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Water Demand: Forestry

With increasing population and other pressures, forests declined in Southern Africa from 1990 to 2000 by approximately 8 % (FAO 2003a). Forest cover in Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe ranges from less than 10 % (South Africa) to approximately 50 % (Zimbabwe) (FAO 2003a). Botswana has just over 20 % of its land area within the Limpopo River basin allocated to forest plantations, while Mozambique has approximately 40 %.

According to 2009 World Development Indicators, deforestation in the four riparian countries was quite low from 2000 to 2005 ranging from 0 % to 1.7 % (World Bank 2010).

Forestry in the Limpopo River basin consists of natural forests and woodlands and commercial/plantation forestry (FAO 2004). The latter is predominantly practiced in South Africa and it is a minor activity in Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

The total plantation area in Botswana is estimated at 1 200 ha with 85 % belonging to the government and 15 % to private woodlots. Botswana imposed a ban on all timber operations in 1992 (FAO 2003a).

In Mozambique, the land use in approximately 50 % of the Gaza province and 35 % in Inhambane, within the Limpopo River basin, is considered dense and open forests (LBPTC 2010). An expansion of plantations with private sector involvement, especially in Mozambique, is projected.

Although South Africa is the main riparian country practising plantation forestry, the plantation area as a percentage of the total provincial land area within the Limpopo River basin is only 0.5 %. The commercial forest plantation sector is primarily under private ownership and based on exotic species of pine, eucalyptus, and Australian wattles (FAO 2003a). As these species require high rainfall, plantations are therefore found in the higher rainfall belt in South Africa.

In Zimbabwe, although approximately 50 % of the country is forest cover, this is limited within the Limpopo River basin. Natural forests and dense woodlands are mainly found outside the basin. Of the small number of plantations in Zimbabwe, about 58 % are under private ownership (FAO 2003a).

Although there is no information available on water usage related to forestry in the riparian countries, it can be assumed that the water demand from the forestry sector in Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe in the Limpopo River basin is minimal. However, the case study below suggests that even though the commercial forestry sector in South Africa is small, water demands can be quite high.

Approximately 50 % of Zimbabwe is forest covered.
Source: Schaefer 2010
( click to enlarge )

CASE STUDY: Plantation forestry and Water Use in South Africa 

Plantation forests (comprising mostly Eucalyptus and Pine) occur on about 1.5 Mha of land in South Africa. These forests support industries that are important to the economy of South Africa. Although the area of these forests is relatively small (little more than 1 % of total land area), the forests place high demands on the environment (i.e. in terms of water use) compared with both the area occupied, and compared with the natural vegetation that they replace.

In the period from the 1930s to the 1950s, South Africa established a series of whole-catchment experiments to assess the impacts of commercial forestry with alien species on water resources in high-rainfall areas. The outcome of this is that the reduction of usable run-off by commercial afforestation is estimated to be about 7 %.

Source: FAO 2004