantation development. The five countries have a combined forest area of 65.5 million hectare of which 1.96 million hectare are planted forests (Table 2). Plantation areas can be divided between large government, private plantations and small scale timber growers. In Tanzania, for instance, it is estimated that small scale timber growers contribute to more than 130 000 ha of an estimated 210 000 ha of plantation resources in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania . Small scale timber growers function often independently from cooperatives or formal management structures, leading to a lack of information regarding the afforested area and stand structure of their holdings.

Table 2: FAO (2015) estimates of forest cover for Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda (Global Forest Watch, 2019)

Trade statistics indicate that the five countries were net importers of timber products between 2013 and 2017. Total exports were reported as US$ 273 million over the period, while imports were US$ 845 million . Tanzania was the main exporter of timber products (mostly sawn timber) and Ethiopia the main importer of timber products (mostly sawn timber and panel products) (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Timber exports between 2013 and 2017 (Comstat, 2019)

Figure 2: Timber imports between 2013 and 2017 (Comstat, 2019)

These trade statistics illustrate a supply and demand gap in timber products. This is in part due to the nascent development of plantation resources, lack of processing facilities and poorly developed supply chains in these countries. These factors are recognized as key constraints to development. The Government of Kenya recognized, for instance, the importance of developing timber-processing facilities for job creation and local economic development. Driven by strong economic growth, the development of a timber-processing sector in East Africa could pose an opportunity for potential timber processing investors who are willing to develop value chains and support expansion of plantation resources.

[1] World Bank Group, 2019. African Pulse, Volume 20.

[2] IMF, 2019. World Economic Outlook Database, April 2019.

[3] Global Forest Watch, 2019. Country dashboards.

[4] Arvola et al., 2019. Mapping the Future Market Potential of Timber from Small‑Scale Tree Farmers: Perspectives from the Southern Highlands in Tanzania.  Small Scale Forestry, Vol 18: 189 – 212.

[5] COMSTAT, 2019.  COMESA Data Hub.

[6] Republic of Kenya, 2016: Improving efficiency in forestry operations and forest product processing in Kenya. UN-REDD Programme