Nairobi — Some 26 logging firms in East Africa say they stand to lose more than $ 4.6 million as well as their markets in Europe, Asia and America, following the Tanzania government's decision to ban exports of logs and sandalwood.
Juma Idd, chairman of Wauzaji na Wasafirishaji wa Mazao ya Maliasili Tanzania, the association of forestry-product exporters, told The EastAfrican last week that the move would also deny the government more than $12 million annually in revenues from traders. It will also hurt more than two million Tanzanians who earn a living from logging.
Mr Idd said that by imposing the indefinite ban last week, the government had breached contracts it entered into with the traders, and can, in accordance with the regulations, be subjected to civil suits at the High Court of Tanzania.
"We have genuine permits to export logs and sandalwood but this indefinite ban will cost us more than $4.6 million, because we will fail to transport the logs," he said.
The affected firms include Z&H Holdings Company Ltd, Junior Investment Company Ltd, FQI Resources Management Services, Olam (T) Ltd, Togorani Trading Co., Adept Impex, Cielmac Ltd, AGM International Co. Ltd, AGM International Co. Ltd and ABG African Link.
Others are Natural Wood (T) Ltd, VNS Commercial Co. Ltd, Kenwood Enterprises (T), Aqeel Traders Ltd, Quick Service International, Fibreboards (200) Ltd and Wakulima wa Wilaya ya Muheza.
The traders say they were in December 2005 granted export permits that were to expire in March 2006. But the government said that most of the traders were doing business illegally as the 2002 Forest Act banned exportation of logs with effect from July 2004.
The law was passed despite a rearguard fight by some exporters who say local processors have nowhere near enough capacity. Despite huge investment in the local wood processing industry in recent years, only 1.2 million cubic metres of wood is processed locally.
The country loses between 130,000 hectares and 500,000 hectares of forest a year. Of that, 91,000 hectares are illegally felled. Human activities, population growth and poverty also reduce forest coverage by hundreds of thousands of hectares every year.
Saleh Pamba, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, told The EastAfrican that the ministry would not review export permits issued in December 2005 as they "are not genuine."
He added that some of the traders would be taken to court for trading illegally.
"We will also have to sack some of our employees for colluding with the traders," he said, adding that firms that were granted temporary permits to harvest the logs had misused their licenses.
Tanzania has 44 million hectares of forests, accounting for 45 per cent of its total territory. It is rich in such rare woods as ebony, acajou and sandalwood, which are used in the manufacture of perfume, furniture and musical instruments in Europe and Asia. More than 60 of its 300 tree species, including paurosa, afromasia and round wood, are commercially exploited.
The pressure to ban log exports has come from ecological movements both inside and outside Tanzania and reflects the desire of the government, encouraged by aid donors, to promote sustainable forestry in line with the goals of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.
The country plants about 25,000 hectares of trees every year according to available statistics. And in addition to launching a tree planting campaign in 1999, it started an annual nationwide tree-planting day in 2001. It had planted 100 million trees by January this year to fulfil the target of the campaign.
The forests not only provide the country with its water catchments, but also rank Tanzania among the world's 24 globally most important hot spots of biodiversity, in that there are 1,500 plant species and 50 endemic plant species in the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests in Tanzania.