Crucial agreement with China creates opportunity to protect Mozambique’s forests, report says

Press release, 8 August 2018
Inadequate forest laws, corruption, and illegal and excessive logging have destroyed much of Mozambique’s forests. Improving regulation within the country and in its trade with China, and better law enforcement, are key to reversing this, a new IIED report says.

As ‘China in Mozambique’s forests: a review of issues and progress for livelihoods and sustainability’ shows, the new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the two countries in June is a significant step forward in their working together to stop the destruction and enable Mozambicans to share the benefits from forest production with Chinese investors. 

Mozambique exports 93% of its timber to China. Under the MOU, China commits to invest in establishing timber processing plants in Mozambique. This will help end the export of whole logs to China, create jobs for local people and increase tax revenue. The agreement also calls for the two governments to work together to develop a bilateral verification system to combat illegal logging and sustainably manage forests.

It is vital Mozambique and China strengthen regulations, including by developing a bar-coded, internet-based, electronic timber tracking system that allows real-time data entry and checking throughout the supply chain.

Frequently, the volume of timber leaving Mozambique has been recorded as being significantly smaller than the amount recorded on arrival. According to the most recent data, in 2013 Mozambique reported exporting 280,796 cubic metres of timber to China. The amount recorded on arrival was more than double this at 601,919 cubic metres. Greater accuracy is crucial to tackle corruption, improve Mozambique’s tax revenues and protect its forests. 

Inspection and monitoring also need to be improved. Mozambican forest experts have calculated that the number of forest inspectors needs to more than double, increasing the number from 630 to 1,800, to help implement any new timber tracking system.

It is also important China recognises tree species already prohibited under Mozambique’s trade restrictions and by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. 

According to ‘China in Mozambique’s forests’, key reforms are also needed in Mozambique’s forest management and forest law internally. One problem is how forest land is allocated for logging – the use of simple licences is particularly destructive. 

Simple licences are granted for up to 10,000 hectares of forest designated for logging, and are renewable every five years. But georeferenced mapping from 2017 shows that some are significantly larger at 60,000 hectares. The short licence period makes these forests especially vulnerable to wholesale plundering of valuable species as there is no incentive for companies to give smaller trees time to mature for future harvests. 

It is crucial that simple licences are scrapped and for all concessions to be for 50 years, with regular assessments of compliance with sustainable management plans. 

In addition to making sure the MOU is effective in establishing processing facilities for industrial-scale concessions within Mozambique, the country’s forest law also needs to grant commercial forest rights to forest communities which already have land rights. This could include establishing new community forest concessions that are conditional on keeping the forest intact, giving communities the right to make money from timber sales to third parties, increasing their incentive to protect the forests.

It is also vital that the ongoing reform of Mozambique’s forest laws addresses uncontrolled logging and other major causes of deforestation and degradation, including inefficient agricultural practices and charcoal production.  

Duncan Macqueen, a principal researcher on forests at IIED, said: “China and Mozambique’s shared commitment to work together is an important opportunity to protect these forests. Through it, Mozambique can become a hugely influential example to other countries in how to develop practical systems for forest product processing based on sustainable sourcing.

"Under the Memorandum of Understanding, China can provide lessons on how to make more efficient and valuable use of timber. Already, pioneering Chinese companies in Mozambique are doing this to the benefit of local communities, without destroying forests.” 

IIED is also releasing a new video, ‘China’s Investment, Africa’s forests’, that shows Chinese companies in Africa, including in Mozambique, working sustainably in Africa’s forest sector. The film is in Chinese with English and Chinese subtitles.   

• Long read on China in Africa: Finding a green path for China and Africa?

Media enquiries

For an interview or more information,  contact Beth Herzfeld, IIED head of media on +44 (0)7557 658 482 or email beth.herzfeld@iied.org

Notes to editors

  • For full paper, please see ‘China in Mozambique’s forests: a review of issues and progress for livelihoods and sustainability
  • In a Memorandum of Understanding between China and Mozambique, signed on 16 June 2018, both countries committed to cooperate to generate shared improvements in forest production and trade data; attracting inward China-Mozambique investment into value added processing within Mozambican industrial processing park(s); incentives for sustainable forest management in China-Mozambique private sector partnerships and; combatting illegal logging through a bilateral verification system
  • China is Africa’s largest trading partner, particularly in natural resources – more than 40% of Africa’s timber is exported to China.
  • Mozambique’s 58 million hectares are declining by 219,000 hectares a year – about 10,000 square metres every minute.  
  • In 2013, IIED and partners, including WWF and organisations in China, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Uganda, launched the China-Africa Forest Governance Project to improve evidence, capacity and joint action for sustainable Chinese investment in Africa’s forest. It aims to create opportunities improving policy and Chinese company and practices to ensure sustainable land use which benefits the environment and local women and men in these African countries. For more information, see the Finding a green path for China and Africa? long read
  • IIED is a policy and action research organisation. It promotes sustainable development to improve livelihoods and protect the environments on which these livelihoods are built. IIED specialises in linking local priorities to global challenges. Based in London, UK works in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific, with some of the world’s most vulnerable people to strengthen their voice in the decision-making arenas that affect them – from village councils to international conventions. 
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