> Sifelani Tsiko
The recent signing of the Zanzibar Declaration on Illegal Logging by forest protection agencies in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and Madagascar is a hopeful sign of the commitment by eastern and southern African countries to stem the alarming growth in illegal timber trade which is costing the countries billions of dollars.
The deal which was struck at a global gathering on forests in South Africa in recent weeks, aims to improve communication between customs authorities and collaboration among forest officials from the east and southeast African nations.
“The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) welcomes the Zanzibar Declaration on Illegal Trade in Timber and Other Forest Products, the first such agreement of its kind in the region,” said Geofrey Mwanjela, head of the WWF Coastal East Africa Initiative terrestrial programme.
“The declaration comes at a crucial time. Illegal trade in timber is expanding at an alarming rate and this new commitment by governments will greatly amplify efforts to reduce such trade at the regional level.”
The declaration was accepted and announced at the XIV World Forestry Congress, one of the largest gatherings of world forestry leaders.
The event was facilitated by WWF, TRAFFIC, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“The Zanzibar Declaration signals a firm commitment by the countries concerned to curtail the illegal and unsustainable timber trade that is benefitting criminals and depleting the natural resources of the region,” said Julie Thomson, TRAFFIC’s East Africa programme co-ordinator.
TRAFFIC is a joint programme by the WWF and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to monitor wildlife trade and ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation.
Forest experts had for several years bemoaned about inadequate collaboration among national forest agencies and customs agencies across the region.
Lack of collaboration has led to unfettered growth in illegal logging that has seen violent armed groups and other mafia –type business thriving and profiteering from this trade.
In 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme reported that in east, central and West Africa, criminal groups are thought to make more money from selling illegal wood products – up to $9 billion annually – than through street-level drug-dealing.
Forest experts say there is growing intra-regional and inter-regional illegal trade of timber and other forest products flowing across Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, as well as further towards the Western and Central Africa termed Africa’s ‘Green Heart.’
Kenya loses roughly US$10 million per year from illegal cross-border trade between Tanzania and Kenya, according to a 2012 study by the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum and East African Wild Life Society.
Tanzania loses around US$8,33 million annually from such trade, according to a similar government report.
“If properly managed, forests provide jobs for workers and homes for wildlife. They also act as a filter pulling planet-warming carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, so protecting them is crucial for the broader environment,” said Juma Mgoo head of Tanzania’s Forest Service.
“Across the region, the illegal timber trade is flourishing at an alarming pace. Criminal groups are benefiting from the environmental destruction and forests continue to dwindle at unprecedented rates in our region.
“If we continue at the rate which we are going there will be nothing left for our children and their children to enjoy.”
In a presentation at the congress, WWF – Zimbabwe country director, Dr Enos Shumba said it was important for African countries to explore and promote the African perspective for building resilience of different forest ecosystems to withstand economic, environmental and social shocks through forest management.
He highlighted the opportunities for enhancing Miombo woodland ecosystem resilience through participatory forest management referring to environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of forests for the benefit of present and future generations.
He also stressed the need to enhance the participation of local communities and stakeholders and provision of adequate economic incentives to save forests.
“The existence of enabling governance and institutional frameworks and their enforcement at various levels, as well as functional cross sector coordination and respect for integrated land use planning and its implementation is critical to build resilience and save our forests,” Dr Shumba said.
WWF’s Living Forests Report projects potential forest loss in the East Africa region of up to 12 million hectare between 2010 and 2030.
WWF’s remote sensing analysis has indicated that forest losses from 2000 to 2012 were concentrated in Mozambique (2, 2 million hectares), Tanzania (2 million hectares) and Zambia (1.3 million hectares).
Globally, between 50 – 90 per cent of wood is harvested or traded illegally, according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and it’s estimated to cost US$30 – 100 billion annually.
The Zanzibar Declaration was hammered after protracted debate and negotiations among key stakeholders in the forest sector, national forest agencies as well as regional and international partners and civil society organizations, including WWF.
Environment Africa Zimbabwe country director Barney Mawire told The Southern Times that although illegal timber poaching within the Sadc region is not as prevalent as in central and west Africa, the region needs to strategise and work together to fight illegal timber trade.
“The Zanzibar Declaration is quite noble and this should be tied in to trade bodies such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA),” he said.
“Timber poaching is growing and need to join hands and fight together. This will go a long way towards fighting illegal timber trade.”
Mawire said it was important to have forest experts at the ports of entry to monitor the illegal movement and trade in timber products.
“Forest experts understand the issues better and are better placed in dealing with timber poaching which is increasingly becoming sophisticated,” he said. “We need them at our borders and we need to work with our neighbours to develop new methods to curb illegal timber trade.”
Zimbabwe is losing approximately 330 000 hectares of natural forests and woodlands per year due to the over-reliance on biomass to meet the country’s energy needs.
More than 70 percent of the population depends on biomass for energy needs and this has over the decades depleted the country’s forest cover.
Forest experts say Zimbabwe now has around 15,6 million hectares remaining.
They say logging syndicates work with corrupt police and officials to exploit legislative loopholes that allow them to pass off illicitly obtained fuelwood as legitimate.
Zimbabwe passed a law in 2012 restricting the use, trade and movement of firewood, but with fines that rarely exceed $20 the legislation is proving a poor deterrent, experts said.
Power cuts are making it difficult to keep deforestation under control and forestry experts say it is becoming more difficult to enforce legislation as the situation becomes more about survival.
Deforestation has an adverse impact on the environment and experts warn that the depletion of the country’s forests could worsen water availability.
“Models show deforestation could result in a decline in precipitation of more than 5 percent across Zimbabwe by 2050,” Terrence Mushore, a lecturer at the Bindura University of Science Education was quoted saying in the media recently.
Despite the deforestation woes, Mawire said Zimbabwe had done well in saving its forests.
“Zimbabwe has done well in terms of preserving its forests and fighting illegal timber trade,” he said.
Timber poaching for trade is not as serious as in east, central or west Africa but as a country we need to continuously improve our strategies for curbing illegal timber trade.”
Poor implementation and weak enforcement still remains a major barrier in the fight against illegal trade in timber.
In the absence of political will, effective implementation and enforcement, the damage illegal loggers have done will continue unabated, costing Africa billions.
The future of children, will be under threat from unsustainable timber logging activities.
And, without enforcement, the Zanzibar Declaration, although an important step in the fight against timber poaching, will simply add time to the clock, but without doing anything to change Africa’s illegal timber trade endgame.