Guinea-Bissau’s plan to lift logging ban sparks forest fears | Environment News
For centuries, forests have been at the heart of the life of the people of Guinea-Bissau. Relying on traditional knowledge systems that vary from village to village across the country, many local communities view forests as spiritual spaces where secular ceremonies are held, the use of natural resources is restricted and the cutting and selling trees is strictly prohibited.
Guinea-Bissau is around 70 percent forested, but resource plunder in recent years has endangered the country’s nature reserves and the stockpile of some of its most valuable timber species.
One of the biggest threats to its forests emerged in 2012 when a coup weakened the authority of the central government. This led to a period of illegal logging which saw most of the country’s forests being targeted, but the sacred forests remained largely intact.
Illegal logging was partly controlled in 2015 when the authorities put in place a moratorium on all logging and exports. However, a government proposal in October last year to lift the logging ban has raised concerns among environmental activists, who fear it will allow a return to logging of the timber that has stripped the forests. of the country between 2012 and 2015.
The plan describes a “special regime” with a reforestation plan and limits logging to 14 species subject to specific licenses and quotas. The decree, drafted by the Council of Ministers, is currently awaiting the signature of President Umaro Embaló.
“If this decree were to be adopted, we would come back to what happened before 2014,” said Abilio Rachid Said, program manager at the country’s Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (IBAP), saying that measures Specifics should be taken before lifting the moratorium to assess the amount of timber cut and start reforestation of high value timber species.
“We need to reorganize the sector,” he continues. “The idea is to stop cutting, so that we can have an understanding of the conditions in the forest.”
Supporters of resuming logging argue lifting the ban would benefit the local economy and help create jobs by employing loggers who work for the local furniture market as illegal logging continued in recent years despite the ban.
Last November, a judicial police investigation revealed that illegally felled timber apprehended by law enforcement was linked to a Chinese company with alleged links to Prime Minister Nuno Nabiam.
In another proceeding in January 2018, the government made an exception to the export ban, selling an inventory of around 180,000 logs over several months. The logs had been seized between 2014 and 2016 and were reportedly sold to Chinese buyers.
According to a survey released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), officials sought income to repay a delinquent loan to the International Monetary Fund. The sale period was authorized by the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – but traffickers took the opportunity to mix freshly cut timber that had been illegally exported throughout the period. year, according to the EIA survey.
Nelvina Barreto, senior consultant at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and former Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, says the intention to lift the moratorium affects a few tree species such as timber. rose – Pterocarpus erinaceus, called “bloodwood” in Guinea-Bissau – which takes an average of 35 to 40 years to reach its maturity phase.
“[Rosewood] happens to be the most sought after in the international market, especially by Chinese operators, ”Barreto says. “They are also the most exploited species during the period 2012-2014.”
A report released in 2018 by the EIA noted that Guinea-Bissau’s timber exports to China increased from 61 tonnes in 2007 to 98,000 tonnes in 2014.
CITES has classified rosewood as subject to strict regulation, limiting its consumption in most markets. However, traffic to China – Guinea-Bissau’s main buyer of timber – has persisted for the past five years.
‘It belongs to the people’
Neighboring areas like Senegal’s southern region of Casamance face similar pressures as illegal logging has threatened the availability of rosewood – locals are often recruited to manage logging and timber transport. which is mainly used in the Chinese luxury furniture market.
The delay in carrying out a forest inventory is one of the problems raised by opponents of the lifting of the moratorium in Guinea-Bissau, the last available assessment dating back to 1985.
Barreto says there is concern over how the proposed oversight and reforestation would be carried out. “This requires technical, human and material resources that the country does not currently have.”
Marina Temudo, a senior researcher at the School of Agriculture at the University of Lisbon working in Guinea-Bissau, notes that lifting the moratorium could still allow illegal logging of precious wood species due to a lack of resources to oversee the new restrictions, making scarce wood for local people who depend on it, primarily as a source of household energy.
Temudo explains that many women make a living from charcoal production, while farmers depend on rosewood to make plowing implements for growing rice in mangroves.
“Ultimately, it belongs to the people,” Temudo says. “There are already various areas of forest protected by the inhabitants who create their own reserves, but not all of them are demarcated. Soon, these will be the only trees that will remain.
Across the country, illegal logging of timber, coupled with slash-and-burn agriculture practices, has posed a growing threat to soil degradation and erosion.
Guinea-Bissau belongs to the Sahel, a region where temperatures are expected to rise 1.5 times faster than the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In addition, the country is particularly vulnerable to climate variability, as around 70 percent of the population lives along coastal areas, often in low lying areas, which are increasingly susceptible to coastal erosion and flooding.
Temudo notes that changes are already being felt across Guinea-Bissau with rising sea levels, episodes of drought, increasingly strong tides and irregular rainy seasons – the unpredictability of which disrupts the agricultural production, endangering the livelihoods of farmers.
“The environmental crisis is visible,” admits Barreto. “Today, no one denies it.”