China demand fuels illegal timber logging in Guinea-Bissau

Wed May 21, 2014 2:12am EDT
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By Bate Felix and Alberto Dabo

BUBA, Guinea-Bissau (Reuters) - When middlemen for Chinese traders approached Yusuf Diallo to cut timber from his farm in Guinea-Bissau, he says he knew he had no choice. Soldiers had simply threatened his neighbors when they refused.

A clearing dotted with dozens of stumps now marks where lush tropical forest once stood outside his farmhouse. To one side, more than 300 logs were stacked, waiting to be removed.

"I was told that whether I accepted or not, they were going to do it anyway ... So I accepted," said Diallo.

China's hunger for rosewood has seen demand for African timber explode. The hardwood is used to make antique-style furniture, which is exported to North America and Europe and is popular in China with its growing middle class.

Forest products from Africa make up about 4 percent of China's total imports. A report released on May 8 by the Africa Progress Panel, chaired by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said Africa is losing about $17 billion every year because of illegal logging activities.

In Guinea-Bissau, a coup-prone West African nation, Chinese demand has fuelled illegal logging with the alleged complicity of senior military and politicians, according to present and former Guinean forestry officials, and a senior U.N. official.

The sources declined to publicly name the senior Guinean figures they said were involved in the logging trade.

They said private operators, government and military officials would typically obtain export licenses and form partnerships with Chinese middlemen. Attempts to track down Chinese companies the sources said were involved were not successful in China or Guinea Bissau.   Continued...

A Chinese businessman stands next to workers while loading timber onto containers in Sintchan Companhe, April 16, 2014. Picture taken April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Joe Penney