New study highlights timber trade challenges in eastern and southern Africa

African timber. Image: WWF

A new TRAFFIC and WWF report launched today highlights the challenges facing timber trading nations in eastern and southern Africa, in particular the need for improving trade monitoring and financial integrity and addressing issues related to politics, corruption and ethics at a national and regional level.

The Overview of the Timber Trade in East and Southern Africa: National Perspectives and Regional Trade Linkages was launched as representatives of governments from across the region meet to discuss implementation of the Zanzibar Declaration on Illegal Trade in Timber and other Forest Products.

The Declaration was signed in 2015 as part of an initiative to address rampant illegal timber trade in eastern and southern Africa under the umbrella of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Eastern African Community (EAC).

Key among the recommendations from the new report are calls for full government participation in forest-related multilateral agreements, such as those under SADC and EAC, to address issues undermining legal, sustainable timber production. In particular, the SADC and EAC Secretariats are urged to collaborate to capture information from government forestry, revenue collection, Customs, and ports authorities and make the data publicly available.

“Collection of appropriate and adequate data is an essential pre-requisite for management of timber resources, and maintaining these in an open and transparent manner is a sound basis for ensuring timber trade is carried out legally and sustainably,” said Julie Thomson, Head of TRAFFIC’s East Africa Office.

Overall the report finds the trade in natural forest timber was worth tens of millions of dollars in the last decade and is increasing, with domestic consumption, although poorly monitored, estimated to be more than ten times the volumes exported internationally.

China is the main importer of international trade, where there is a preference for heavy timber with a reddish hue such as rosewood. The report recommends improving implementation of trade governed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a critical issue given the recent listing of the entire rosewood Dalbergia genus within the Convention, meaning trade is now regulated through a system of permits.

Within eastern and southern Africa a number of established timber trade routes exist: a northern route supplies timber from forests in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Uganda for export via Kenya, while a southern route centres on the Tanzanian Port of Dar es Salaam for timber sourced in Zambia and Mozambique or directly exported from Mozambique, which is Africa’s fourth-largest timber exporter to China and the largest exporter in the eastern and southern Africa region. Significant volumes of natural timber from the region are also exported to South Africa.

The majority of timber imports to the region comprise coniferous sawn timber and Eucalyptus electricity poles. Most of the countries also import processed forest products, mostly paper, plywood and fibreboard, furniture, doors, fittings and joinery, with South Africa, Kenya, China, and India being the main exporters.

However, the report notes that despite existing policies, laws, and international protocols, most forestry departments in the region do not have adequate capacity routinely to monitor the industry. Records of the number and types of enterprises, the levels of employment, species used, the volume of raw materials consumed and converted, exported or imported, and the revenue turnover and taxes paid by forestry companies are largely unavailable.

“This week, governments have a golden opportunity to ensure the right measures are put in place and widely adopted to monitor and control timber trade flows within and from the region,” said Geofrey Mwanjela, the Eastern Africa Forest Coordinator for WWF. “It’s in everyone’s best interests to ensure a fair, equitable and sustainable timber trade becomes the norm in eastern and southern Africa.”



[1] The member states of the Zanzibar Declaration—Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Madagascar, and mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar