- Several species of rosewood, belonging to the genera Dalbergia and Pterocarpus and collectively known as hongmu, are highly sought after by Chinese furniture manufacturers, who use them to make products that are coveted status symbols.
- The majority of rosewood imports into China have traditionally come from Southeast Asian countries, but West Africa has become one of the largest exporting regions feeding China’s growing demand for rosewood in the past few years.
- In 2014, nearly half of China's rosewood imports came from Nigeria, Ghana, and other African countries, which supplied just 10 percent of Chinese rosewood imports a decade ago.
Eleven West African countries have come together and agreed to take collective action to curb illegal rosewood logging and trade in response to a quickly developing crisis.
Several species of rosewood, belonging to the genera Dalbergia and Pterocarpus and collectively known as hongmu, are highly sought after by Chinese furniture manufacturers, who use them to make products that are coveted status symbols.
The majority of rosewood imports into China have traditionally come from Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, but West Africa has become one of the largest exporting regions feeding China’s growing demand for rosewood in the past few years.
In 2014, when Chinese imports were at an all-time high, according to a Forest Trends report that came out last December, nearly half came from Nigeria, Ghana, and other African countries, which supplied just 10 percent of Chinese rosewood imports a decade ago.
Most West African countries have banned the cutting and export of rosewood trees, but weak trade controls and lax enforcement in China have left the chief destination country unprepared to help stop the illegal hongmu trade. Some West African rosewood species have been listed by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in order to provide more tools for China to combat the illicit trade.
But West African officials looking for more ways to tackle the problem themselves set up an international conference held at the end of March in Guinea-Bissau and attended by representatives from Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) member countries Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
“This conference marks a watershed moment for our country, and could prove to be a turning point in West Africa’s fight to solve its illegal rosewood crisis,” Braima Embalo, Director of Forest Resources in Guinea-Bissau, said in a statement.
The ECOWAS conference produced a series of recommendations to address the illegal rosewood timber trade, which has become a critical issue throughout the region.
Delegates at the meeting agreed to opening dialogues with consumer countries, China in particular. They also committed to greater international cooperation using regional diplomatic channels to encourage legal and sustainable trade and called for the development of sound business practices that benefit African and Chinese small and medium enterprises, importers, and consumers, while at the same time protecting forests and the livelihoods of local communities.
“A regional approach is essential to addressing this crisis,” Babacar Salif Gueye, Technical Advisor to the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Senegal, said in a statement.
“But we need help from consumer countries to make the next leap in combating illegal logging and trade, and China has the opportunity to play a key leadership role in reforming the rosewood trade.”
Logging of rosewood species has caused a massive amount of degradation across West African savannah dry forest landscapes in a short amount of time, Forest Trend’s Naomi Basik Treanor said in a statement emailed to Mongabay.
Most climate financing is going to protect the world’s tropical rainforests, Treanor said, but she argues that non-tropical forests are also important in terms of providing food security, environmental services, and livelihoods to millions of people around the world.
“When we were visiting local communities, village leaders — especially the women, who are of course charged with water collection and most farming duties — complained that just in the space of a few years, they’d noticed increased temperatures, lower crop yields, and water scarcity,” she added.
Illegal logging of rosewood and other old-growth species increases the risk of desertification, which, in turn, can have a significant effect on the global climate as the ecosystem’s ability to sequester carbon is jeopardized. Dalbergia and Pterocarpus species often underpin whole ecosystems, as they take decades to grow to maturity.
“Without those trees, surrounding biodiversity collapses,” Treanor said.