3 East African countries unite to fight illegal logging

Today, government representatives from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania announced a new partnership to fight illegal logging. The announcement comes on the heels of a report from the United Nations Environment Programme that called for more international cooperation in the effort to stop illegal wildlife trade.

According to estimates from a UN Environment Programme report released earlier this week, illegal logging costs the global economy $30-100 billion U.S. dollars in lost revenue each year. This is equivalent to 10-30 percent of the total global timber trade. Illegal logging is devastating to ecosystems and biodiversity, and competes with efforts to create a market around sustainable forestry goods. Furthermore, deforestation may contribute to climate change, as forests are important for sequestering carbon.

“We are being confronted by this huge problem which stems from illegal timber,” said Lazaro Nyalandu, Tanzania’s Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism.

Timber is harvested illegally for a number of purposes. One is the logging of tropical hardwoods for export overseas, particularity of mahogany, African cherry and Rosewood. Just this May, Kenyan customs intercepted 32 shipping containers of illegally harvested rosewood from Madagascar on its way to China. David Mbugua of Kenya’s Forest Services said this single seizure was valued at around $4 million British pounds.

Erik Patel. Illegal rosewood stockpile in Madagascar. /CC BY 3.0

Another major market for illegal wood is charcoal production, which is a common source of cooking fuel in East Africa. In Kenya, charcoal provides energy for 82 percent of urban households, and 34 percent of rural households, according the UN Environmental Programme. Illicit charcoal production tends to be much less efficient, with conversion rates of 10 percent compared to 30 to 40 percent with the proper knowledge and equipment.

The partnership of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania was announced today at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. The partnership is being supported by the UN Environment Programme, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and INTERPOL. “We need a range of interventions across borders,” said Helene Clark, an administrator for the UN Environment Programme. “We welcome this initiative.”

This regional effort aims to strengthen the enforcement capacities of local authorities, as well as improve customs at these countries' borders and ports.

Norway has made just over $5 million U.S. dollars of funding available to support the efforts of this partnership over the next two years, through the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, more succinctly known as REDD.

Niklas Hagelberg, a Programme Officer for the UN Environmental Programme’s policy division said REDD has previously worked with the ministries of environment or ministries of natural resources. But with this new partnership, REDD will now work with judiciary branches and ministers of interior, bringing the issue of illegal timber to sectors where this has not been on the agenda yet.

Hagelberg said that REDD recognizes that the problem of illegal timber cannot be halted in just two years. Rather, the collaboration of East African nations is part of a long-term plan that’s starting to put in place the elements that will make it harder to log illegally and more feasible to produce timber and charcoal legally.

A longer term goal is to address the markets for these products. In the case of charcoal, that means working with communities to provide a more sustainable fuel source for cooking. In the case of timber exports, it’s a question of educating the consumer base and working with the countries that are destinations for these goods.

Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda's Minister of Water and the Environment said that today’s announcement is a step towards addressing the problem of illegal logging on a regional level, but that it will be necessary to continue to work towards a global collaboration.

Tags: Deforestation | Kenya | Tanzania | Uganda | United Nations

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