MOZAMBIQUE: Chainsaws cut down more than just trees
Logs make their way to the port of Beira. Then on to China and the rest of the world.
Johannesburg, 30 January 2007 (IRIN) - Worldwide demand for hardwood is stripping Mozambique's forests, cutting down livelihoods and any hope of developing a sustainable timber industry.
"If they carry on at the rate they are going it will be probably three to five years and there won't be any hardwood resources sufficient to sustain continued production," Simon Norfolk, director of Terra Firma, a forest governance group in Mozambique, told IRIN.
Mozambique has 19 million hectares of productive woodland, including very high-value species, such as Panga Panga (Millettia stuhlmannii) and Chanfuta (Afzelia quanzensis); tropical hardwoods used for flooring, general construction and specialty items, like sporting goods and furniture. Timber is a resource Mozambique can't afford to squander, but increasing demand means its prized wood species are being sold off at wholesale prices.
"They [loggers] don't care about the forests. Timber is giving a good price and all you need is a couple of litres of petrol and a chainsaw and you can have a big tree," said Pedro Mangue, director of the Law Enforcement Department at the National Directorate of Land and Forests (DNTF). Prices fluctuate but for some species one cubic meter can fetch up to US$500 - a fortune in a country where almost 40 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day. ENFORCING THE LAW
Mozambican law prohibits the export of 'primary logs' [unprocessed timber] of a number of valuable species, with the underlying idea of forcing foreign buyers to invest locally and help develop an industry to create jobs and generate income.
Mangue said the operators generally ignored these regulations and exported as much wood as they could, as quickly as they could. "There is a lot of timber that is disappearing without any legal documents from the harbours," he said.
According to DNTF figures, applications for logging licenses rose from 462 in 2005 to nearly 800 in 2006.
A DNTF official in Beira, Mozambique's second city, explained that a license by no means guaranteed responsible exploitation, and enforcing the regulations was extremely problematic. "[Loggers] are not following the management plans they present. They are just cutting - they are eager and the price is very good, the [buyers] are there, so you just cut and you sell."
The situation is the same in most of the port towns that dot Mozambique's 2,500 km coastline. From Pemba in the northern province of Cabo Delgado to Beira in the central province of Sofala, Asian buyers have flocked to buy truckloads of logs. Mangue said the government did not have the resources to enforce legislation in a country as big as Mozambique, let alone the capacity to adequately patrol harbours and national waters.
At one checkpoint in Cabo Delgado a long queue of trucks, all hauling timber, forms throughout the day. When the DNTF official closes for the day at around five in the afternoon, the trucks drive through, heading for the nearest port after avoiding inspection. "Law enforcement in Cabo Delgado is very weak - they transport timber during the night," Mangue said.
A DNTF official who preferred to remain anonymous pointed out that "The licensed volumes do not correspond to the volumes exported. Our figures and those collected at the port [authorities] are different every time. There is a lot of illegal export. Small ships, often fishing boats, are taking logs to large Chinese vessels waiting in international waters or to places like the Comoros, where they are reloaded onto big ships destined for China - this is almost impossible to control."
According to Mangue, "They [Chinese] just came here and said they are looking for timber. They brought a market and a good price. Mozambicans didn't have transport, so the Chinese brought lorries [trucks] and chainsaws to the forests and told people to cut trees because they have licences and the Chinese don't. It is not only the Chinese. The Mozambicans are doing the cutting and extraction. The Chinese usually remain in the harbours or the cities - they are just buying and they bring the dollars."
The Rural Association of Mutual Support (ORAM), a national NGO that provides assistance to communities in the countryside, estimates that over 70 percent of timber imported into China is re-exported, mainly to the United States and Western Europe. FAILING POLICY
Mozambique has two types of logging licences: a concession, which a large piece of land that can be exploited according to a sustainability assessment and management plan; and a simple licence (SL), which is awarded only to Mozambican nationals and is limited to 500cu.m of wood annually.
"The simple licences are very problematic, because even though they are supposed to be awarded for a particular geographical area, which is also supposed to have a simplified management plan, there is no control. It becomes a blanket licences to cut however and wherever you want," Norfolk said.
SLs were originally designed as a stepping-stone to concessions, allowing the operator to build up the necessary capital and resources to operate a much larger concession. But a lack of incentive has deterred local operators from seeking concessions, preferring instead the freedom, limited red tape and lack of control associated with a SL.
As one local SL operator explained: "As a concession holder you become a 'legal entity', which means you are just a target for the labour department, finance department, and every other department is after you. If you are a SL holder you have only one chainsaw, one truck, you move into an area and work it and you're gone. It's much easier to fly under the legal radar - inspections are rare and bribes are common."
Mozambique is losing potential tax revenue to illegal exports and the benefits are accruing to only a few people: operators selling off timber without regard for national laws or natural heritage, and those in a position to facilitate licences and permissions, while the potential of building a vibrant, job-creating industry is dwindling. THE FUTURE LOOKS BLEAK
In a scramble to cut down the best trees before the competition gets them, timber operators pick out only the most marketable species with no regard for sustainability, leaving behind denuded woodland that will not attract possible concession holders.
"The areas are left commercially unviable to convert into concessions, making the forests valueless, commercially. In a country like Mozambique the protection of the forest is going to be based on commercial value," explained Graham White, a concession holder and furniture maker near Beira.
Timber operators create rough roads or tracks to reach previously inaccessible forest, in the process opening land denuded of trees to charcoal producers and local 'slash and burn' farmers, who clear plots for crop cultivation and abandon them when their fertility declines after a few planting seasons. Both are placing immense pressure on Mozambican forests.
"Slash and burn agriculture and charcoal burning will follow, and there will be no value placed on the resource - and that is where a dangerous precedent is being set," White added. LOCAL COMUNITIES LOSE OUT
Just outside Beira harbour, where prime logs behind a barbed wire fence wait to go into containers destined for Chinese and ultimately European and US markets, Fernado Ferro offloads some branches he collected in the surrounding marshes with his worn-out boat. "We have so much wood here but we don't have the tools to cut down and use the big trees. I only see the trucks drive by to the harbour with the logs - we have no wood to build our homes or even to make coffins," he said. Ferro's complaint is common in most communities in the area.
"The issue is that we have a lot of resources but they are not changing the status of people. There are no jobs that are created, no improvement to the quality of life for local people, just degrading forests. The forests are changing and this will have a lot of implications for their livelihoods in the near future. The pressure is huge," Mangue said.
Twenty percent of licensing fees are supposed to be reinvested in communities affected by logging, but by most accounts, this is not happening.
Mozambique, desperately poor, heavily donor dependant and still recovering from a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992, is hoping to rely on the well-managed exploitation of its resources for the betterment of its people. "Our government says that they want to fight absolute poverty - that is the main slogan of the government," Ferro said. "And then you have these guys doing logging but not giving communities any chances."