Illegal Malagasy timber trade worth up to $460 000 a day


Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) say illegal logging in the National Parks and protected areas of the SAVA region of Madagascar is costing the impoverished country between $88 000 and $460 000 a day and is causing irreparable harm.



The two non-profit organizations report that 30-115 cubic meters of precious rosewood is being stolen every day with members of the country’s Forest Administration, the national police and other Malagasy authorities accused of serious failings, and in some cases, complicity with the traffickers.


The investigation into the trafficking of rosewood, palissander and ebony was commissioned by the Madagascar National Parks authority in August and the results were published with their consent.


The two NGOs say they uncovered “unprecedented levels of illegal activity in the country’s north-east, following the political crisis earlier in the year. Investigators captured video evidence of the logging and collected testimony from local communities, revealing both the scale and brazenness of the illegal trade.”


In February, Madagascar was rocked by political instability and frozen out of foreign investment and conservation aid. Thousands of loggers invaded national parks and cut down protected species.


The massive scale of the illegal harvest threatens vulnerable communities and Madagascar’s last remaining natural forests, home to some of the planet’s rarest wildlife. Loggers cut down trees to clear trails and make canoes, hunt rare lemur species, and burn down tracts of forest for temporary settlements, encouraging occupation of once-pristine habitats.


“Some of the world’s unique forests, and the communities that rely on them, are being degraded beyond repair to feed our demand for luxury goods,” said Andrea Johnson, Director of Forest Campaigns at EIA.


Some 1000 cubic meters of high-value hardwoods are estimated to leave Madagascar each month—and 100-200 rare trees are cut down each day. The majority of the trade is driven by an appetite for expensive rosewood furniture in China. Smaller amounts of precious woods are sent to Europe and the United States for use in high-end musical instruments.


Despite high prices for these woods on international markets–a rosewood armoire can fetch up to $20 000 at retail—only the smallest fraction of the wood’s value remains in Madagascar. The country exports mostly raw timber and an analysis of financial transactions showed that little of the proceeds return to Madagascar.


“A small group of powerful traders have exploited the country’s political situation for short-term gain, corrupting local and national officials in a time of crisis,” said Reiner Tegtmeyer of Global Witness. “Timber traders have effectively bought the right to pillage the country’s parks with impunity. They are extracting up to $800 000 a day worth of illegal timber, while paying workers less than $5 a day for dangerous, back-breaking work.”


Global Witness and EIA are calling on the Malagasy government to repeal several decrees authorising registered companies to export illegally harvested wood, “as this effectively encourages more illicit harvesting.”


The government “should seize and sell all stocks of illegal timber and put the money into a trust fund for forest protection and rural development. Future seizures should be destroyed,” the two organisations say.


“The government should take immediate steps to place rosewood and ebony under the protection of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). More sustainable land management and better support for local populations is also necessary to give them alternatives to being exploited by illegal loggers.


“Consumer countries, namely China, the European Union and the US, need to police their imports of Malagasy timber and create strict legal requirements for timber and wood products imports akin to the recent amendment to the US Lacey Act legislation that bans the import of illegally-sourced timber.”


Pic: Rosewood logging