China Spurring Illegal Timber Trade in Tanzania

Eliza Barclay in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
for National Geographic News
December 21, 2007

China's growing hunger for timber may wipe out much of Tanzania's commercially valuable forests in two decades, scientists warn.

The Asian powerhouse is the fastest growing importer of Tanzania's indigenous hardwood products, both unprocessed and semiprocessed.

Chinese carpentry companies transform much of the wood into furniture and other wood products for export to the United States and Europe.

In one week in October 2007, officials with Tanzania's Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism confiscated two shipments totaling 73 containers of logs.

Both loads of timber were set to be exported to China by a Dar es Salaam-based company, according to the ministry.

Agency minister Juma Maghembe vowed to take legal action against the export company and the customs officials who oversaw the shipment.

"China is a market that is impossible to satisfy," said Rogers Malimbwi, a professor of natural resources assessment at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania. "They will stay in Tanzania unless they get other alternatives."

(Related news: "Chopsticks Tax to Target China's Hunger for Timber" [March 22, 2006].)

Skyrocketing Value

Tanzania is only one of many African suppliers of timber to China, which include Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique. But the country's contribution has skyrocketed in recent years.

Between 1997 and 2005 Tanzania's timber export market increased by almost 1,400 percent in value.

China accounted for all indigenous hardwood logs and three-quarters of sawn wood and raw material exported between July 2005 and January 2006, according to a report released in May by TRAFFIC International, a joint program of the conservation nonprofit WWF and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

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