Illegal logging on a massive scale in the central Mozambican province of Zambezia has led to the loss of two thirds of the precious hardwood “Pau ferro” (ironwood) from the Gile Reserve, reports Tuesday’s issue of the independent daily “O Pais”.
The paper’s journalists investigated the assault on Zambezia’s forestry resources for two weeks, describing the province as “the epicenter” of the onslaught to loot the country’s timber.
Some of the trucks involved in the illegal trade are seized, but most are not. At the administration of the Gile Reserve are 14 trucks and tractors that were recently seized. The logs they were carrying were confiscated and reverted in favour of the state.
But one estimate cited in the paper is that about 2,200 trailer trucks full of ironwood left Gile since August 2014.
Jean-Baptiste Deffontaines, a representative of the French government, which has been supporting the Gile reserve technically and financially since 2007, noted that ironwood is in great demand on the Chinese market. Earlier this years, a truckload of good quality ironwood (measuring perhaps 18 or 19 cubic metres, could fetch a price of 1.2 million meticais (16,000 US dollars at current exchange rates).
Ironwood is a slow growing tree. It takes 50 years to reach a reasonable size for commercial exploitation. At the current rate of logging, there will soon be very little left of this species in Zambezia.
There is clearly complicity among some officials with the illegal loggers. In late March and early April, it was reported that 19 trucks laden with illegal logs were seized at the Namacua inspection post, near the boundary between Zambezia and Nampula provinces. But the trucks and their illicit cargo then simply disappeared.
Daniel Maula, executive director of a local NGO, the Zambezia Environment and Community Development Network, told the paper “We became aware of this and we visited the place where the trucks were, in Gile, near the Ligonha river, on the main north-south highway. They had left without a trace”.
But the Zambezia provincial government claimed to know nothing about this. Diogo Borges, the Provincial Director of Land, Environment and Rural Development, said “I have no official information about this case”.
The National Director of Forests, Xavier Sacumbuera, played down the scandal. He told “O Pais” that, in reality, the case only involved eight trucks, which were released once the owners had paid a fine. He said it was clearly stated in the law, that once the fines were paid, the owners could reclaim their trucks. But in this case, “O Pais” pointed out, they had recovered not only the trucks, but also the looted timber, which ought to have reverted to the state.
The illegal logging and export of timber, mostly to China, has been reported regularly by Mozambican and international environmental bodies. A comparison of Mozambican and Chinese trade records shows that most of the timber leaves Mozambique illegally, or is grossly under-invoiced.
According to a report from the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF), cited by “O Pais”, the amount of wood exported to China turns out to be 5.7 times greater than that officially declared by the National Directorate of Land and Forests. The report calculated the loss of revenue suffered by Mozambique at 17.28 billion meticais over the decade 2003-2013.
Customs staff were unwilling to speak to the paper about this scandal, although one, talking on condition of anonymity, said he was unable to be open because the trade involved senior political figures.