Axing illegal logging

When people order a kitchen, choose new flooring or fit out their dining room with new furniture, there are many factors they will take into consideration.

Does it match the style of the house, is it the right colour and will it co-ordinate with the rest of the room, are all things that people might mull over. But how many can truthfully say they look into whether the wood used has been legally sourced and imported?

Increasingly, this is becoming an issue for savvy consumers and companies wishing to maintain an ethical reputation. But it is also a consideration for European countries concerned about the timber crossing their borders and the impact illegal logging can have on indigenous communities and habitats.

To try to tackle issues arising from this, the European Commission has funded a four-year project focused on how forests are governed and managed in the West and Central Africa region. The University of Wolverhampton’s Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT) was delighted to secure the £1.5 million (€1.8 million) funding for the project, which will concentrate on Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Liberia.

These countries are heavily forested and export timber to Europe. All four countries are engaged in negotiations with the European Commission concerning the banning of illegal timber imports into the European Union market and raising minimum standards in the forest industry.

Head of CIDT, Philip Dearden, says: "We are delighted to have secured this grant, which builds on CIDT’s 30-year track record in tropical natural resource management.

"This project will strengthen African forest governance by promoting greater transparency and accountability within the forest sector. It aims to support the relevant stakeholders to exchange information and engage with international forest governance initiatives to combat illegal logging."

What is illegal logging?

Illegal logging is defined as the harvest, transportation, purchase or sale of timber which is carried out in violation of laws. It can cause environmental damage as well as harming the economy of the producer countries and their communities.

Project Leader Richard Nyirenda explains: "Illegal logging doesn’t respect the rights of indigenous communities. Some are being displaced from their land and losing their livelihood. The revenues that accrue from harvesting or forestry don’t accrue to the government of that country, and that means the government doesn’t have this revenue to provide social services to the people living there.

"Forests are so important in the issue of climate change too, and there is a lot of international attention on that."

The rigorous application process for the prestigious grant took over a year, and undoubtedly CIDT’s track record and experience in this field was a major factor in securing the grant. The team, which also includes Project Director Des Mahony, put together a consortium of partners to work on the bid, which includes local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who are managing networks in their own countries and industry specialists in the UK.

Another factor in CIDT’s success was the ‘Improving Forest Governance’ training course, which ran for the first time last June and is due to take place again this year.

The course aims to analyse the reasons for poor forest governance and illustrate how organisations can work together constructively to improve the situation. It is open to 30 participants and there were 90 applications from 18 countries for this June’s four-week course. The training, delivered at the University’s Telford Campus, is a unique opportunity for people at the forefront of tackling illegal logging in Africa, as it is delivered in both English and French.

It has attracted interest from a diverse range of people, from those working in the climate change sector to people working for NGOs and even a TV journalist.

Jill Edbrooke from CIDT runs the course. She says: "There is a lot happening at an international level in the forestry sector and these changing policies will ultimately impact on local people in some of these countries. It is a challenge for people at the forefront of managing forests to understand these processes. The Improving Forest Governance course tries to help them understand the broader international processes taking place that impact on what they are doing."

Moving forward

The four-year project will be managed by CIDT, who will start by using expertise within the team to analyse what is needed in each of the African countries. They will work with local partners to develop training materials and ‘update meetings’. The meetings, in each of the four countries, will include academics, policy makers, local stakeholders and international experts who will present their work to each other to inform national level policy, practice and awareness.

Richard adds: "The update meetings are a key element of the project and are very important in terms of fostering open debate and exchange of information and ideas on a sensitive subject in some of these countries."

Longer term aims for the project include working with tertiary education providers in the countries to support the development of curriculum materials to deliver training.

As Des Mahony explains, an aim of the project is to bring all sides of the argument around forest governance together to engage in constructive debate, in the hope of increasing understanding of different stand-points and needs. In so doing, it is hoped transparency, accountability, civil society voice, free speech and democratic processes will be strengthened to check and reduce the illegal activities and corruption that threaten forest habitats and the livelihoods of forest dependent communities.

"Our individual project is aiming to bring together constituents from various groups, including indigenous communities, the timber trade, the private sector, governments and academics in a constructive way to hear presentations and have an open forum to present and critique each other," Des says. "We want to enable the different groups to exchange information and argue things out about the situation in their country.

"It is not a one-way dictate of information – it is more an exchange between people who may have opposing positions and trying to find consensus. We hope that in so doing, it may influence policy and assist understanding at each national level."