Chinese cooperation is good news for Mozambique’s forests

By Wenbin Huang, Forest Programme Head, WWF-China

Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, is more than 11,000km away from Beijing, the capital of China. But when it comes to forests, the two countries are closely connected.

Around 90 per cent of Mozambique’s timber exports go to China. Chinese companies are increasingly active in the forestry sector in Mozambique, both in managing forests and in processing timber products.

With one of the largest forest areas in Africa, a sustainable forestry sector can play an important role in Mozambique’s economic development while also ensuring that its forests are safeguarded. However, over the last decade Mozambique’s forest resources have not been well managed. Illegal logging is rife, fuelled by rising global demand and worsened due to weak enforcement. A ban on the export of raw logs, intended to add value to the domestic timber processing industry, has only encouraged illegal exports. Over the last 10 years, illegal logging is thought to have cost Mozambique US$1 billion in lost tax receipts.

This unsustainable exploitation threatens the long-term future of Mozambique’s Miombo woodlands and coastal forests, and the people and nature that rely on them. As well as harbouring many unique species and the largest elephant population in East Africa, Mozambique’s forests provide vital resources for millions of rural people.

That is why it’s more important than ever that international collaborations — particularly with China, the largest buyer of timber products from Mozambique — are focused on combatting illegal timber trade and unsustainable forest management.

On 16 June 2018, the governments of China and Mozambique signed an agreement to jointly do just do that, a welcome step for forest conservation. Under the agreement, the two countries will work together in a variety of areas, including:

· Fighting illegal trade, particularly in endangered species, and sharing information on investment and trade in forest products between the two countries.

· Exchanging experiences, research, expertise and technology to support sustainable forest management, forest products processing and forest restoration.

· Building Mozambique’s capacity for processing timber products, to increase local employment and add value to the forest products sector.

· Encouraging Chinese companies to source wood from sustainably managed sources, and to strengthen partnerships with Mozambican companies.

· Promoting sustainable forest management by Chinese forestry companies in Mozambique.

WWF has been liaising with officials in both China and Mozambique to outline what this agreement should result in. Through 10 years of joint work, we’ve built up a deep understanding of the realities on the ground — meeting with companies, visiting forest operations, promoting policy cooperation between forestry departments, and carrying out training for Chinese companies operating in Mozambique.

We look forward to building on this collaboration, as the governments have asked WWF to be part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) secretariat to ensure its implementation. This will include helping to collect trading data to fight illegal logging, and coordinating with more Chinese companies to support sustainable timber production in Mozambique.

One example of the sort of cooperation the MoU encourages is a new timber processing park, which a Chinese company plans to build in Mozambique. This will enable raw logs from legal, sustainable sources to be processed into more valuable timber products to supply the domestic, Chinese and international markets. As well as providing employment and economic opportunities, the industrial park will link to a training school to improve local skills and capacity. If successful, it could be replicated elsewhere in the country.

But the significance of the MoU goes beyond Mozambique. No other country can match China’s breadth and depth of engagement across the African continent, and this is only increasing. In 2012, Chinese state media announced that the country was planning to invest a further US$1 trillion in Africa over the next 10 years.

WWF offices in China and Africa are working to make sure these investments have a positive impact for people and nature. For example, we brought together 12 Chinese forestry companies operating in Gabon to commit to sustainable forest management. We also advocate for stronger environmental protection through political platforms like the Forum On China-Africa Cooperation.

Meanwhile, Mozambique is one of several African countries linked to Maritime Silk Road — part of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s ambitious development strategy which aims to strengthen international connectivity and cooperation.

The initiative promises to be the biggest infrastructure and development programme in history, so it’s vital that projects are planned and carried out in a sustainable way. With a local presence in more than half the 65+ countries along the Belt and Road, WWF is well placed to ensure this happens.

If China and Mozambique can successfully cooperate on forests, it will set an example that can be followed in many more places.