An exceptional authorisation from the Malagasy transitional government for the export of raw and semi-processed precious woods risks opening a loophole for the legal export of illegally cut timber and encouraging further assaults on Madagascar's endangered forests and wildlife, conservation groups active on the island have said.
"It legalises the sale of illegally cut and collected wood onto the market (...) and constitutes a legal incentive for further corruption in the forestry sector. " said a communique published locally by WWF, Conservation International (CI) and the World Conservation Society (WCS).
The communique follows a Reuters report quoting Prime minister Monja Roindefo denying that the transitional government was legalising the plundering of forests, but refusing to rule out issuing future licences.
Niall O’Connor, Regional Representative for WWF Madagascar and West Indian Ocean Programm Office in Antananarivo says "We condemn the impact of the plundering of Madagascar’s forests, particularly the protected areas, on biodiversity and the loss of livelihood options for the local population."
A study entitled "Evaluation of rosewood and ebony stocks in two communities in the North East and in the middle-west of the country“, commissioned by WWF Madagascar in August 2009 revealed shocking details about the professional exploitation of precious woods such as the above mentioned in Madagascar.
In Andranopasy, a community in western Madagascar, only 6 of 15 species of rosewood survive. No rosewood trees with a trunk diameter of more than 30cm have been found. Three species of rosewood are very unlikely to regenerate. Another species, Diospyros perrieri, is no longer regenerating.
"This can be explained by the abusive commercial exploitation of the forest by foreign economic players. Even more, the local population cannot benefit from the precious woods in their forest for their very survival. Wood workers are paid the equivilent of 2 Euros a day while rosewood sells at 8.5 Euros per kilogramm." says the study.
Another statement, signed by 15 Madagascar and international conservation groups including WWF, said that “Precious woods are being extracted from forests by roving and sometimes violent gangs of lumbermen and sold to a few powerful businessmen for export. . . . Those exploiting the trees are also trapping endangered lemurs for food, and the forests themselves are being degraded as trees are felled, processed and dragged to adjacent rivers or roads for transport to the coast.
“No forest that contains precious woods is safe, and the country’s most prestigious nature reserves and favoured tourist destinations, such as the Marojejy and Masoala World Heritage Sites and the Mananara Biosphere Reserve, have been the focus of intensive exploitation. Currently thousands of rosewood and ebony logs, none of them legally exploited, are stored in Madagascar’s east coast ports, Vohémar, Antalaha, and Toamasina. The most recent decree will allow their export and surely encourage a further wave of environmental pillaging.”