The southern African country is losing millions in lost taxes from illegal logging, much of it destined for China
“We are cleaning the house now”, says Celso Correia. The young,
smartly-dressed, minister for land, environment and rural development in
is talking about the corruption and illegal logging that has dogged the
southern African country’s timber sector for more than a decade.
As recently as 2013, a remarkable 93% of of all the logging taking place in the country was happening illegally, according to a report from the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
As well as leading to unsustainable levels of deforestation, the
export of illegally logged timber was also depriving the country of tens of millions of dollars a year in lost tax revenue.
The driving force behind this boom in illegal logging was China, the
biggest importer of logs in the world. Chinese traders accounted for
more than 90% of Mozambique’s timber exports in 2013, according to the
environmental research organisation IIED. In 2014 Mozambican wood entering China surpassed $400m, up from $90m in 2009, according to the Africa Monitor (paywall).
Correia, who started in his job in the newly created environment
department last year, acknowledges his country is a stark example of
what happens when insatiable demand for logs, in this case from China, converges with weak law enforcement and corruption. His ambition is to change that.
“We have seized more illegal wood in one year than Mozambique has
since independence in 1992,” he says. “We are passing a new forestry law
and a new conservation law.”
Correia and Mozambique’s long-term ambition is to develop a more
sustainable timber market in the country, including developing a larger
processing industry in the country rather than just exporting the logs.
“We don’t mind people cutting trees. We need to have a sustainable
forest and we need to have a market,” he says.
In Gile National Reserve, situated in Zambezia Province, such
measures are desperately needed. A total of 35 logging licences created a
huge circle of harvested land around the reserve boundary for the
2,980km squared of protected area. After years of logging in the
country, the reserve is the last area where Pau Ferro, a highly
sought-after wood, still exists in Mozambique.
Gile National Reserve attracts few tourists but an alarming number of
illegal loggers, according to the warden Jose Dias. Since 2012, his
team has captured a total of 58 trucks and 10 tractors packed with Pau
Ferro from the reserve. He told me, “the majority of illegal acts are
not detected". More...