Antananarivo, Madagascar, 14th February 2017—a combination of political instability, government mismanagement, a lack of forest operation controls and a failure to impose punitive penalties on well-known traffickers contributed to what was effectively zero control over the management of precious timber resources in Madagascar between March 2010 to March 2015, according to a new TRAFFIC study released today.
At least 350,000 trees were illegally felled inside protected areas and at least 150,000 tonnes of logs illegally exported to destinations including China, Malaysia and Mauritius over the five-year period, according to the study: Timber Island: The Rosewood and Ebony Trade of Madagascar.
The lack of regulation was compounded by additional factors including widespread poverty, corruption, poor species identification skills at point of harvest and deficient knowledge about timber resources and led to rampant, unregulated felling of precious timber species.
“Poor governance and corruption led to an anarchic situation with no control over timber harvesting resulting in an all-out ‘timber-rush’ with widespread felling of rosewood and ebony trees in protected areas across Madagascar, from which it will take years for the environment to recover,” said Roland Melisch, TRAFFIC’s Senior Programme Director for Africa.
“This latest study should help the government of Madagascar to understand the issues that led to this catastrophic situation and to begin the long process of mitigating the ensuing mismanagement crisis.”
Madagascar is home to hundreds of endemic rosewood Dalbergia and ebony Diospyros timber species, many of which are in high demand, particularly in Asia, because of their attractive appearance and highly durable properties for carving into furniture and other household items.
However, according to the report: “The precious timber management policy is characterized by a disconnect between management decisions (i.e. political declarations and international commitments) and their implementation on the ground.”
The report makes a number of recommendations directed at the Government, in particular the Ministry of Environment, Ecology and Forests, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Finance, together with the Independent Anti-Corruption Bureau (BIANCO), Financial Intelligence Unit (SAMFIN), forest administration partners and research organizations. Some key issues to address include rigorous implementation of existing legislation, carrying out key resource assessments and basic training on species identification.
Madagascar is already facing strong international pressure to remedy the situation. At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in South Africa in September 2016, the country was called upon by the Convention’s Secretariat to implement a timber Action Plan: a failure to demonstrate adequate progress in auditing stockpiles of seized precious timber species and taking adequate enforcement action against illegal timber harvesting could result in trade sanctions being imposed on the country.
The international community has demonstrated its willingness to assist: during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit, held in December 2015, China, the main destination for Madagascar’s timber, pledged to scale up its assistance to African countries pertaining to the wildlife sector and increase its co-operation on sustainable forest management.
Madagascar also recently became a member of the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and is a signatory to both the Zanzibar Declaration on timber trade and the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Law Enforcement and Anti-Poaching Strategy (LEAP). These forums and the African Union-led Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa provide for excellent opportunities for Madagascar to seek financial and technical support from development banks and the international community to improve transparency and governance in the country’s timber and forest sector and are an acknowledgment by the country of the need for a more concerted and co-ordinated regional approach to stopping the poaching and trafficking of illegal wildlife products.
“Madagascar is signalling it sees the need for reform in management of its timber resources, but such agreements need to be accompanied by hard action at the highest level of government,” said Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana, Country Director for WWF Madagascar.
In May 20th 2016, the Government of Madagascar formally adopted the Plan de Gestion de Biodiversité pour les espèces du genre Dalbergia et Diospyros (Biodiversity Management Plan for the Dalbergia spp and Diospyros spp.), a Biodiversity Management Plan developed by TRAFFIC, which lays out a programme of actions required to place the country’s timber trade on a sustainable footing.
“TRAFFIC urges Madagascar to implement the Biodiversity Management Plan fully and stands by ready to support every effort required to bring the illegal timber trade under control,” said David Newton, Head of TRAFFIC’s East and Southern Africa Regional Office.
Timber Island: The Rosewood and Ebony Trade of Madagascar was prepared by TRAFFIC in English (PDF, 2.3 MB) and in French (PDF, 2.3 MB) under the USAID-funded SCAPES project on “Preserving Madagascar’s Natural Resources”, which aims to combat the illegal trade in Madagascar’s natural resources through capacity building for Malagasy stakeholders. TRAFFIC has also helped prepare a Framework for the Evaluation of the Legality of Forestry Operations and the Processing and Marketing of Timber: Principles, Criteria and Indicators for Madagascar (PDF, 1 MB), which sets out all the relevant legislation regarding timber trade in the country.
The framework is also availble in French: Cadre pour l’Evaluation de la Légalité des Opérations forestières, de la Transformation et de la Commercialisation des bois : Principes, Critères et Indicateurs pour Madagascar (PDF, 1 MB).
The SCAPES project was launched in 2013 and is implemented by a consortium of four NGOs: WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International (CI) and TRAFFIC, in close collaboration with civil society and government.