Madagascar’s transitional government lifted its ban on exports of rosewood, ebony and other precious wood last month, but the decision is now under review due to concerns about foreign dominance of the trade, say local sources. Environmentalists are nonetheless concerned that a loosening of restrictions on old-growth timber could ignite another logging frenzy in the country’s rainforest parks, which are renowned for their biodiversity.
On January 18th, the Madagascar’s Minister of the Environment and Forests re-authorized the export of “all categories of natural forest-sourced primary products” provided a trader can prove the legal origin of the product. But given the ease of acquiring proof-of-origin documents in Madagascar, the order potentially opens the door for large-scale exports of wood that were banned in an order published last August. That order prohibited the felling, transport, exploitation, and export of rosewood and ebony, and also canceled all existing export agreements.
But according to local sources, the new order is now under review. Madagascar’s rosewood trade is dominated by foreign traders and a small group of local barons popularly dubbed the “timber mafia”, spurring wider resentment. There is also considerable pressure from conservationists and the tourism industry, which fear that a resumption in logging will further damage the environment and undermine the country’s nature-based tour industry.
“The arrêté issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests has thrown the environmental community into an uproar, as it contradicts discussions that were underway particularly concerning the illegal logging situation,” Richard Hughes, Regional Representative of WWF Madagascar and Western Indian Ocean, told mongabay.com. “It comes at an unfortunate time, when the Government seeks internal and external credibility, as it could undermine external confidence in the government if it is not corrected.”
“The issue raises partly because the arrêté as it was written was so broad as to span different sensitive issues, touching on illegal logging as well as other aspects of forest management, in particular trade in raw or partially processed wood as well as charcoal which had previously been prohibited,” Hughes continued. “According to initial legal review by external legal advisors, there appear to be irregularities in the formulation of the arrêté, and a legal review is being rapidly conducted to be submitted to the Ministry. A number of concerned institutions are actively working on this issue and ask the Ministry to elide this arrêté.”
Madagascar’s rosewood and ebony trade has taken a heavy toll on its most biodiverse forests: old-growth rainforests in the northeastern part of the country. Their extraction causes significant collateral damage to the surrounding forest and has been associated with expansion of the commercial bushmeat trade, where lemurs and other endangered species are poached for sale in restaurants. Illegal logging has also spurred social conflict in some areas.
Illegal logging worsened in the aftermath of the 2009 coup that displaced democratically elected leader Marc Ravalomanana.