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Hardwoods under threat as illegal logging escalates: one of Mozambique's important natural resources, its hardwood forests, is being seriously denuded by a spate of illegal logging despite government attempts to regulate the industry and add value to timber before export. Neil Ford reports.

The government of Mozambique has attracted a great deal of praise from the international community for the progress it has made in redeveloping an economy that was shattered by the long years of warfare.

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The raw economic data do appear very positive but investment is concentrated in and around Maputo and the rural economy remains very weak. The lack of investment in agriculture is preventing any improvement in rural living standards, while the lack of administrative control over many regions is impeding development of any kind. In particular, limited regulation and the absence of a police presence has enabled illegal logging to continue many years after the armed conflict came to an end.

Mozambique's GDP has recovered strongly over the past 15 years but relatively little investment has been required to have a big impact. The Mozal aluminium smelter, the Sasol gas export scheme and sustained port investment have all been well publicised but investment by foreign companies and the multilaterals has been concentrated in the capital and in the gas producing region. It is estimated that Maputo has attracted 80% of all foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country over the past decade.

The northern and western regions of the country have seen very little benefit from the influx and have very few economic links with the more developed and prosperous south. Transport links are few and far between, and the people of Niassa Province in the north are closer to the capitals of Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia than to Maputo. This isolation means that it is difficult to take rural produce to potential markets and has prevented the emergence of a cash crop sector.

Yet while the government may be seeking to implement its development strategy one step at a time, one natural resource is being eroded that will be almost impossible to regain. Average annual official timber production stands at about 100,000cu m, but it is estimated that at least the same amount is cut illegally.

Unauthorised production involves no replanting and although some regard illegal felling as an opportunity for local Mozambicans to regain control of their own natural resources, timber producing areas will soon become exhausted without proper sustained management.

In addition, much of the logging is not carried out on a small scale, by local people. Simon Norfolk the director of Terra Firma, a Mozambican forest management group, commented: "If they carry on at the rate they are going it will be probably three to five years and there won't be any hardwood resources sufficient to sustain continued production. The simple licences are very problematic, because even though they are supposed to be awarded for a particular geographical area, which is also supposed to have a simplified management plan, there is no control. It becomes a blanket licence to cut however and wherever you want."

The simple licences are only given to Mozambican nationals for small-scale production but foreign companies often employ local people and can then claim that each of their workers is logging for his or her own use. Larger companies are supposed to apply for a logging concession over a specific area but regulation is stricter on registered concessions and so many loggers steer clear of them. Under the current forestry regulations, the export of unprocessed timber is illegal, as the government seeks to force investors to invest in local processing facilities that create many more jobs than felling alone. Furniture production and other forms of timber use also help to keep more of the financial benefits of the industry within the country. However, given other priorities on the government's limited budget, the Enforcement Department at the National Directorate of Land and Forests (DNTF) has insufficient resources to police the entire country.

A form of asset-stripping

The director of DNTF, Pedro Mangue, said that the loggers "don't care about the forests. Timber is giving a good price and all you need is a couple of litres of petrol and a chainsaw and you can have a big tree." As a result, a lot of unprocessed timber leaves the country. In particular, it has been reported that a large proportion of the unprocessed logs are exported to China and elsewhere in Asia.

Global demand for timber and particularly for rare hardwoods is driving the process. Prices vary from species to species but reach up to $500 per cubic metre for the most valuable trees, such as chan-futa, jambirre, African sandalwood and wmbiea. Eucalyptus and pine are among the more important officially logged woods.

At present, Mozambique has an estimated 19m hectares of forest but this is being eroded year on year. There are also indications that more companies are becoming involved in both legal and illegal forestry, as the number of applications for logging licences increased from 462 in 2005 to 790 in 2006.

Sustainable forestry plans must be included in the licence applications but the lack of industry policing means that there are few checks on the methods employed even by licensed loggers. One solution could be much greater investment in checking timber loads at the nation's ports but this too will not be cheap. The existing regulatory structure is designed to promote sustainable development and to control the activities of large companies, while allowing local people access to forests, yet it appears to be achieving neither.

In the longer term, a sustainable forestry sector, coupled with better access to agricultural markets and greater processing of rural products, holds out the prospect of a better future. Yet the rate of logging indicates that the forestry sector's problems must be tackled sooner rather than later.

RELATED ARTICLE: Maputo corridor

New investment for transport

The government of Mozambique has announced that a new handling facility is to be developed at the port of Maputo for the export of fresh agricultural produce.

South Africa's Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and a consortium of Mozambican investors have agreed to finance the construction of the fresh produce terminal, which will have the capacity to export 70,000t of citrus fruit a year. The terminal is being developed and will be managed by a joint venture of Mozambique company Fidelity Investments and Port Elizabeth Cold Store. This is the latest example of a joint venture between South African and Mozambican investors. South African firms have become more outward looking over the past decade and are keen to invest in a variety of sectors in the rest of Southern Africa. Mozambique has become one of the main destinations for investment, partly because of its geographical location. Indeed, the main reason why Maputo and the rest of southern Mozambique are attracting almost all of the foreign interest in Mozambique is because of the region's proximity to South Africa.

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South Africa's industrial centre around Gauteng Province is actually closer to the port of Mozambique than to the main South African ports of Richards Bay and Durban. As a result of increased demand from South African traders, Mozambique's rail operator CFM has invested heavily in improving the railway between Maputo and the South African border. In May, a spokesperson for the rail company announced that the rehabilitation of the line should be complete by the end of July. This will enable the number of freight trains running on the line to increase to 35 a week in the short term and 60 a week by next year.

South Africa's state-owned rail company, Spoornet, had originally been given the contract to refurbish the line and then operate it, but the deal was cancelled in 2006. CFM subsidiary CFM Sul now expects the volume of cargo carried on the railway to reach 4.5m tonnes this year, including 2.5mt of bulk cargo, which mostly comprises coal and magnetite. Capacity on the line should reach 9mt a year by 2009 as new engines and wagons are commissioned for the network. Some refurbished engines have also been purchased from India and South Africa.

Matola Coal Terminal at Maputo is expanding and provides a useful alternative outlet for South African mining companies.
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Comment:Hardwoods under threat as illegal logging escalates: one of Mozambique's important natural resources, its hardwood forests, is being seriously denuded by a spate of illegal logging despite government attempts to regulate the industry and add value to timber before export.
Author:Ford, Neil
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:6MOZA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Words:1344
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