Africa to tackle illegal rosewood trade with harmonised policy

Rosewood cut down foe exportation in Guinea Bissau
Rosewood cut down foe exportation in Guinea Bissau

Rosewood is noted to be the most lucrative illegal operation in wild fauna and flora especially across the West African region.

The high demand from China has led to illegal logging across the continent thereby increasing the exploitation and exportation of rosewood.

It is no news that the continent is losing huge sums of money due to unsustainable means of harvesting its natural resources as well as through illegal trading which in turn have devastating effects on the environment.

While these resources are dwindling with some going into extinction, the Africa Union (AU) has continuously expressed concern that if the trends of unsustainable exploitation of the resources are not put to a halt, the continent may face more severe implications in the near future.

The AU is bringing governments and other relevant stakeholders together to see the need to preserve and conserve their resources; both plant and animals.

Recently, at a national dialogue on Illegal Exploitation and Trade in Rosewood in Conakry, Guinea, participants observed that the West African region is the worst hit on illegal rosewood trade with Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia being the highest countries with 85 per cent exportation. Such illegal exploitation leaves in its trail massive environmental degradation.

However, Nigeria and Guinea are currently banned from exporting rosewood by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) due to the excessive illegal export of the wood from the countries.

The dialogue on illegal exploitation and trade in rosewood, which was organised by the AU in partnership with Forest Trend and the Guinea government, sought to put an end to the trend and the need to develop harmonised policies for the continent to tackle the unlawful business.

Huge loss of revenue to Africa

The Senior Policy Officer at the African Union, Almami Dampha, in his remarks said the economic impact of illicit trading in natural resources is put at $120 billion per annum, which is 5% of Africa’s GDP.

He said Africa loses annually an estimated $17 billion to illegal logging activities, 24 million jobs, which is about 6 per cent of overall employment in Africa and tax revenue of $3.6 billion.

Also, $13 billion is lost in illicit trade in the forestry sector, $7 billion to $23 billion on illicit trading in wildlife globally and cost the African tourist industry $25 million annually.

Risk of rosewood extinction

The Guinea Minister of Environment and Forest, represented by his adviser, Colonel Aboubacar Oulare, said the exploitation of rosewood was a big concern and “our environment ministry has since 1984 noticed the rise of many people involved in the exploitation of rosewood as the only means of making money.”

He said: “It was in 1980 that the Asian market was opened to us and we had participated in building the market, but if necessary measures are not taken we risk the disappearance of rosewood.

“We are assisting climate change factors with our activities of putting pressure on the resources.”

A threat to economic right

According to the AU Policy officer, Dampha, increasing level of illegal exploitation and trade in Africa’s natural resources over the last decades have contributed to slow economic development and depriving Africans the basic fundamental human, social and economic rights to live decent and peaceful lives.

Nowhere is corruption more pervasive, transcontinental, systemic, ruthless and done on an industrial scale than in the natural resources sector including our forests, fisheries and wildlife, he said.

“Illegal trade is having a serious impact on the livelihood of the people. We cannot continue to allow the trend to continue; cutting a tree that has taken 70 years to grow and getting $100 for it is not value oriented as the environment is affected,” Dampha said.

Daily Trust’s check shows that illegal logging of rosewood in the continent was at its peak in 2014. Even though it’s now declining “efforts need to be sustained in order for it not to go up because the Chinese are still on ground,” the AU officer emphasized.

Africa’s most priced resources are its people

“What we have are our people and resources. We need them to develop. We have a lot of resources but we are mismanaging them,” lamented Dampha lamented.

“That is why we are losing our youths who are trying to go to Europe. People are leaving Africa because of poverty, lack of jobs but we have what it take to address those problem but we are mismanaging them.

“We cannot continue to allow the external powers to come and be taking our resources and be giving us peanuts; we must address that by managing our resources, everyone has a role to play and it is not just the government.”

Key challenges

Joseph Ranto Musa, Executive Director of National Parks Authority of Sierra Leone laid bare the challenge in his country. “We are losing a lot of money on illegal trade,” he said.

The country which was covered with natural resources now has less than five per cent of the resources, in the past few months, leading to spike in temperature.

He said “the weather is so hot that people cannot sleep. This is due to climate change.”

Sierra Leone placed a ban on exportation of rosewood in 2014 which is being enforced by the military and the police but was later lifted due to protest.

However, it was noted that some indicative challenges that face the African continent in the fight against illegal logging include absence or weak regulation, poor financial resources, porous borders, inadequate and unarmed guards.

Way forward is in a united voice

The Guinean Director of Forestry, Colonel Layaly Camara has succinct words of advice to governments in Africa.

He said as in music symphony, African leaders and governments must develop the same policy and implementation plan to avoid illegal loggers beating the system through a loophole in member countries.

“We must not build a structure that will cause confusion; you achieve result of sustainable management of resources by harmonising at the regional level by implementing the same policies.”

To emphasis the dire consequence of poaching and illegal logging, he said once a census of elephant was taken in Guinea, and the result was 214. Another one conducted revealed only 14, he lamented.

What experts said

Leaders, governments, civil societies and communities have important role to play to ensure there is harmonised legal framework to regulate logging and other environment related challenges in Africa.

Participants at the workshop called for the establishment of National Forestry Fund by governments to help finance the forestry sector and help to take national inventory of forest for data development.

“There is need to review the issue of licensing. Key in the review is to outlaw syndication of a license which sees one licensee transferring same to third parties,” they said.

While noting that community ownership should be promoted in the management of forest resources, they said once the community is involved, they would protect the resources as their own.

Other recommendations include, the leaders should set good examples and have defaulters face justice.

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