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Madagascar may authorize exports of illegally-logged rosewood

A meeting scheduled for August 25th between rosewood traders, the Ministry of Forest and Environment, and other government officials may determine the fate of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of rosewood illegally logged from Madagascar’s rainforests parks.

The meeting, which will take place in Sambava in northern Madagascar’s SAVA region, may facilitate the resumption of rosewood exports from Madagascar despite an official ban on the trade, raising fears among conservationists that protected areas will again be targeted by illegal loggers. Madagascar’s national parks — especially Makira, Marojejy, and Masoala in the northeast — were hard hit by logging during the political crisis that followed the 2009 military coup that displaced Madagascar’s democratically-elected president.

“Allowing the remaining rosewood stock to be exported would be equal to green-washing of the illegal trade, and protected areas would become an open-trade source for [logging],” said a conservationist who has worked extensively on the rosewood logging issue but requested anonymity.

The source added that rosewood traders are exerting heavy pressure on the transition authority that currently controls Madagascar to lift the export ban on rosewood.

The outcome of the meeting could have implications for a $52 million dollar World Bank loan that aims to shore up funding for biodiversity conservation, which has largely evaporated in the aftermath of the coup. The World Bank is said to be weighing support for “a transparent and accountable way to sell the rosewood directly on the international markets” as a means to provide additional finance for conservation, but any signs that authorities are moving ahead without proper safeguards could dash the loan, according to the conservationist.

But another environmentalist expressed skepticism of the World Bank’s strategy, independent of the outcome of the meeting between illegal loggers and the transition authority that controls Madagascar.

“This reminds me of the way CITES has tried to manage sales of African ivory stockpiles, under this illusion that they can raise revenues from these sales without somehow also promoting ongoing demand and starting the cycle all over again,” said the environmentalist who also asked to not to be identified given the sensitivity of the issue. “It’s like drug addict behavior.”

The source added that the transition authority would need to demonstrate its willingness to stand up to illegal traders if it hoped to receive the full loan or move forward with the World Bank’s plan.

Madagascar and rosewood

Recent rosewood logging has been associated with a rise in commercial bushmeat poaching of lemurs.

Madagascar is famed for its biodiversity, including a wealth of endemic plant and animal species. But widespread deforestation and forest degradation has left many species — including dozens of types of lemurs — at risk of extinction. The rosewood trade has exacerbated threats to wildlife by driving habitat destruction and the expansion of commercial bushmeat hunting. The trade has also undermined Madagascar’s nascent ecotourism industry, which is an important source of income for communities living around protected areas.

After peaking in 2009 and 2010, rosewood logging has slowed due to an export ban enacted by Madagascar’s transition authority in response to international outcry over the destruction of the country’s forests. Criticism from environmentalists was so intense at times that shipping companies trafficking rosewood refused to carry the contraband timber despite pressure from traders. Most of the rosewood was destined for China where it was turned into luxury furniture.

The export ban means that much of the illegally-logged rosewood now sits in villages and ports. According to a document (The rosewood chronicles – PDF) released this week, much of the rosewood stock has not been inventoried by authorities, leaving open the possibility that newly-logged wood is being added to stockpiles. Should Madagascar’s transition authority re-authorize export it would have no way of knowing when the logs were cut from forests.

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