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25 August 2011

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News
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Madagascar

Could "wood bank" ease Madagascar's illegal logging problem?

With illegal timber stocks continuing to build due ongoing logging in its rainforest parks and under pressure from powerful timber traders, Madagascar's political leaders are debating a plan to lift a ban on precious wood exports. Environmentalists fear the move — without proper safeguards — could effectively reward illegal loggers and drive further exploitation the country's remaining forests.

Separately, the World Bank is exploring a way to responsibly and transparently sell illegal timber stockpiles as a means to finance conservation efforts. Still some conservationists are also wary of that approach.

"This reminds me of the way CITES has tried to manage sales of African ivory stockpiles, under this illusion that they can raise revenues from these sales without somehow also promoting ongoing demand and starting the cycle all over again," said the a conservation who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It’s like drug addict behavior."

Complicating the issue is the government of Madagascar has not adequately inventories timber stocks, making it impossible to tell how much timber has already been harvested. Any scheme to re-open the rosewood or ebony trade would need to address this issue.

Accordingly, a group of academics, conservationists, and other concerned parties today put forth another proposal: a "precious wood bank." Their idea is to hold already-harvested rosewood logs in reserve, selling the stock over time in a careful and controlled manner to maximize its value for the people of Madagascar, rather than dumping all the wood over 12-18 months as envisioned under a proposal from UNESCO.

"The Madagascar precious wood bank would treat the rosewood stocks like the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is the repository for gold," states the proposal, noting that the bank would be controlled by an independent board made up of the World Bank, NGOs, and other entities.

While the proposal may be a novel attempt to deal with Madagascar's illegal rosewood stockpile, many of its details have yet to be fleshed out. For example, it is not clear how the timber would be physically stored, nor how allowing a trickle of high-priced rosewood into markets would diminish demand or discourage illegal logging. But its supporters nonetheless believe it could be a starting point for discussion to avoid a hasty sale of Madagascar's timber stocks that "cannot be controlled" and "likely will encourage more corruption and illegal trafficking."

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Chatham House is assessing the scale and effectiveness of the response to illegal logging and the related trade around the world. Full details of this work, including analysis and data, will be available online soon.