MALI: Government imposes six-month ban on tree felling
Collecting firewood in Mali
BAMAKO, 11 August 2004 (IRIN) - The government of Mali has imposed a six-month ban on tree felling to try and slow the rate at which the country's savannah woodland is being steadily decimated for firewood and charcoal. However, housewives in the capital Bamako are grumbling that this has pushed up the price of cooking fuel.
The Ministry of the Environment estimates that Mali is loosing 400,000 hectares of tree cover a year to meet the rising demand for construction timber and fuel wood.
According to Felix Dakouo, the ministry's director of conservation, the country's 12 million population consumes six million tonnes of wood per year.
In Bamako, that works out at 1.5 kg of wood per day for each of the city's one million inhabitants -- a rate of consumption which this arid country can no longer afford as the Sahara desert, which covers the northern half of Mali, advances steadily southwards.
At a conference in the central town of Mopti in June, local farmers complained to President Amadou Toumani about unauthorised logging and charcoal exports to countries like neighbouring Mauritania.
The government responded at the beginning of July by banning the cutting down of live trees and the export of charcoal for six months. This covers Mali's rainy season and the early cooler part of the dry season which follows.
“From now on people will have to make do with dead wood. Removing that makes our forests healthier,” Environment Minister Nancouma Keita said.
Groups of wardens are due to patrol the forests to ensure the logging ban is adhered to. Anyone wishing to cut down dead trees will require a special permit and will have to work under their supervision.Fines and imprisonment
The forest wardens have been empowered to seize vehicles and chainsaws on the spot. Offenders also face a fine and possible imprisonment.
"From now on, anyone who breaks the rules ... will be liable for a fine of between 5,000 and 50,000 CFA (US$ 9 and $93) or a spell in prison of between 10 days and a month," Dakouo said.
That might seem light punishment by European or North American standards but the fines represent a hefty penalty in Mali where according to the World Bank, 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.
Some people welcomed the tree felling ban, noting that less than 10 percent of Mali's land is covered with trees and that deforestation is taking place at the rate of one percent a year, speeding the southward advance of the Sahara.
"At this pace, if nothing is done, our children's future will be threatened," one retired forestry worker told IRIN. He lamented the fact that the forest rangers who once stopped people from chopping down Mali woodland illegally had lost all their authority in recent years.
But others are worried about a 50 percent rise in the cost of firewood and charcoal in Bamako since the measure came into effect because fewer supplies are reaching the city.
|Mali's government is worried about deforestation|
Throughout Mali, most people use wood fires or small charcoal stoves to cook their daily meal. Only a small minority of affluent people in the main towns use gas or electricity.
Housewife Keita Fanta Ballo said a small bundle of firewood now cost her 75 CFA (14 US cents) up from 50 CFA, before the felling ban came into effect. A bag of charcoal had similarly risen to 4,500 CFA (US$ 8) from 3,000 CFA ($5.50), she noted.
"The prices could be on the increase again, if the wood supply doesn't improve," she predicted.Less wood and charcoal being trucked
Boundouga Keita, who heads a forestry control post on one of the main roads leading into Bamako told IRIN that the ban on tree cutting had considerably reduced the volume of wood and charcoal being trucked into the city.
Aboua Camara, a charcoal vendor, explained transport costs were increasing as a result of the ban because people was no longer able to to buy in bulk in rural markets. Instead people had to negotiate with individual charcoal burners who brought their produce on horse-drawn carts to sell more discreetly by the roadside.
However, other people pointed out that the prices of many commodities rise in a speculative manner at this time of year because it is the lean season before the new harvest comes in in September and October at the end of the rains.
The government is adamant there will be no crisis of supply.
"Our inquiries have shown that charcoal stocks are sufficient to cover this suspension period," Dakouo said.
The government has suspended logging until the end of January 2005 as a one-off measure that will not necessarily be repeated in future years.
But it is also launching initiatives to boost future wood supplies and increase public awareness when it comes to conservation.
During the summer holidays, school children in Bamako have been charged with planting new trees along all the city's main avenues and ensuring that at least 400 saplings are planted in each suburb of the dusty smog-ridden capital.
Student Ami Konate was enthusiastic about the project.
"We're planting trees to preserve our environment. Whoever plants a tree, has not lived in vain," the 16-year-old said. But she had a word of reproach for the adults. "If you cut down all the trees, what will we have left?"