New study finds timber harvesting in Madagascar out of control
The USAID-funded project was aimed to combat the illegal trade in Madagascar’s natural resources through capacity building for Malagasy stakeholders. The project was launched in 2013 and was implemented by a consortium of four NGOs: WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International and TRAFFIC, in close collaboration with civil society and government.
At least 350,000 trees were illegally felled inside protected areas and at least 150,000 tonnes of logs illegally exported to destinations including China, Malaysia and Mauritius over the five-year period, according to the study: Timber Island: The Rosewood and Ebony Trade of Madagascar.
“Poor governance and corruption led to an anarchic situation with no control over timber harvesting resulting in an all-out ‘timber-rush’ with widespread felling of rosewood and ebony trees in protected areas across Madagascar, from which it will take years for the environment to recover,” said Roland Melisch of TRAFFIC International.
“This latest study should help the government of Madagascar to understand the issues that led to this catastrophic situation and to begin the long process of mitigating the ensuing mismanagement crisis.”
Madagascar is home to hundreds of endemic rosewood Dalbergia and ebony Diospyros timber species, many of which are in high demand, particularly in Asia, because of their attractive appearance and highly durable properties for carving into furniture and other household items.
However, according to the report: “The precious timber management policy is characterized by a disconnect between management decisions (i.e. political declarations and international commitments) and their implementation on the ground.”
The report makes a number of recommendations directed at the Government, in particular the Ministry of Environment, Ecology and Forests, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance, together with the Independent Anti-Corruption Bureau (BIANCO), Financial Intelligence Unit (SAMFIN), forest administration partners and research organizations. Some key issues to address include rigorous implementation of existing legislation, carrying out key resource assessments and basic training on species identification.
Madagascar is already facing strong international pressure to remedy the situation. At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in South Africa in September 2016, the country was called upon by the Convention’s Secretariat to implement a timber Action Plan: a failure to demonstrate adequate progress in auditing stockpiles of seized precious timber species and taking adequate enforcement action against illegal timber harvesting could result in trade sanctions being imposed on the country.
The international community has demonstrated its willingness to assist: during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit, held in December 2015, China, the main destination for Madagascar’s timber, pledged to scale up its assistance to African countries pertaining to the wildlife sector and increase its co-operation on sustainable forest management.
Madagascar also recently became a member of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and is a signatory to both the Zanzibar Declaration on timber trade and the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Law Enforcement and Anti-Poaching Strategy (LEAP). These forums and the African Union-led Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa provide for excellent opportunities for Madagascar to seek financial and technical support from development banks and the international community to improve transparency and governance in the country’s timber and forest sector and are an acknowledgment by the country of the need for a more concerted and co-ordinated regional approach to stopping the poaching and trafficking of illegal wildlife products.
“Madagascar is signalling it sees the need for reform in management of its timber resources, but such agreements need to be accompanied by hard action at the highest level of government,” said Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana, Country Director for WWF Madagascar.