In the 1980s, Somalia’s total forest cover was estimated at about 39 million hectares or 62% of the country’s landmass , . By 2014, forest cover in Somalia had reduced to just 6.4 million hectares or 10.3% of the country’s total land area ; the majority of which is classified as low-density wood, with closed forest cover occupying no more than 3% of the country , . Somalia’s remaining forest resources include tropical vegetation along the Shabelle and Juba rivers and nearby floodplains, juniper trees in the Northern Golis mountain range, and coastal mangroves. All of which, however, have become increasingly threatened by commercial exploitation, particularly following the civil wars of the 1990s . For instance, virtually all the tropical floodplain forest that once existed along the Shabelle River has been cleared for smallholder agriculture together with sugar and banana plantations, except for a small patch set aside as a reserve at Balcad by the Somali Ecological Society .
According to a GIS analysis carried out by the World Bank, Somalia lost about 686,000 ha of forest between 2000 and 2017: an annual loss of 40,000 ha of forestland, accounting for at least 6% of all the trees lost in Africa due to inappropriate land uses and economic livelihoods. As a result, in the period under investigation, Somalia lost an estimated 205 million trees, equivalent to about 5 million tons of CO₂ emissions. This is unsustainably high, especially given Somalia’s generally arid disposition .
Charcoal and firewood remain the main sources of energy both in urban and rural areas , accounting for about 82% of Somalia’s total energy consumption . Moreover, illegal charcoal export from the country continues unabated despite a ban by the UN Security Council Resolution 2036 in 2012, as well as the Somali Government ban. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, an estimated 8.2 million trees were cut down for charcoal in Somalia between 2011 and 2017. As a result, forests in Somalia have been depleted to such an extent that the livelihoods of the population have been severely impacted. Widespread deforestation has also led to land degradation, food insecurity and increased vulnerability to flooding and drought . The cost of deforestation and land degradation associated with charcoal production alone has been estimated at US$216 million , .
Wood is the main source of household energy and construction materials for many Somalis, but charcoal – and certain other wood products – are also important for the revenue they provide .
Charcoal production is the main driver of deforestation in Somalia. According to the World Bank (2020), annually, about 250,000 tonnes of charcoal are produced in the country, mainly for export: to produce this, 4.4 million mature trees are felled, and 73,000 ha of land is cleared as a result. Charcoal is now the second-most important export item in the country after livestock and much of the charcoal produced is exported to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries . Charcoal is also a key source of energy for Somalia , , where few have access to electricity .
The overwhelming majority of forest cover loss in Somalia takes place in the South West State. It is important to note that the South West State is largely in the grip of al-Shabaab, which has been accused by the international community of trading in the export of large quantities of charcoal. Despite an export ban through the UN in 2012, charcoal production, which uses valuable trees such as Acacia bussei, still presents one of the major businesses supporting the Islamist group al-Shabaab. A 2018 UN report estimates that al-Shabaab derives an income of up to US$ 20 million a year from charcoal production .
Key policies and governance approach
Some steps have been taken by the Somali Government to address deforestation, including the prohibition of the export of charcoal and firewood in 1969, an order meant to protect trees . However, this ban was reversed barely 6 years later , and following the onset of the civil war, export oriented charcoal production multiplied and has expanded rapidly ever since . Following this, several UN Security Council Resolutions on Somalia have focused on stopping illegal charcoal production in the country. Included is Resolution 2036 (2012) which calls on Somali authorities to “take the necessary measures to prevent the export of charcoal from Somalia.” This Resolution also calls upon “all Member States [to] take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect import of charcoal from Somalia, whether or not such charcoal originated in Somalia” .
Somalia has also put in place several relevant policies and strategies, including: the National Environment Policy (2019), which aims to promote sustainable development through the sound management of the country’s natural resources, including its forests ; the Updated Nationally Determined Contribution (2021), which proposes both climate mitigation and adaptation actions for the forest sector ; the National Voluntary Land Degradation Neutrality Targets (2020), which includes a target to increase the national forest cover from 10.14% (2015) to 10.20% (2022) and to maintain 30% forest cover by 2030, through agroforestry and sustainable land management ; and the National Energy Policy (2018), which promotes the widespread production, use and storage of renewable energy as a way to reduce deforestation pressures for biomass energy generation .
Further, a National Charcoal Policy is now in place to counter deforestation . This policy aims to halt the export of charcoal from Somalia and to regulate its domestic consumption in a sustainable manner in order to minimize the negative socioeconomic and environmental impacts of domestic charcoal production, including deforestation. The policy will also pave the way for promoting alternative energy sources by providing alternative livelihoods to the charcoal value chain beneficiaries involved in the charcoal production and trade .
Successes and remaining challenges
Somalia’s early attempts to enforce a ban on charcoal trade and production were unsuccessful, as they did not consider all elements surrounding trade and production. These attempts exclusively focused on issuing legal instruments with absolutely no provisions to holistically support the enforcement mechanisms, particularly, in a crisis context prevailing in Somalia. This consequently resulted in an increase in illegal exports of charcoal from Somalia. Furthermore, the livelihoods of Charcoal Value Chain Beneficiaries were not considered, nor were alternative sources of energy provided for poor communities, particularly women in urban and rural areas who are using charcoal for cooking. Using the lessons learned from these past failures , the Government of Somalia has now developed the National Charcoal Policy, which should be fully implemented .
However, overall, capacity for environmental governance and natural resources management in Somalia remains generally limited, and, at best, can only be described as fragmented. Further, the country has no forest management regulations, an absence of forest certification and no forest management agency. As such, there is virtually no institutional framework that would serve as an anchor for forest resources stewardship in Somalia .
Initiatives and Development Plans
In 2016, the Programme for Sustainable Charcoal Reduction and Alternative Livelihoods (PROSCAL) was launched, a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) . This Programme aims to reduce demand for charcoal while also providing Somalis with alternative options for clean energy and sustainable livelihoods.
The first major component of the project is to build the capacity of those in power, and to build awareness of the environmental issues associated with charcoal production. This has been taking place on a local, national, and regional level, including working to influence and develop policy, and engaging local and international media. Within Somalia, the project has worked with all levels of government, supporting the development of a national charcoal policy, but also strengthening the capacity of Somalia’s sub-federal states, which often lack even the most basic resources, such as stationery and internet access.
The second component is to reduce demand for charcoal inside Somalia. The project has been doing this through producing and distributing fuel-efficient stoves. Beyond individual households, the project has been promoting investment in liquid gas petroleum and the first biogas project in Mogadishu.
The final component of the project, led by FAO, is promoting alternative livelihoods, such as livestock raising, horticulture, and beekeeping, for those currently working in charcoal production.
So far, the Programme has achieved the following: i). the first ever multilateral meeting was held between the Federal Republic of Somalia, neighbouring countries and the Gulf States to support the Somalia charcoal ban; ii). the development of the cross-governmental National Charcoal Policy; iii). Somali journalists from television and radio have been trained on environmental reporting; iv). over 6,000 households have switched to energy-efficient stoves, including 700 fuel-efficient stoves distributed to internally displaced people in Puntland; v). a one-house, one-tree campaign has been carried out across Puntland, with over 3,000 new trees planted in Bosaso alone; and vi). over 5,000 people – nearly half of them women – from across Somalia have been made aware of the negative impacts of charcoal production and trained in positive and sustainable agricultural practices .
- A new authority to manage the country’s forest reserves should be established, with representations in all the Federal Member States (FMS) .
- The Federal Government of Somalia, in partnership with the FMS, should promulgate enabling legislation on community-based forestry management that would allow for the establishment of community institutions to manage forests .
- Forest conservancies should be established, especially in the north-west and in the coastal mosaic forests, allowing communities to manage forests, especially highly sensitive and endemic species, such as the Juniperus excelsa forest in the mountainous belt of Golis, which is threatened by potentially predatory private sector interests .
- Forestry extension training should be provided to both state and non-state actors, including members of forest conservancies .
- Full implementation of the National Charcoal Policy is needed .
- A moratorium should be declared on the production, movement and sale of charcoal outside the borders of Somalia, in order to bring to a halt the industrial-scale deforestation of dryland forests and scrubland in the south of the country .
- Communities should be consulted on their requirements for non-wood forest products (NWFPs), and regulations should be established to govern this .
- Efforts should be made to divert pressure from the forest stock and associated biodiversity, and to provide the inhabitants with environment friendly alternatives .
- More efforts should be made to focus on Somalia’s REDD readiness .
- Promote tree agroforestry in Somalia, including integration with farming systems, with focus on high-value fruit trees adapted to growing in the country .
- Promote reforestation and afforestation throughout the country for the rehabilitation of degraded lands .
- Increase awareness about the impacts of deforestation on the environment and livelihoods .
 Government of Somalia. (2022). Somalia’s First Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MoECC), Mogadishu, Somalia.
 World Bank. 2020. Somalia Country Environmental Analysis; Somalia Country Environmental Analysis : Diagnostic Study on Trends and Threats for Environmental and Natural Resources Challenges. © World Bank, Washington, DC. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/entities/publication/4025d674-4fe8-5ff6-b69d-7e3dbca0f7d1 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
 UNEP (2022). Somalia attempts to revive lands blighted by deforestation. [Online]. Available: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/somalia-attempts-revive-lands-blighted-deforestation.
 Federal Government of Somalia, United Nations (2016). Federal Government of Somalia and United Nations Joint Programme for Sustainable Charcoal Reduction and Alternative Livelihoods (PROSCAL) (Programme Initiation Phase).
 United Nations Development Programme (2022). THE JOINT PROGRAMME FOR SUSTAINABLE CHARCOAL REDUCTION AND ALTERNATIVE LIVELIHOODS. [Online]. Available: https://www.undp.org/somalia/projects/joint-programme-sustainable-charcoal-reduction-and-alternative-livelihoods.