A Rapid Assessment of the Illegal Timber Trade Across the Ruvuma River on the Tanzania – Mozambique Border


The completion in 2010 of the Unity Bridge connecting Mozambique and Tanzania and the establishment of a Customs office in Mtambaswala, Tanzania, has generally facilitated the increase in traded goods and services between the two countries. At the same time, findings from this report suggest the bridge is also being used to transport illegally harvested timber into Tanzania from Mozambique. Based on recent fieldwork from southern Tanzania, this assessment report provides an analysis of the current timber trade between the two countries. It presents evidence for widespread illicit trade of Mozambican timber into Tanzania, mainly through and across informal entry points. Six years after Tanzania’s illegal timber trade was widely publicized in a TRAFFIC report (Milledge et al. 2007), this study also documents continued illegal logging and trade of forest products in the southern part of Tanzania.

While the ongoing timber trade between Tanzania and Mozambique remains an income-generating activity for both countries, this activity falls partly under the control of a group of unscrupulous forest officials, traders and politicians. The illegal timber trade is highly detrimental to Tanzania’s forestry sector due to losses in taxes, royalties and fees normally attached to the legal harvesting of forest products. Moreover, traders cut trees found in the border districts of Tanzania and claim them as timber from Mozambique, in order to secure permits for transporting them to Dar es Salaam and elsewhere. As a result, Tanzania is losing billions of Tanzanian shillings from royalties and harvesting licenses and this study estimates the loss of revenue to be around TZS6.8 billion (USD4.2 million) a year1. This is revenue that could have been earned in six months through a legal timber trade in three core districts of Masasi, Tunduru and Nanyumbu. If we consider the rest of the southern part of the country where the illegal trade in forest products is also common, the loss of revenue is much higher.

Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (MNRT) has implemented measures to better manage the forestry sector, in particular, the establishment in 2010 of the Tanzania Forest Service (TFS). TFS has undertaken a number of reforms that include the formation of three new forest management zones in addition to the initial four, the introduction of district forest managers and the decentralization of forest management and governance at the zonal level. Presently, TFS officials are responsible for the strategic policy implementation and overall leadership and management of the forestry sector, with the majority of responsibilities and staff now based at the field level.

Whilst the measures taken by MNRT are appreciated by stakeholders in the forestry sector, it still has a long way to go to fully address the critical problems facing the timber trade. These problems include continued corruption and collusion among forestry officials and 8

businessmen, shortage of staff and equipment, lack of coordinated inter-ministerial policies on timber trade and a need for management strategies for forest areas. Furthermore, the MNRT’s inadequate accountability mechanism reduces its capacity to effectively manage forest resources.

This study revealed that the one of the reasons behind the poor performance of the forestry sector in Tanzania is related to the poor implementation of existing policies to govern the country’s forestry sector. It also identified a lack of coordination and appreciation among the government institutions and agencies of the values of community conservation at the local level.

This study recommends that Tanzania and Mozambique seriously commit to protecting their forest resources in the border districts. Such a commitment would allow for improved implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation and Mutual Support in the Transboundary Management of Forest Resources between the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Directorate of Land and Forests (DNTF) (Mozambique) and the MNRT and Forestry and Beekeeping Division (Tanzania) signed in April 2012. This study proposes the following specific recommendations to be implemented by stakeholders involved in Tanzania’s forest sector:

–  Adopt immediate and sustained strict law enforcement strategies in border districts to stop illegal logging and importation of forest products;

–  Streamline checkpoints along Tanzania’s southern highway to a manageable size and equip them with trained staff and working tools. Currently there are checkpoints without properly trained staff with the knowledge and skills to identify types and status of forest products in transit. Furthermore, where relevant, combine forestry checkpoints with weighbridges or police checkpoints thereby reducing the number of checkpoints and unnecessary delays and costs to business;

–  TFS to increase and sustain sea patrols with trained personnel and equipment, including well-maintained boats. This can be done in collaboration with the state security organizations, fisheries departments and related agencies;

–  Deploy forestry and revenue collection staff to heavily used informal ports along the coast to regulate trade in forest products alongside other commercial goods and services;

–  Using independent agents, implement independent timber trade and forest monitoring at key checkpoints and harvest areas, respectively;

–  To reduce participation of local communities and businesses in the illegal forest trade, implement appropriate fines for illegal loggers, including confiscation of property used to facilitate or commit such offences;

–  Reduce corruption. In recent years, Tanzanians have witnessed a rapidly changing political environment, with corrupt practices increasingly tolerated and supported (Cooksey and Kelsall 2011). To deal with corruption associated with the timber trade, authorities must address it at the highest levels, including sectors such as energy;

–  Authorities should enforce the findings of environmental and social impact assessments during the establishment of various social and economic initiatives that would impact negatively on forests and the timber trade.

–  Implement thorough annual audits of forest resources to understand the prevailing demand and supply;

–  Improve transparency at all levels. All documents for timber audits, harvesting licenses and transit passes issued in each district must be made public to show volumes of timber available and amounts harvested;

–  Improve participatory forest governance programs at the grassroots level where most forests are found. In current programs there are weaknesses in revenue-sharing and governance structures which need to be addressed if initiatives such as community-based forest management and joint forest management are to succeed;

–  Take advantage of emerging international payment schemes such as REDD and carbon trade to increase tangible benefits from forest services and stimulate participation of rural communities in forest conservation by providing alternatives sources of income;

–  Establish and support basic and sustainable economic activities at the community level such as conservation agriculture and sustainable harvesting of forest products for charcoal and timber. Eco-tourism should be explored with the many tourist operations situated along Tanzania’s coastal region (Nelson 2008);

–  Better understand Zanzibar’s role in the import and export of timber products from the mainland;

–  Strengthen the timber-based furniture industry by investing more resources in downstream activities that include primary, secondary and tertiary operations ranging from the processing of raw materials to the manufacture of semi-finished and finished goods; and use value chain analysis to identify the existing gaps in this industry;

–  Resolve low reporting by Tanzania’s Customs authorities of timber export data; and,

–  Ascertain domestic and sub-regional consumption of Tanzania and Mozambique wood products.

[1] According to Bank of Tanzania, as of January 28, 2013: USD1 = TZS1574

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