Liberia Barcodes Its Trees to Protect Rainforests

barcode metalic photo

Photo by diongillard via Flickr CC

Barcoding seems to be the conservation concept of the day, and that goes for sparing trees from illegal logging. The latest country to use the technology is Liberia, and at least one expert thinks that barcoding trees to protect timber production could make the country a "poster child for a new green economy in Africa."
The rainforests of Liberia, like rainforests most everywhere, are under threat from illegal logging. However, implementing a new technology involving barcodes could save the day. Fred Pearce of Yale e360 reports on Liberia's new technique. He notes that Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the European Union have signed a deal to strengthen the country's timber industry by requiring every harvestable tree and every log to have a barcode that tracks it from its original location to its final destination.

The tags are from SGS, a Swiss-based company, and the requirement that every piece of timber coming from Liberia must carry a barcode will start in early 2013. Each tree gets a tag while still standing, and when it is cut, each log gets a barcode. Those barcodes must be traceable back to a stump in the forest.

While the system is called the "world's most advanced nationwide verification system for wood products", Pearce notes, "This is critical for a country desperate to boost timber exports. But it is also a potential threat to Liberia's forests, which cover more than 4 million hectares, 45 percent of the country. They are home to the world's only known viable population of pygmy hippos, as well as such indigenous wildlife as the Liberian mongoose, the Diana monkey, and the small antelope known as Jentink's duiker, which is the rarest duiker in the world."

The risks are high, but even environmentalists are hopeful that the new system will help Liberia form a "green economy" that keeps logging in check -- not only that, but to show the world how reigning in logging efforts can be profitable.

Pearce's article provides a good deal of history about Liberia, and why the barcoding system is just one of many issues the country must get a grip on in order to find footing after years of civil war.

Another company behind barcodes for trees is Helveta, which uses plastic barcode tags hammered into trees. Forest managers use handheld devices to scan the tags when the tree is cut and upload the information to a secure database, which then allows for the tree to be tracked through the inventory stream, as well as generate inventory maps, management reports and audit histories. Here's a video on how that technology works:

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