The Gambia bans exports of endangered rosewood; Application problems remain

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The Gambia has banned all timber exports to curb rampant illegal logging and protect critically endangered African rosewood, but conservationists remain skeptical about the ban’s enforcement.

Rosewood is one of the most trafficked wildlife products in the world, fueled in large part by high demand from China, where the wood is used to make high-end antique-style furniture.

The trade is rampant across West Africa, where forests have been decimated and soils degraded.

Between 2017 and 2022, China imported more than 3 million tonnes of rosewood worth at least $2 billion from West Africa, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, an international NGO.

In addition to banning all timber exports, The Gambia has also revoked all export licenses.

Lax enforcement

Haidar el Ali, Senegal’s former environment minister and former director of the country’s reforestation agency, said The Gambia had banned rosewood exports in the past, but the laws were rarely enforced.

He said that every time the timber depots emptied, they said they would ban exports, because in reality there was no more timber to export. And afterwards, once the traffickers filled the deposits, the exports resumed. The rosewood traffic will not end until the last tree has been cut down, he said.

El Ali acknowledged that this time might be different. The Gambia’s latest ban comes a month after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITIES, suspended all international trade in rosewood from West Africa.

The decision applies to the 184 member states of the convention, including China.

“It is one of the strengths, the power, of the CITIES ruling – that importers and exporters must comply,” said Raphael Edou, Africa program manager for the Environmental Investigation Agency and former minister. environment of Benin. “So while we may have some hesitation from The Gambia, we know that now there is no escaping this decision.

Although The Gambia’s rosewood stocks are nearly depleted, the country continues to be one of the major exporters. The logs are transported mainly from the Casamance region of Senegal, where the illegal trade funds a violent separatist movement.

Seydi Gassama, director of Amnesty International Senegal, said that because of this rebellion, the state water and forest services, which fight against illegal logging, no longer want to enter the forests of Casamance. And because of their absence, rosewood trafficking has also fueled the rebellion, he said.

The separatist rebels also collect taxes on exported logs, according to local reports.

Thousands of people have died since the conflict between the government and separatists began in 1982, and an outbreak in March displaced thousands. The conflict is one of the oldest in Africa.

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