The Congo Basin is the second-largest and one of the most important wilderness areas in the world today, with the tropical rainforest spanning more than 500 million acres. The tropical rainforest spans six central African countries: DRC, Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, the CAR, and Equatorial Guinea (Denslow).
Each tropical rainforest is unique from other rainforests. For instance, the Congo forest is different from all other tropical rainforests in the world. However, there are similarities in features that warrant them to be likened to one another and be generalized as tropical rainforests. The first unique feature about tropical rainforests is the location. These forests are located around the equator (or zero degrees latitude). These forests are often located somewhere between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, also known as the tropics. With temperatures around the equator always high, there is accelerated evaporation of water in the tropics which lead to constant rainfall, hence the name Tropical rainforest-meaning the forest is located within the tropics and receives constant rainfall (Denslow). With its constant rain, the tropics have only two seasons-wet and dry seasons.
The climate in Tropical Rainforest
Just as the name suggests, tropical rainforests receive rainfall all year round. The climate has little or no seasonal changes to its weather. The average annual precipitation of tropical rainforests goes up to 406 c, with some rainforests experiencing up to over 1000 cm of rain. These rainforests are further classified according to the amount of rain they receive throughout the year (Asefi-Najafabady). Lowland equatorial rainforests receive the most rainfall through the year, with mean rainfall going over 200 cm annually (Wagner). These rainforests are located near the equator. The second category is called deciduous seasonal rainforests. These rainforests have more difference in precipitation during dry and wet seasons; dry seasons have lower rainfall while wet seasons have high rainfall. The third category is known as Montane rainforests or sometimes called cloud forests (Wagner). These rainforests are often found in mountainous areas with much cooler climate. The last category of rainforest is known as flooded forests. The name comes from the relatively constant water that saturates the ground, creating swamps.
Vegetation in Tropical rainforestThe combination of warm weather and saturated moisture all year round makes tropical rainforests particularly lush for plant life. These rainforests make home to numerous diverse species. Tropical rainforests have a constant canopy all year round, given that it is made of large trees that receive sunlight and precipitation throughout the year. Plant growth in rainforests is usually in three levels of growth: the ground stratum, understory and canopy. The canopy forms the roof of the rainforest from the leaves and branches of the tallest trees. Large trees can reach up to 120 feet above the ground, and with their dense cover, little or no sunlight usually reach lower vegetation (Denslow). Understory comprises of mid-range trees and smaller plants. The major plant species found at the understory include shrubs, herbs, and vines. The ground stratum, on the other hand, comprises of vegetation at the lowest level to the ground (Denslow). Most of the ground stratum is usually covered in decomposing leaves.
Animals found in Tropical Rainforest
Tropical rainforests are home to all kinds of animals. Numerous animal species thrive in the rainforests due to its hot and humid conditions that provide an abundance of plant life to sustain them. Tiny organisms such as bacteria are essential to the larger ecosystem as they facilitate decomposition of fallen leaves into the soil to balance soil nutrients (Asefi-Najafabady). Rainforests make home to small-sized forest animals such as monkeys, sloths, snakes, insects, frogs, rodents, birds, among other creatures. The rainforests also form home to mid-sized and large animals such as Tapir, gorillas, leopards, rhinos, among others (Denslow).
Advantages of the Rainforest to the Democratic Republic Congo
Timber. Timber gives significant revenue to DRC through exports of raw timber and finished products made from scarcely available hardwood timber. The rainforest provides a vast opportunity to exploit hardwood timber, which the country can either export or business people within the country can use to create wood products that will then be exported to earn the country revenue (Nasi). Current estimates show that formal timber sectors contribute about 6% to the GDP of the Democratic Republic of Congo, earning more than 120 million euros in taxes annually. Timber exports in the country comprise of up to 41% of total exports earnings and are the second most significant employer after the government. Forest companies have also played a significant role in construction of infrastructure such as building roads, construction of water dams and in rural electrification. The recognized forestry division in the Congo Basin generates wood that surpasses 10 million tonnes annually, exporting a large portion of the timber. The DRC exports timber worth up to 2.5 billion euros in revenue while domestically consumed production tops up to 1 billion in revenue.
Non-timber Forest products. The rainforest allows for extraction of products other than timber such as bamboo, rattan, and fruits, which are used to produce other commodities such as furniture used in homes. The rainforest, having broad coverage of non-timber products, provides a livelihood for entrepreneurs who exploit these products (Nasi). As a result, it provides business opportunities for DRC residents. The value of non-timber forest products is estimated to fetch close to 54 million euros per ha per year. Comprehensive studies estimate the total volume of bushmeat harvesting to be more than 1 million tonnes annually, translating to close to 3 billion euros at local market prices.
Tourism. Although the region's tourism sector is still poorly developed, gorilla tourism is particularly significant in the north of DRC. Little information is available on the value of revenue generated from tourism and recreational game hunting. However, it is estimated that bio-diversity tourism contributes about 1.35% to the balance of trade. The sector is estimated to have generated close to 10 million euros in revenue in 2007, making close to 0.697 million in taxes that year. The wild reserves have been estimated to collect approximately 190 euros per tourist. Gorilla tourism is estimated to be the most lucrative sources of international tourism, fetching about 1,254 euros per tourist (Nasi).
Disadvantages of the Tropical Rainforest to the Democratic Republic of Congo
While the tropical rainforest is beneficial to the economy of DRC, some drawbacks can be highlighted, especially regarding disease contraction in the region. The Congo Basin is known for harboring disease-causing agents that impact significantly on the health of Congo residents. Although there is little publication on the economic impact brought by these illnesses regarding loss in revenue, diseases such as malaria, dengue and leprosy have a significant impact on revenue loss in DRC and surrounding countries in the Basin (Aloni).
In conclusion, the Congo Basin comprises the second-largest tropical rainforest in the world, spanning more than 500 million hectares and covering countries like Cameroon, DRC, and the Central African Republic. The forest comprises dense green vegetation with warm and wet climate throughout the year. The forest has provided countries in the Congo Basin economic benefits from trading forest products and engaging in tourism. However, the forest also brings medical constraints that also impact the countries' economy as well.
Aloni, Michel Ntetani, Bertin Kadima Tshimanga, Pepe Mfutu Ekulu, Jean Lambert Gini Ehungu, and Rene Makwala Ngiyulu. "Malaria, clinical features and acute crisis in children suffering from sickle cell disease in resource-limited settings: a retrospective description of 90 cases." Pathogens and global health (2013): 198-201.
Asefi-Najafabady, Salvi, and Sassan Saatchi. Response of African humid tropical forests to recent rainfall anomalies. Phil. Trans. R. Soc, 2013.
Denslow, Julie Sloan. "Tropical rainforest gaps and tree species diversity." Annual review of ecology and systematics (1987): 431-451.
Nasi, R., Taber, A., & Van Vliet, N. "Empty forests, empty stomachs? Bushmeat and livelihoods in the Congo and Amazon Basins." International Forestry Review 13.3 (2011): 355-368.
Wagner, Fabien, Vivien Rossi, Melaine Aubry-Kientz, Damien Bonal, Helmut Dalitz, Robert Gliniars, Clement Stahl, Antonio Trabucco, and Bruno Herault. "Pan-tropical analysis of climate effects on seasonal tree growth." PLoS One (2014).
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