The Gambia has taken steps to limit the illegal trade in rosewood by prohibiting all timber exports from the country. The move comes after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) imposed a ban on West African rosewood exports.
A Highly Valued Product
Rosewood is the most trafficked wild product by value and volume because of its importance in making high-end furniture, along with its use in making musical instruments like guitars, violins, and cellos. It is more trafficked than ivory, pangolin scales, and rhino horns combined. Illegal timber makes up over 15 percent of global timber sales and is valued at between $30 billion and $100 billion a year. For this ban to be effective, it’s going to take time, effort, and investment to fight illegal sales on multiple fronts.
Illegal Wood from the Casamance Conflict
The Gambia, which has lost most of its rosewood due to overexploitation and smuggling, has evolved into a transit point for illegal rosewood leaving Senegal's war-torn Casamance region. Since 1982, the region has been embroiled in a separatist conflict with Senegal, and the rosewood is sold to fund the war by the rebels. The conflict has made it difficult for forest guards from Senegal and Gambia to police rosewood smuggling, but a recent peace agreement between the rebels and the government may help combat the trade.
Corruption inside the Gambia
Illegal rosewood goes through leaks and channels at Gambian ports. For the ban to be effective, these leaks must be plugged by cracking down on corruption across the trade route. Port authorities need proper training on how to spot and identify illegal goods.
Demand from Overseas
Rosewood is highly valued for its rich color, thickness, fragrance, and durability. The Gambia alone exports over $100 million of rosewood as part of a $2 billion-dollar market from West Africa. Most of these go to China, where there’s huge demand. Other exporting countries include Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Madagascar, Peru, and other countries in Central and South America. There are campaigns for regulation but progress will only come from implementation.
Rewilding and Planting More Rosewood
The Gambia has previously attempted, but failed, to prohibit the export of rosewood. This could be a temporary solution to extinction and soil degradation. The long-term solution may be to restore trees in the Gambia, Senegal, and West Africa before looking into more sustainable ways to trade rosewood. CITIES also permits exemptions for finished rosewood products such as crafts weighing less than 10 kilograms per shipment.
West African countries need investment in other areas to diversify their international exports, reduce the need for conflict, and give locals more control in the management of their resources. Given the right incentives, locals are best placed to help combat the illegal trade of rosewood.
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