Log Export Ban: Will It Help Develop A Sustainable Timber Market In Mozambique?

Written by Dana Sanchez

Mozambique has banned the export of whole logs outright from 2017, regardless of the species, in an effort to encourage local processing and develop a sustainable timber market in Mozambique, Noticias reported, according to Club of Mozambique.

From The Guardian. Story by Ning Hui, who received funding for this investigation from the Global Environment Institute

As recently as 2013, 93 percent of all logging in Mozambique was happening illegally, according to a report from the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency.

As well as leading to unsustainable deforestation, the export of illegally logged timber was also depriving the country of tens of millions of dollars a year in lost tax revenue.

The driving force behind this boom in illegal logging was China, the biggest importer of logs in the world. Chinese traders accounted for more than 90 percent of Mozambique’s timber exports in 2013, according to the environmental research organisation IIED. In 2014 Mozambican wood entering China surpassed $400 million, up from $90 million in 2009, according to the Africa Monitor.

Celso Correia is minister for land, environment and rural development — part of Mozambique’s newly created environment department. Corruption and illegal logging have dogged the Southern African country’s timber sector for more than a decade, he said.

He acknowledges his country is a stark example of what happens when insatiable demand for logs from China converges with weak law enforcement and corruption. He wants to change that.

“We have seized more illegal wood in one year than Mozambique has since independence,” he says. “We are passing a new forestry law and a new conservation law.”

Mozambique’s long-term ambition is to develop a more sustainable timber market in the country, including developing a larger processing industry rather than just exporting the logs. “We don’t mind people cutting trees. We need to have a sustainable forest and we need to have a market,” he says.

In Gile National Reserve in Zambezia Province, 35 logging licences created a huge circle of harvested land around the reserve boundary for the 2,980-square-kilometer protected area. After years of logging, the reserve is the last area where Pau Ferro, a highly desirable wood, still exists in Mozambique.

Gile attracts few tourists but many illegal loggers, according to the warden Jose Dias. Since 2012, his team has captured 58 trucks and 10 tractors packed with Pau Ferro from the reserve. “The majority of illegal acts are not detected,” he said.

The looting amounts to organised crime and involves government officials, Chinese buyers, communities and even staff inside the reserve, Dias said.

The government responded by banning the cutting of Pau Ferro for five years. But the ban means little to Jorge Bing, a major timber dealer in Zambezia province. “When villagers bring you the best wood on the market, ” he said, “why would you say no to it?”

Mozambique has long wanted to create a domestic processing market for timber. The government issued a partial export ban of first-class wood species in high demand from China, including Pau Ferro, in 2002. In late 2015, the Mozambique government expanded the ban to all raw timber logs for two years.

The ban was meant to create added value in Mozambique, by encouraging processing of wood into planks before they are exported to China. It’s not working. “The domestic processing sector does not have the capacity to absorb the logs,” says Anne Terheggen, a sustainable trade specialist from Centre for International Forestry Research.

Correia says he hopes to entice more responsible Chinese companies to Mozambique. “When they decide to come, they will be the ones who solve our problems.”

Zheng Fei, a 50-year-old Chinese timber businessman who’s been in Mozambique since 1998, is building a “Sino-Mozambique forest resource ecological zone.” He’s already received technical advice from World Wildlife Fund on the project.

In a 3-square-kilometer area of Mocimboa da Praia, a port city in northern Mozambique, the ecological zone has a sawmill and a wood-drying plant. The plan is for the site to host a complete production line for furniture and other wood products, encouraging other Chinese companies to set up in the zone.

The problem is, “China wants the timber as raw in form as possible. They don’t want to invest in manufacturing or invest in the country they’re operating in,” said Jago Wadley, senior forest campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Zheng and Correia both say falling demand from China for timber exports since 2014 has provided an opportunity for reform in Mozambique, but Correia estimates that it will take at least a decade to build a more sustainable logging industry in Mozambique.

But China’s timber and forest products imports are expected to increase by 2025. The Environmental Investigation Agency has warned that commercial timber stocks in Mozambique will be depleted within the next 15 years.

Read more at The Guardian.


About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.