DAKAR (IDN | GIN) – Illegal timber smuggling is devastating the lush Casamance region of Senegal and could strip it completely within two years, predicts Senegalese environmentalist and former minister Haidar El Ali.
Casamance in southern Senegal contains the country's last remaining forests, an area of 74,000 acres that could be depleted by 2018 as smugglers feed the demand for rosewood furniture in China, said El Ali.
Exporting timber from Senegal is illegal, so traffickers smuggle it to neighbouring Gambia for shipping to China.
Gambian exports of rosewood to China totalled USD 238.5 million between 2010 and 2015, the second highest in West Africa after Nigeria, he said. Gambia has only 4,000 hectares of forests.
"This unacceptable trafficking is devastating for our forests and it has to stop," El Ali told a news conference.
A long time ecology activist, El Ali has been head of Senegal’s Green Party since 2012. He is also outspoken on the subject of foreign trawlers whose fishing techniques undermine West African food security.
Earlier this year, he was reported as complaining that the "Ukrainian Kiyevska Rus is in and out of our waters. It can hold 3,000 tonnes of fish. In one trawl it can board fish worth 100,000 dollars. It can trawl 10 times in a day. Yet the maximum fine we can impose at the moment is 200m CFA francs.”
He went on to say that he had written to the Ukrainian foreign ministry, “but it is difficult to arrest a vessel. I'm working on a new fisheries code that will give us the power to jail the captains and make the vessels Senegalese property. We will sink them. We need a few artificial reefs to combat coastal erosion."
Meanwhile, northern Senegal bordering on the Sahara Desert is being worn away due to desertification, a process where land becomes increasingly arid due to drought and climate shifts, making forests unsustainable.
Now what is left of the West African country's greenery is fading fast, according to El Ali. Traffickers have chopped down one million trees, or 10,000 hectares, since 2010, he said. [IDN | INPS – 31 May 2016]
Photo: Haidar El Ali.
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