Tanzania Seizes 157 Containers of Timber in Port

September 2004

The Tanzanian government has imposed a ban on the export of timber and seized 157 containers of logs, many of which were harvested illegally from the coastal forests of Rufiji, Kilwa and Lindi districts in the southeast of the country.

The shipping containers holding hundreds of roundwood timber logs are being held in Dar es Salaam port. The ban on logging for export became effective July 1, following a gazette notice by Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism Zakia Hamdani Meghji.

TRAFFIC, WWF and local groups including the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group and Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania are hailing the government’s commitment to halting illegal logging in the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests of Tanzania and Kenya biodiversity hotspot.

"Just as the people of southeast Tanzania, among the poorest in the country, were rapidly becoming disenchanted by highly organized and largely illegal timber harvesting, this high level of government support comes at a welcome time and is highly commendable,” said Simon Milledge, senior program officer for TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa based in Tanzania.

Neil Burgess of WWF-US, who is the chief technical advisor in Tanzania for the GEF-financed Conservation and Management of the Eastern Arc Mountains Forest Project implemented by the World Bank, agreed. “It’s great to see Tanzania taking the conservation of these forests so seriously, and addressing this issue with the full force of the law,” he said.

The coastal forests of Rufiji, Kilwa and Lindi districts of southeast Tanzania are not only priority sites in terms of biological importance but are amongst the least studied in the hotspot.

They are rapidly becoming the most vulnerable coastal forests due to uncontrolled extraction of timber and other forest resources following the completion of Mkapa Bridge over Rufiji River, the largest bridge of its kind in east and southern Africa.

At the opening of the bridge in August 2003, President Benjamin Mkapa warned against uncontrolled charcoal production and timber harvesting with disregard to laws and principles of sustainable utilization.

A recently awarded Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) grant to TRAFFIC aims to address these issues through field research to compare current timber trade levels with historical transect data and baseline data collected by TRAFFIC with support from the Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation and WWF before completion of the bridge.

Previously, seasonal flooding of the Rufiji River delta during monsoons resulted in serious isolation south of the river. However, improved transport infrastructure is opening up the entire southeast portion of Tanzania to much-needed development, which inadvertently exposes the coastal forests to the growing demands of urban and foreign timber markets.

“We envisage that the additional information on the status of key forests and levels of harvesting—building on baseline information we collected before completion of the Mkapa bridge—will add more solid facts to justify the kind of management actions that are starting to emerge now,” Milledge said.

The results will assist the government in ensuring that negative environmental and associated livelihood impacts are minimized during the forthcoming period of development following creation of a permanent link between southeast Tanzania and Dar es Salaam.

The containers were locked out by the ban deadline before they could be loaded onto ships. Other hundreds of logs may be stockpiled in forests or on the way to the port from logging sites inland.

Four private companies had threatened legal action, including demands of $1.6 million in compensation for storage loss. However, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism recently confirmed that all 157 containers inspected contained tree species not authorized for export.

”In terms of raising awareness and law enforcement action, the last month has been really positive but harvesting and exports continue in some areas and concerted efforts should continue,” Milledge said. “In particular, the export of logs and sawn wood from small ports along the southeast coastline need more attention.

“It is also hoped that any legal proceedings consider the economic impact of declines in some species that could take 20 to 30 years to recover, huge revenue losses by misclassification and under-payment of royalties, and most importantly, degradation of landscapes that support so many livelihoods.”