13 May 2014

Guinea Bissau: Environmentalists Decry Guinea-Bissau's Dwindling Forests

Photo: Anna Jefferys/IRIN
Rice farmers preparing a field in central Guinea-Bissau.

Illegal logging in Guinea-Bissau is a business that brings in millions of dollars for those involved in the vice. But it has led to a decline of the country's forests,local and environmental activists have warned.

While much attention was focused on the first round of elections in April 2014, tons of timber were being smuggled out of the country on a daily basis.

During the last week of campaign in Guinea Bissau, in mid April this year, dozens of trucks carrying containers full of tree trunks lined along Amílcar Cabral Avenue and the adjacent streets - the route linking Government Palace with the port.

The media in Bissau, the capital, remained silent for fear of attacks from the smugglers. The people of Guinea-Bissau are also afraid of exposing timber smugglers to the media or to the authorities. Those who have tried it in the past have either been tortured or even killed.

It is believed that the volume of trees that have been cut down in Guinea-Bissau has increased considerably since the military coup of April 2012. According to environmental activists, almost all containers leaving the port of Bissau carry timber which is mainly exported to China.

Legal or illegal logging

The director general of forests and wildlife in the ministry of agriculture and forestry, Luís Olundo Medes, told DW that all the timber leaves the port of Bissau under legal procedures.

"We cooperate with the national guard, who check the wood prior to our certification. Today, there are thirteen licensed logging companies in Guinea Bissau, which are allowed to operate in a controlled way", he said.

The lucrative timber business targets the "pau de sangue" specie that can grow up to heights of thirty meters. This type of tree has widely been exploited.

One resident of Kebu, a village that is 230 kilometers (142 miles) South of Bissau, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that many groups of smugglers come into the villages with forged logging licenses.

"The people just show up with some papers and chainsaws and since they claim to have a license we cannot say much to them," the residents said," the smugglers talk only with the community leaders and despite the fact that the regional delegates of the ministry are legally required to be there, they are never present."

Resistance from locals

In the northern region of Oio, the situation is much worse. According to one peasant who lives in one of the zones that has always been targeted for logging, up to 40 containers are filled every day.This rampant destruction of forests led to protests by the locals.

"We believe the manner in which they are cutting down the trees is shameful," one of the locals said, "They only cut down the pau de sangue type, and anyone trying to resist their activities is beaten up.

As reported by the locals, smugglers offer money approximately 75 euros ($US100) to community leaders when they arrive in the villages. Most of the trees that are shipped out of the country are used for medicinal purposes.

Some of the illegal loggers come from neighboring Gambia and Guinea Conakry. However in the east of the country, mostly nationals are engaged in the business.

Due to the continued illegal logging the rains have ceased to fall regularly as was the case before.

Continued cutting down of trees in Guinea Bissau has led to desertification

China refutes doing illegal business

The Chinese Ambassador to Guinea Bissau, Yan Banghua, told DW that his country does not engage in illegal business in Guinea-Bissau. "We have to respect all the laws and rules in force in this country," he said."We have maintained good relations with both the government and its people, " Banghua said.

The Head of the United Nations, Integrated Peace building Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), Jose Ramos-Horta, visited places where illegal logging is taking place.

Jose Ramos-Horta believes that the international community should rise up against this growing vice."Together with environmental organizations, which I have spoken with, we will start an international campaign to denounce this brutality against the natural resources in Guinea-Bissau.

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