Africa: The road to plundering precious woods

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Timber Trafficking

By Marie Toulemonde

Posted on Thursday, 14 July 2022 13:01, updated on Friday, 15 July 2022 15:46
Three-quarters of Africa's tropical timber is shipped to China. MONTAGE JA: Alfredo D'AMATO/PANOS-REA

For more than 10 years, this illegal trafficking has been spreading in Africa from country to country as forests are decimated. We take a look at the figures through our infographics.

This is part 5 of a 6-part series

The figures are edifying: 123,000 tonnes, or 4,500 containers, 365,900 logs or 182,900 trees. This is the quantity of rosewood, also known as vène wood or kosso, which was illegally transported from Mali to be processed in Chinese factories between May 2020 and January 2022, according to the International Environment Agency (EIA). This is in violation of a law that has been in force for two years prohibiting its harvesting and exportation and despite its 2017 inclusion on the list of threatened species of the Convention on International Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

As in Casamance, western Cameroon and eastern DRC, the looting of precious wood have flourished as a result of political instability. For more than a decade, this illegal trafficking has spread from country to country in Africa as forests are decimated.

Orchestrated by the Chinese mafia, armed groups and sometimes even local governments, it peaked in 2014, driven by the boom in Chinese demand for luxury furniture. Although trafficking has since declined slightly, it is far from over. Between 2016 and 2020 alone, more than 2 million logs were felled in West Africa and then exported without being declared by the countries of origin.

In response to the increase in trafficking, CITES decided, on 28 March, to take unprecedented action, giving states in the region – where the species is endemic  – one month to demonstrate that their trade is in compliance with the Convention or to stop it. The organisation also ordered the main beneficiaries of this lucrative market to reject all export permits for the species. Will these measures be enough? Nothing is certain.


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Also in this in Depth:

Timber trafficking: The hidden history of looting

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