How China’s insatiable demand for timber threatens Congo’s rain forests

A series of powerful forces, continents away from one another, are conspiring to devastate the vast rain forests that blanket the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are trees in those forests whose wood is particularly celebrated in China for its color and durability. With the Chinese middle class continuing to expand, the demand for higher quality products, such as furniture, is also growing.

As we know from ivory, rhino horn and lion bones, whenever there is massive Chinese demand for an African wildlife product, there is a very good chance that item will soon be added to the endangered species list.

In the eastern DRC, there are not many opportunities for young men to earn a living. So when Chinese traders arrive in their villages, cash in one hand and illegal logging permits in the other, there usually is not much concern for the sustainability of the forests. Given there is effectively no functioning government to regulate the logging of bloodwood trees, environmentalists fear that it is a free-for-all with loggers cutting as fast as they can.

The bloodwood tree, named because of the blood-red oil that oozes when cut, is especially prized by Chinese consumers for its distinctive color. Similarly, the tree takes decades to fully grow and is particularly important among elephants, bonobos and chimpanzees among other wildlife who all rely heavily on this particular tree. However, as we know from ivory, rhino horn and lion bones, whenever there is massive Chinese demand for an African wildlife product, there is a very good chance that item will soon be added to the endangered species list.

Shi Yi is a Shanghai-based journalist for the English-language Chinese news website Sixth Tone. She Yi has an extensive background in covering China-Africa environmental issues and she was also awarded the 2015 Environmental Journalist of the Year in China. She Yi recently reported on the bloodwood tree crisis from both the DR Congo and the port cities in China where the timber was exported to in the PRC. She joins Eric & Cobus to explain why this latest Sino-African environmental crisis is so important and what she thinks can be done to help stem the flow of illegal African timber into China.

Join the discussion. Given the poverty and widespread corruption in the DR Congo, do you think anything can be done to protect the country’s wildlife and rain forests? What responsibility do Chinese consumers have about their preference for Congolese bloodwood? Tell us what you think:

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Twitter: @eolander | @standenesque

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