- A 2017 investigative report by Mongabay uncovered a booming illicit trade in charcoal to China from Myanmar.
- At least 14,000 soccer fields worth of Myanmar’s forests are destroyed a year to feed China’s appetite for the illegal product.
- Myanmar officials now say they have seized almost 5,000 tons of charcoal and will continue to crack down on the trade.
Myanmar has pledged to stem the massive tide of charcoal being illegally harvested, produced and exported from their forests to Chinese factories. Last week a senior official from the country’s Department of Forestry told the Myanmar Times that the charcoal trade has “exacerbated” deforestation.
Certain forestry products like charcoal are not allowed to be exported from Myanmar. The country has struggled to protect its natural forests from rapid and widespread illegal logging.
In 2010, Myanmar had the third-highest rate of forest reduction in the world according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO tracks forest cover globally, and says that between 1990 and 2015, Myanmar lost about 15 million hectares of forest and other wooded land.
A temporary ban on logging that ended in early 2017 was meant to help, but had little impact. There simply have not been not enough forestry officials or state resources to monitor Myanmar’s dense, remote forested areas.
Some have benefitted.
A year-long Mongabay investigative report published in October 2017 found that the bribes paid to officials on both the Myanmar and Chinese sides of the border to be at least $1.2 million a year. That figure could be as high as $10 million a year. Exact numbers are nearly impossible to determine, given the previously non-existent data and research on the topic.
Forestry officials told Mongabay in 2017 interviews that they were not involved in stopping illegal charcoal.
Mongabay reporters found that every ton of charcoal generates $40-$85 in cash for corrupt officials in the form of bribes, according to estimates based on interviews with traders. In 2016 alone, at least 216,273 tons of charcoal crossed the border to China near Bhamo, in Myanmar’s restive Kachin State. The charcoal was bound for silicone-processing factories in Dehong, China.
But the Myanmar Times reports that from April-November 2017, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information said the government seized 4,568.65 tons of illegal charcoal. According to local media reports, thousands of bags – which are used to produce a range of globally-used products – were recently seized in the Kachin-China border area.
The Myanmar Times also noted that the Htee Chaint Network, which doesn’t have a website or social media page in English, said they had recently seen a spike in the trade. The Network is described as a civil society organization that works on regional environmental issues.
According to U Tun Aung, who spoke to the Myanmar Time on behalf of the Network, there is also suddenly money to fund deforestation efforts.
“We didn’t have enough funds to fight deforestation in the past,” U Tun Aung said. “Now we have enough. We have the 10-year plan to fight deforestation from 2017 to 2026.”
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