New Book Warns Of Shrinking Forests In Namibia

26 May 2023

It is not only climate change, annual fires, excessive logging and the clearing of large areas that threaten Namibia's forests. But also ignorance. Many residents, politicians and even ecologists are not even aware that there are forests in Namibia. The same applies to tourists and Namibia holidaymakers.

This was pointed out by forestry expert Prof. Vera De Cauwer at the presentation of her book 'Status Quo of Sustainable Forest Management in Namibia'. The reason: Namibia's forests do not correspond to the usual ideas or definitions. However, if one uses the classification of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), an estimated 66,000 square kilometres fall into the category of forest areas. This corresponds to more than 8.1 percent of Namibia's total land area.


Forest areas in Namibia. Source: Book 'Status quo of Sustainable Forest Management in Namibia'.
by Prof. Vera De Cauwer, Windhoek 2023


The book, published by Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSS) and its partner Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN), aims to raise awareness of these forests and draw attention to the threats they face. At the same time, it appeals for their protection and sustainable use.

One fifth of forest areas lost in 30 years

The forest areas are mainly located in the north-east of the country, where the average annual rainfall is higher than in the rest of Namibia. In addition, there are the gallery forests along the border rivers Kunene in the northwest and Okavango and Zambezi in the northeast, as well as Gariep (Orange) in the south. The Rivers (dry rivers) throughout the country are also lined with narrow forests. While water flows sporadically above ground, it flows underground all year round.


Forest in the Namib Desert near Homeb in the Kuiseb Rivier (dry river).  Photo: Sven-Eric Stender


In the northeast, the forest areas are shrinking, mainly due to clearing to gain more agricultural land. But excessive felling of trees for the timber industry is also tearing gaps, especially since no new trees are being planted. Since a rough inventory using satellite images in the early 1990s, the country's forest area has probably been reduced by about one fifth.

Conservation and sustainable use

"I am not a tree-hugger [tree hugger = eco-freak; ed.]," emphasised the head of the HSS office in Namibia, Clemens von Doderer, at the book launch. "Natural resources must also be allowed to be used. But this must be done in a sustainable way." However, this requires a management plan.

A prerequisite for this is a regular inventory - with species, number and age of the trees. And there is a lack of this: the rough recording by satellite dates back 30 years. A more precise 'inventory' was carried out at the turn of the millennium, but it did not cover the whole country. "A usable nationwide inventory, including the training of inhabitants of forested areas, would probably cost N$ 24-30 million," estimates von Doderer. In a national budget of around N$ 60 billion, that would be a small item. But unfortunately, as the book's author De Cauwer notes, the Forestry Directorate in the Ministry of Environment already lacks resources for the tasks it has to perform on a daily basis.

At least some progress has been made in protecting the forests. Three state forests were officially proclaimed as such last week and are now legally protected.


Happy about the compact book on sustainable forest management in Namibia (from left):
Bruce Liswani (HSS project assistant), Lara Beer (coordinator), Prof. Vera De Cauwer (author)
and Clemens von Doderer (Head of the HSS Office in Namibia).  
Photo: Sven-Eric Stender


In the book 'Status Quo of Sustainable Forest Management in Namibia', Prof. De Cauwer incidentally draws on the results of a fundamental study on sustainable forest management in Namibia, which was presented a year ago. The study also served as the basis for the national conference 'The Future of Namibia's Forests', which took place in Windhoek last July (see our report). HSS and DRFN were responsible for the conference, study and book. Financial support was provided by the European Union.

Holidaymakers experience Namibia's forests more often than they think

Forest areas in Namibia seem to play a rather minor role in tourism. The quiver tree forests near Keetmanshoop and in the Naukluft Mountains do not qualify as forests, even according to the FAO's broad classification, any more than the 'fairytale forest' of moringa trees in Etosha National Park. Camel thorn tree forests like the one near Rehoboth, on the other hand, do. The dry forests with their mighty baobab trees in the north-east of the country certainly do. And of course the forest strips in the riverine landscapes of the Kavango and Zambezi regions.


Remains of an ancient gallery forest: tree skeleton in Deadvlei near Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert.
Photo: Sven-Eric Stender


However, in the case of one top attraction, tourists and holidaymakers - as well as many Namibian residents, politicians and even ecologists - are not even aware that these are forest areas: The tree-lined banks of the Tsauchab River (dry river) at Sossusvlei. The remains of an ancient gallery forest are a Namibian tourist trademark: the tree skeletons in Deadvlei in the middle of the Namib Desert.

Sven-Eric Stender

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