Rome — Mozambique's government has introduced forestry reforms and signed a memorandum of understanding with China in an effort to control its hardwood exports and stop illegal deforestation.
Mozambique, a poor farming nation in southeastern Africa, has already lost nearly 3 million hectares, some 10 percent, of its forests since 2000, according to U.S.-based charity Global Forest Watch, amid strong Chinese demand for valuable timber, as well as from slash-and-burn farming.
Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, and the loss of Mozambique's forests has added more than 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, the charity said.
Locally, forests contribute more than $300 million to the country's GDP, but logging is causing soil erosion that harms agricultural output, reduces local communities' access to medicinal and energy sources while undermining efforts to promote nature-based tourism.
"It (logging) is dominated by Chinese people who go to the bush and convince the poorest people to cut the logs," said Imede Falume, Mozambique's deputy director of forestry, on the sidelines of the Committee on Forestry meeting at the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome last week.
"The government of Mozambique is making reform of the sector to invert this situation."
He added that seven Chinese nationals had been arrested in recent months for violating environmental laws, but gave no further details.
As Asian supplies of valuable hardwoods like rosewood used to make luxury furniture have been depleted, Chinese imports have shifted to Africa. Mozambique is currently the 10th-largest supplier of rosewood to China, according to Chinese customs data cited by U.S.-based non-profit group Forest Trends.
Falume said the two countries had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) earlier this month. A summary of the MOU seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation showed a joint commitment to combating illegal logging, and to exchanging import and export data between the two countries.
Forgone tax revenues in unreported timber exports sent mostly to Asia from Mozambique were estimated at $540 million between 2003-2013, according to a World Wildlife Fund report.
"Now the container arrives and they inform the government in Mozambique so we can control the volumes," said Falume, adding that fraudulent declarations had until recently been common.
The MOU also pledged to boost processing of timber in Mozambique "to guarantee the increase of local employment and value-added of forest products".
"It's a step in the right direction, but MOUs are largely aspirational and unenforceable," said Naomi Basik Treanor, who manages the forest policy, trade and finance section at Forest Trends.
She urged China to do more by introducing measures to exclude illegal timber from imports following similar initiatives by the United States, the European Union, Australia and other Asian countries.
A Chinese delegate at the Rome conference who did not wish to be quoted officially said the country was stepping up surveillance of imported hardwoods, and also plans measures to curb local consumption of rosewood.
Falume said other reforms in Mozambique were underway locally to control timber exports.
"In the context of reform for export of hardwood ... we have selected 15 (exporters)," said Falume, adding that previously there were more than 200 official exporters.
The initiatives come a year after the World Bank allocated $47 million to combat deforestation in Mozambique. The mix of loans, credits and grants will fund projects that include community-based forest management and reforestation to restore degraded areas.
Editing by Robert Carmichael.