Experts warn that China’s reckless pillaging of forests has left African species of rosewood on the verge of extinction – and helped fund terrorists.
While Beijing has imposed restrictions on logging at home, it is using Africa to feed an insatiable demand for luxury goods. All the while, helping to fill the coffers of jihadist insurgents due to illegal logging.
Officially, China timber imports from Africa are worth around $2.2billion a year, but adding the illegal logging boost this to $17billion. Many species of African hardwood on the Convention on International Trade’s warning list are on the verge of extinction.
Environmentalists say replacing rosewood is difficult because it takes decades for trees to grow to a commercially useful size, and centuries for them to fully mature.
Due to some African countries being in debt to China turning a blind eye and corruption has allowed a black-market trade to flourish and benefit terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Senegal.
While China officially has banned logging in its own natural forests three years ago to stop the pollution of rivers and prevent flooding, but it has done little to nothing to stop illegally sourced timber from arriving.
By 2010 it had exhausted hardwood stocks in south-east Asia and since then imports of African rosewood have increased by 700 per cent.
“Many rosewood areas in south-east Asia are now commercially extinct. Because African rosewood is of lower grade, it’s cheaper and in such high demand that it is now the most traded in the market. It’s being pillaged,” said Naomi Basik Treanor, from the US charity Forest Trends.
Nigeria accounted for 40 per cent of all of China’s hardwood imports, before 2017. However, illegally harvested logs worth $1billion had been secretly shipped to China over the last four years, according to an investigation by Environmental Investigative Agency in Nigeria.
The agency further reported that loggers paid Nigerian officials a further $1million in bribes. After it became concerned over links to criminal gangs and terror groups and suspended all hardwood trade from the West African country.
However, not all exports have stopped. And China has just turned its attention to the other African nations.
“The level of indebtedness which African countries have to China as a result of the BRI [Belt and Road Initiative finance deal] makes it easier to persuade governments to turn a blind eye. If both sides are invested there’s going to be far less intervention to stop illegal trading and lot more turning the other cheek,” Naomi said.