Illegal logging in Madagascar

Madagascar is listed as one of the world’s 10 megabiodiverse countries in the world. During my week here on a work trip to it appears that much of this biodiversity is being squandered for short term gain.

The rosewood issue

Recent international attention (see Global Witness report) has focused on the illegal export of Madagascar rosewood, a protected timber species. This week, the President Andry Rajoelina will make a final decision on whether to sell off stocks of rosewood just as the elections approach. There is considerable speculation that the proceeds of a sale will be used for political ends. See this report (in French).

Seeing logging first hand

On Friday, driving through the bush in south west of the country near Morandova, I saw evidence of the illegal logging of Palesander rosewood Dalbergia baronii.

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Next to the dirt road that we were driving along was a settlement of a couple of families in makeshift huts. A group of 10 people living there were sitting under a big neem tree. We stopped to speak with them – 200 metres behind their settlement were 20 or so timber logs, lying in the shade. The people said that they sell them to traders for around 500,000 Ariay a cubic metre (250 USD). The logs were thus worth around USD5,000.

The loggers were from the tribe called Antandroy (from the Droy region). Traditionally hunter gatherers, they survive from shifting cultivation, moving into a region, slashing and burning, cultivating for a few years and then moving on. Their cash income sources are extremely limited and so the incentives to cut down and sell timber are very strong. I asked a local NGO leader we were travelling with why the species is not effectively protected.

Tout le monde traffic! The people see the leaders trafficking so they do the same”.

The wood is picked up by a trade and goes by truck to the regional capital Monrondava.

“If forestry agents see the wood they will confiscate it, give a fine and then sell it themselves”.

It ends up as being bought by the local carpenters to make furniture or shipped out of the countery.

There is an official framework, produced in 1996, for establishing community forestry management. Called GELSOE, it defines how land is managed by communities. The actual agreements between the government and local people are called DENA.

Seen as one solution to deforestation, they are, according to experts I spoke with, undermined in this case by the entry of migrant people who slash and burn. The lack of effective protection for high value timber species has the same undermining effect. Elsewhere in the country, local agreements are worth little in the face of discovery of minerals. For example a recent discovery of a gold nugget resulted in thousands of artisanal prospecting miners ravaging the forest.

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