Forestry in unique Southern Sudan

May 6, 2013

Southern Sudan is better known for its 22-year civil war and its oil resources in the north of the country. As the country attempts to carve out a new destiny, it has some intricacies that may be fairly unique in the world ...
by Michal Brink

Sudan's main highway from capital city Jumba to Yambio. Average driving speed is 35km/h.
water teak
Young Sudanese girls carrying water. Sudanese teak plantation.


The correctional services system of the country allows prisoners who are Sudanese citizens to go home at weekends and to 'report for duty' again on the Sunday evening. No prisoner dares to stay away, due to the dire consequences.

If it is raining at the start of work in the morning, then people are not required to go to work. Even the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of one of the states was disappointed that the rain started at 10 in the morning and not at 08h00 (it rains nine months of the year).

If a local Sudanese driver has an accident with a foreigner, then the foreigner is responsible for all damages – even if the car was parked off the road at the time of the accident, with no driver behind the wheel.

However, forestry is the topic in this short report and this young country is endowed with large areas of natural forest. According to the UN FAO, 30% (70 million ha) of Sudan is forested. Of this, 20% is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest.

Between 1990 and 2010, Sudan lost an average of 300 000 ha per year. In total, between 1990 and 2010, Sudan lost a further 8% of its forest cover.

Sudan's forests contain 1 393 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass. Sudan has some 1 431 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles. Of these, 1.6% are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 2% are threatened.

Teak plantations
Sudan's bloody north-south war, fought over ideological, ethnic and religious differences – made worse by the discovery of southern oil reserves – lasted more than 20 years. The war, which ended with a 2005 north-south peace deal, followed another conflict that broke out as Sudan became independent from English-Egyptian rule in 1956.

But some 60 years ago, the English District Commissioners and other officials planted many mango and teak (Tectona grandis) trees. Teak is a hard wood famed for its ability to withstand exposure to the elements, including water and temperature changes, and is often used in making expensive garden furniture. The trees in Western Equatoria State, where mature trees tower above roads and saplings crowd available sunny spots, are originally from Burma (often known as Burmese teak). Little has been done to look after the trees during the long years of Sudan's wars.

Although the forest resources have mostly not been managed in a sustainable fashion, the decrease in trade resulting from the civil war has meant that some of these resources have been left untouched.

However, teak plantation forests in the Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria and Greater Bahr El Ghazal states and Mahogany forests in the Imatong ranges in Eastern Equatoria State, were also haphazardly harvested by the warring parties to finance their war effort. The SPLA in particular issued concessions to forest industries in East Africa and Asia to harvest teak in the forest plantations in southern Sudan which resulted in the deforestation of most of the plantations.

Following the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement between the north and south, a review of the concessions concluded that the contracts issued didn't conform to best forestry management and harvesting protocols, thus were annulled. But as economic activity expanded and with the increased demand for timber for the reconstruction of southern Sudan, these forestry resources are under threat of being inefficiently managed and exploited.

The teak plantations now need intensive silvicultural remedial activities to try and rectify the many years of neglect. This would include thinning and pruning operations. Teak has become an important day-to-day commodity to people in the southern states, where many people have teak chairs and benches in their homes.

The positive aspect of the teak timber resource is the fact that it has a high density due to the slow growth, making the lumber valuable for niche products such as ship decking for the exclusive yacht market.

Teak may be an important commodity product to the south, but the trees now play an everyday role in the lives of many. The hope is that the timber will prove to be as valuable a resource to the people in the area as it is a treasured wood in wealthier parts of the planet.

A woman busy preparing to plant an agricultural crop. Teak is destroyed in the process.
Community women preparing cassava for the table.


Published in Feb 2013

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram