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When AU, ECOWAS, nations discussed the Rosewood crisis

It is now on record that the unsustainable and illegal exploitation of the African Rosewoods species (scientifically known as Pterocarpus erinaceus), is not just a problem for Ghana, but it is a big issue for all the countries in the West African sub-region.

A cross section of the participants at the Regional Rosewood Dialogue in Accra

Evidence indicates that Benin, Ghana, Guinea, the Gambia, Senegal and Sierra Leone are the hardest hit in the illegal trade in Rosewood. And this is destroying the species and forests of these countries, resulting in devastated landscapes, which is also negatively impacting the food, water and nutrition security of local communities. Besides, it is leading to a huge amount of illegal capital outflow from Africa, thereby worsening the socio-economic and environmental challenges faced by the continent among other negative impacts.

This situation has prompted the African Union Commission and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission to seek measures to address the current unprecedented illegal exploitation of the continent’s natural resources and specifically, forests, wildlife and fisheries. Of concern is the alarming rate of the Rosewood trade, now considered as the most lucrative illegal operation in wild fauna and flora according to the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC). The organisation notes that, between 2005 and 2014, the cumulative value of seized illegal Rosewood was higher than seized rhino horns, parrots, marine turtles and pangolins combined.

This aside, if unchecked, the current trends in the abusive exploitation of Rosewood would not only contribute to environmental instability, but also lead to conflicts and violence in many areas, and thereby threaten political stability in many parts of the continent.

It is crystal clear that Africa cannot in any way, sustain this level of illegal and unsustainable forest exploitation, especially considering that the continent is hard hit by climate change. Therefore, she needs her forest resources to meet commitments for forest and landscape restoration, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and biodiversity conservation in order to support Sustainable Development Goals 13 and 15, just to name a few.

For these reasons and concerns about other consequences of the illegal trade in Rosewood in West Africa, the African Union Commission has initiated a series of regional policy dialogues on illegal forest exploitation and trade in Africa. The first of these, was co-organised with the ECOWAS Commission and USAID through its West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WABICC) Programme in collaboration with the Government of Ghana, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN-FAO).

The three-day event, which took place from July 29 to 31, 2019 in Accra, was attended by government delegations from countries within the ECOWAS region as well as representatives of various NGOs, research, academic and private sector organisations. Other participants were from the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The main objective was to update the African Union and government delegations, CITES Regional representatives and the international community on progress made with the various actions earlier undertaken within the region, to address a number of challenges with regard to the protection and conservation of its wildlife species, and the ecosystems in which they survive.

The actions were guided by two key policy documents namely: “The African Union Strategy on Illegal Trade and Illegal Exploitation of Fauna and Flora” and “The West Africa Forest Convergence Plan.”

The actions included undertaking wildlife crime assessments to better understand the extent and impact of illegal trade on threatened species in the majority of ECOWAS Member States; and organising wildlife law enforcement trainings for a mix of law enforcement officers’ including the police, customs, prosecutors, judges and other officials. As part of the actions, several students from ECOWAS member states were sponsored to undertake their M.Sc. level studies on CITES implementation. Furthermore, regional consensus was built to address the challenges of illegal extraction and trade in endangered species within the framework of CITES.

The participants were further briefed on the vision, progress and next steps in drafting a West African strategy for combating wildlife crime and in developing its implementation mechanisms, including the West Africa Network to Combat Wildlife Crime and the West Africa Fund for Combating Wildlife Crime.

Participants used the occasion to review the state of knowledge of ongoing initiatives and the scale of the illegal exploitation of Rosewood in West Africa. They agreed that illegal exploitation was massive and complex involving officials in some countries and in others rebel groups working hand in hand with local community members. They identified some current studies on Rosewood as vegetative propagation of rosewood in Ghana, DNA fingerprints for traceability in Ghana and Senegal, while Togo has plans to develop mycorrihza to improve growth rate of the Rosewood, which is known to take a very long time to grow into maturity.

The participants also identified priority interventions to address the challenges within the sub-region. These include aligning national policies and regulations to that of CITIES; disseminating relevant policies and regulations; collaboration and coordination across national institutions within the regional level; and harmonising conflicting policies and regulations where possible. Another priority intervention proposed is to strengthen cooperation and coordination between the forestry and customs services both at national and regional levels to combat the illegal exploitation and trade on Rosewood and other wildlife products.

Earlier, in his keynote address, the Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources in-charge of Forestry, Benito Owusu Bio, admitted that Rosewood that was an unknown timber species, is now a favoured species, “whose exploitation has become an issue of national security threat requiring commitment at the highest levels and international cooperation to tackle.”

He said long term solutions to the Rosewood problem needs to look at promoting establishment Rosewood plantations and acknowledge the work of the Forest Research Institute to that end.

Chief Executive Officer of the Forestry Commission, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, was also concerned about the alarming illegal exploitation of Rosewood and cited the Environmental Investigation Agency’s Report on Rosewood to support his position.

“The same report also indicated that, in West Africa, rosewood species have even come to be called ‘blood timbers’ because of the connections between the illegal Rosewood trade and rebel uprisings in some countries within our sub-region,” he said.

Sir John therefore commended the CITES Secretariat for its timely intervention by officially announcing the listing of the West African Rosewood species on Appendix III of the Convention, meaning that all international trade in the species would be subject to international regulation.

He said that, in view of this move by the Secretariat, there is  need for it to also engage the relevant authorities of Vietnam and other non-CITES Asian countries to sign unto the convention, since most to the tropical log exports goes to feed the growing demand for luxury furniture in that region.

By Ama Kudom-Agyemang

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