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The Gambia Bans African Rosewood Export And How To Ensure Compliance

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The government of the Gambia has banned all timber exports to curtail illegal logging. The new policy also aims at protecting the endangered African rosewood from going extinct. However, conservationists are unsure of how the government plans to enforce the new law.

There is a high demand for Africa Rosewood in China. The wood from the timber is used to make antique-style furniture. Consequently, this is fueling the illegal felling and trafficking of this wood. The trade is predominant in West Africa leading to the decimation of forests and degrading of soil.

According to reports by the Environmental Investigation Agency, China imported over 3 million tons of African rosewood from West Africa worth about $2 billion. In addition to the ban on all timber exports, the government of Gambia has revoked all existing export licenses.

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The plague of African Rosewood Export

In February 2021, there was a disturbing report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that said between June 2012 and April 2020 about 1.6 million African rosewood trees were felled illegally in Senegal and smuggled into the Gambia.

The program manager at Gambia Participates, Teslima Jallow, spoke at an event to announce the findings of the report. According to Jallow, African rosewood belongs to the tropical tree species and is mostly used for making furniture in Asia, especially in China.

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“By volume and value, African rosewood is the most smuggled wildlife product around the globe as revealed by the EIA,” Jallow said.

Also, the EIA report shows that the Gambia ranks third when it comes to rosewood trafficking in the continent.

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The reason behind the enforcement skepticism

A similar EIA report in 2019 titled “BAN-BOOZLED: How Corruption and Collusion Fuel Illegal Rosewood Trade Ghana” exposed how regardless of a ban on African rosewood, illegal trade is still rife in Ghana. According to EIA estimates, 540,000 tons or 6 million trees were exported from Ghana to China since 2012.

Nevertheless, Ghana remains at the forefront of the fight against illegal rosewood logging. It was one of the first nations to sign the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union in 2009. Consequently, Ghana became a role model for other VPA countries, especially in Africa.

The EIA report suggested that all the progress heralded in Ghana was only on paper. According to EIA, there was collusion and high-level corruption promoting African rosewood poaching. The EIA said they were told by traffickers that Forestry Commission officials were complicit in the scheme.

Thus, the EIA recommended that the African rosewood trade be suspended at the regional level. Subsequently, there should be a coordinated enforcement operation between the importing and exporting countries.

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It is only through the collective collaboration of the affected countries can this crisis be averted. There should also be concrete steps towards enforcing transparency and traceability of African rosewood production and trade.

What the Gambia plans to do differently with enforcement this time

Former Senegal’s environment minister Haider el Ali blames the boom in Africa rosewood export on weak Gambia enforcement. El Ali’s previous stance was that the Gambia only announces a ban on rosewood when the depots are empty. However, as soon as traffickers fill the depots, business resumes. He further said the trade will only stop when the last rosewood tree is felled.

Surprisingly, El Ali thinks the new ban may yield results since it is coming one month after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES) paused all rosewood trade in West Africa. The suspension is binding on all 184 member nations including China.

The fund from the illegal rosewood trade is believed to fund violent separatist movement activities in Senegal’s Casamance region. The EIA Africa program manager, Raphael Edou believes that “the CITIES’ decision will force the importers and exporters to comply. Therefore, even if the Gambia is hesitant, it will find it hard to escape the decision.”

Obviously, the illegal wildlife trade can be curtailed. However, it requires collaboration from governments from the trafficking origin and destination to make that happen. Hopefully, we will see more collaboration to stop other wildlife trade in the future.

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