Bangkok — China's insatiable demand for timber has led to illegal and unsustainable logging of Mozambique's forests, costing the country millions of dollars in lost duties and taxes and affecting impoverished rural communities, a report released Wednesday said.
A staggering 93 percent of logging in 2013 in Mozambique, one of the world's least developed nations, was illegal, fuelled by poor law enforcement, endemic corruption, insufficient funding and incompetent leadership, said the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
"All of this crime and environmental mismanagement has robbed Mozambique's rural poor and wider population of $146 million" in terms of lost taxes since 2007, the report said.
This includes a potential $20 million that should have gone to rural communities under the 2002 Forest Regulation, it added.
The lost taxes could have covered 30 years of Mozambique's National Forest Program's law enforcement system and almost twice the state budget for poverty alleviation programs in 2014, EIA said.
The vast majority of timber exports (93 percent on average between 2007 and 2013) were shipped to China, the report added.
A 2013 report by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) concurred on China's influence in the Mozambique timber industry.
"Virtually no Mozambican-owned companies are engaged in the export of timber. The international trade of Mozambican timber is mainly operated by Chinese companies, which export the timber to the Chinese market," the CIFOR report said.
Such exports are not sustainable, the authors of the new report said.
"With key commercial species being rapidly depleted, and with clear raw material needs in Mozambique, any suggestion that timber exports are sustainable is misguided," Jago Wadley, forest campaigner for EIA, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Louis Putzel, a forestry export with CIFOR, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that China needs to boost the capacity of its customs agents to monitor shipments and reject those without proper documentation. If that fails, bans on trade of certain threatened tree species or on imports from certain countries, may need to be imposed, he said.
"This does not apply only to China," he noted. Right now, "even the EU is so far unable to identify and block illegal timber, despite the new laws they have in place."
Mozambique is desperately poor. Only Niger and DRC Congo have a lower rank in terms of development, according to the United Nations' Human Development Report 2013.
The enormous rate of illegal logging and timber smuggling puts into doubt the viability of any incipient REDD+ efforts, the EIA report said.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is a UN-backed effort under which richer greenhouse gas emitting countries pay poorer tropical forest countries to protect standing forest as a way of curbing carbon levels in the atmosphere and meeting their own emissions reductions commitments.
REDD-plus, the latest incarnation of REDD efforts, seeks to ensure that forest dwellers have input in the structure of REDD deals and benefit from them.
Forests absorb climate-changing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and protecting them could help reduce the worst impacts of climate change, scientists say. Such action isone of the fastest, surest ways to reduce climate-changing emissions, they say.
While there is an opportunity for Mozambique to access $3.8 million in international funding to establish a REDD+ strategy for the country, it would be hard pressed to succeed "until widespread crime and corruption are eliminated," said the report. - Thomson Reuters Foundation