Magazine article African Business

Timber Exports Banned to Save Forests: Sierra Leone Is Losing Its Rainforests to Uncontrolled Logging by Chinese and Other Companies. the Situation Has Become So Bad That President Koroma Has Slapped a Ban on All Timber Exports. Neil Ford Reports

Magazine article African Business

Timber Exports Banned to Save Forests: Sierra Leone Is Losing Its Rainforests to Uncontrolled Logging by Chinese and Other Companies. the Situation Has Become So Bad That President Koroma Has Slapped a Ban on All Timber Exports. Neil Ford Reports

Article excerpt

The government of Sierra Leone has followed its temporary ban on the export of minerals, with a similar embargo on timber exports, as it seeks to re-establish control over the export of raw materials. As in neighbouring Liberia, the dividing line between bands of armed insurgents and smuggling gangs seems to have been blurred during their respective civil wars, so the new government in Freetown is seeking to regain control of some of its main sources of foreign revenues. However, efforts to promote sustainable development are being undermined by unscrupulous traders.

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A letter from the President's Office regarding the illegal export of diamonds stated: "It is reported that there appears to be little or no supervision or regulation of this activity by government", and Freetown appears to have the same opinion of the timber industry.

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Foreign minister Joseph Sam Sesay says that the activities of foreign timber companies have been restricted in Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea, so they have moved on to Sierra Leone. He said, "they just invaded and started doing what they felt like doing".

Sesay added: "A lot of them are Chinese, Ivorians and Guineans. We do have a forestry law that outlines how to do business here--this law was not complied with by most of them. Unfortunately even though the previous government did put a ban on the logging, they were not effectively enforcing it and that's why we've put in the ban."

President Ernest Bai Koroma has introduced the ban until the government can introduce sufficient safeguards in the form of monitoring and registration of all commercial felling. He commented: "We are losing what is left of our environment and it is affecting our climate and other things. It was not the Chinese alone but we had a lot of logging activities which were uncontrolled."

According to the Ministry of Forestry, very rapid deforestation has already caused soil erosion and not acting now could see all of the country's forests disappear by 2018. Once the soil is gone, it will be almost impossible to bring the trees back.

New forestry sector legislation will require loggers to replace all the trees felled in order to ensure the long term viability of the industry in the areas where it will be permitted. It is also likely that the legislation will require some forms of timber to be processed within the country, in order to create employment and enable Sierra Leone to retain more of the economic benefits of the industry.

The director of non-governmental organisation (NGO) Global Witness, Patrick Alley, said: "It's good that the government of Sierra Leone has banned timber exports, but the critical thing is to stop the illegal logging taking place at all. On top of that, it is critical that President Koroma clarifies which arm of his government is responsible for forests and environment, and gets them to act quickly to bring the illegal logging under control."

Responsibility for controlling the forestry sector was previously taken away from the ministries of Agriculture and Land, and given to the National Commission of Environment and Forestry (NaCEF). However, it now seems possible that the two ministries, which previously seemed incapable of tackling unfettered logging, will resume their former roles.

Park prospects

The government declared that Gola Forest would be turned into a national park covering 75,000 hectares. The forest contains a wide variety of flora and fauna, including 274 species of bird and some of West Africa's most important leopard, elephant and chimpanzee populations, while the maintenance of forests can help tackle global warming. As a result, it is an excellent target for support from international NGOs and governments. Funding totalling $12m has already been secured from a variety of donors to finance park management and logging compensation. …

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