How to end Madagascar's logging crisis
Commentary by Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
February 10, 2010
Furthermore, armed gangs marauding through national parks have hurt tourism, a critical source of direct and indirect income for many Malagasy, as the people of Madagascar are known. Rosewood traders have intimidated, and in some cases even beaten, those who have attempted to stop the plunder. Conservation NGOs operating in affected areas have been rendered impotent because the ruling "transition authority" — made up of the coup leaders — is now taking an active role in the logging, possibly as a means to finance upcoming elections they hope will legitimize their power grab. To this end, Andry Rajoelina, the head of the transition authority, recently authorized the export of rosewood logs, a traffic previously banned. This triggered a frenzy of logging that has gone underreported due to the regime's crackdown on the press. The perceived illegitimacy of the Rajoelina regime had led foreign donors to suspend most aid to the country, undercutting environmental protection programs and law enforcement. The situation is dire.
To date there seem to be few options in addressing the logging crisis. The entities that would normally step in are unable or unwilling to do so: local NGOs and communities are powerless in the face of violence and government opposition, international NGOs (with the exception of the Missouri Botanical Garden) fear jeopardizing their projects by taking a stand, donor governments and agencies refuse to support the unelected Rajoelina, and the transition authority is complicit. Is there a solution?
I don't know if there is, but here is an idea: an absolute moratorium on logging combined with amnesty from prosecution for traders and a reforestation program funded by sales of illegally logged timber. The moratorium would be effective immediately with violations punishable by a long prison sentence. Any rosewood logs currently awaiting shipment in Vohemar, Tamatave, and other specified towns would be marked with a counterfeit-proof code (required for export clearance) and recorded in a digital tracking system. The logs would be auctioned via a transparent market system — the price and the log code would be recorded and publicly available.
The beauty of such a program is that it would simultaneously help restore Madagascar's forests—the basis for ecotourism—and compensate people in local communities who have suffered most from illegal logging. Furthermore, the process could be designed in a way to be apolitical, in that it would be self-funded and independent of whatever regime is in power. But politicians would still benefit from their seeming magnanimity, which would enable them to claim one small area of progress in what has otherwise been a disastrous year for the Malagasy people.
Overall, the benefits of using illegally logged timber to finance community-based restoration of forests in northeastern Madagascar potentially outweighs the alternative of allowing the timber to be exported at immense profit to criminal syndicates, politicians, and business elites. While Madagascar was long known as a graveyard for grand ideas, progress in the past decade has offered hope. In that time Madagascar went from the pariah of conservation to a model. There's reason to believe history can be repeated.
Satellites being used to track illegal logging, rosewood trafficking in Madagascar
(01/28/2010) Analysts in Europe and the United States are using high resolution satellite imagery to identify and track shipments of timber illegally logged from rainforest parks in Madagascar. The images could be used to help prosecute traders involved in trafficking and put pressure on companies using rosewood from Madagascar.
Coup leaders sell out Madagascar's forests, people
(01/27/2010) Madagascar is renowned for its biological richness. Located off the eastern coast of southern Africa and slightly larger than California, the island has an eclectic collection of plants and animals, more than 80 percent of which are found nowhere else in the world. But Madagascar's biological bounty has been under siege for nearly a year in the aftermath of a political crisis which saw its president chased into exile at gunpoint; a collapse in its civil service, including its park management system; and evaporation of donor funds which provide half the government's annual budget. In the absence of governance, organized gangs ransacked the island's biological treasures, including precious hardwoods and endangered lemurs from protected rainforests, and frightened away tourists, who provide a critical economic incentive for conservation. Now, as the coup leaders take an increasingly active role in the plunder as a means to finance an upcoming election they hope will legitimize their power grab, the question becomes whether Madagascar’s once highly regarded conservation system can be restored and maintained.
World Bank, European governments finance illegal timber exports from Madagascar
(01/11/2010) While Madagascar's current government has drawn sharp criticism from the international community for its failure to prevent the environmental destruction of recent months, France, Holland, Morocco, and the World Bank have all been implicated in financing illegal logging operations in Madagascar's national parks over the past year. Even as foreign governments condemned the surge in illegal logging last year, many--either directly or through institutions they support--are shareholders in the very banks that have financed the export of illegal lumber from Madagascar's SAVA region. The Bank of Africa Madagascar, for instance, is part owned by Proparco, a subsidiary of the Agence Française du Développement, as well as the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, Dutch development bank FMO, and the Banque Marocaine du Commerce Extérieur. Société Générale and Crédit Lyonnais, both part-owned by the French government, have also provided loans to illegal timber traders.
Major international banks, shipping companies, and consumers play key role in Madagascar's logging crisis
(12/16/2009) In the midst of cyclone season, a 'dead' period for tourism to Madagascar's east coast, Vohémar, a sleepy town dominated by the vanilla trade, is abuzz. Vanilla prices have scarcely been lower, but the hotels are full and the port is busy. "This afternoon, it was like a 4 wheel drive show in front of the Direction Regionale des Eaux & Forets," one source wrote in an email on November 29th: "Many new 4x4, latest model, new plane at the airport, Chinese everywhere."
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