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Five technologies help thwart illegal logging by tracing wood’s origin

  • The illegal timber trade costs legal forest products industry actors billions of dollars in lost revenue, so governments and businesses are developing various tools to more effectively track timber.
  • Tools that use smartphones, big data, and even high-tech pixie dust help institutions collect and share data, manage wood inventories, track timber movements through the supply chain, evaluate the traceability and compliance of timber sellers, and promote transparency at all levels.
  • These technologies and systems help governments and businesses better track timber supplies and prevent illegally sourced timber from entering supply chains, though they must also translate data into action.

The illegal timber trade creates problems for everyone. Governments lose valuable revenue and natural resources. Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission reported that the country lost $9 billion in revenue to the illegal timber trade between 2003 and 2014. Meanwhile, businesses sourcing legal timber lose profits and competitiveness to illegal timber supplies sold at lower prices.

So governments and businesses are starting to do more to improve timber traceability, including adopting new and existing technologies that can help track timber, manage information, and eventually, help combat illegal logging.

WRI, Instituto Nacional de Bosques (INAB) of Guatemala and IUCN Mesoamerica, with support from USAID, the European Commission, and FAO, recently hosted a workshop in Antigua, Guatemala to explore technological applications for improving forest information management and traceability in timber supply chains. Participants discussed some of the most cutting-edge technologies available today or on the horizon.

Illegal logging station in Borneo. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler

Technologies that track wood’s roots

Some technologies target the tracking of timber as it moves through the supply chain to guarantee authenticity of the timber’s origin, including:

Deforestation from logging in Gabon, central Africa. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler

Other technologies focus on aggregating, analyzing, visualizing and verifying supply chain information:

Logs leaving the forest on the back of a truck in Suriname. Tracking technology can help institutions trace their quantity and origin. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler

These technologies and systems can substantially bolster the efforts of governments and businesses to better track timber supplies and prevent illegally sourced timber from entering supply chains.

However, while timber traceability technologies and platforms can provide much needed information, it’s only worthwhile if governments and businesses translate this data into action. For governments, that means eradicating corruption, implementing systems that work for all stakeholders, and allocating more funding and resources to enforcement. For businesses, it means working with suppliers to gather information and communicate legal sourcing policies, as well as cutting ties with bad actors.