Gambia has banned all exports of timber to curb rampant illegal logging and protect critically endangered African rosewood, but conservationists remain skeptical that the ban will be enforced.
Rosewood is one of the world’s most trafficked wildlife commodities, fueled largely by high demand from China, where the wood is used to make high-end antique-style furniture.
The trade runs rampant throughout West Africa, where forests have been decimated and soil degraded.
Between 2017 and 2022, China imported more than 3 million tons of rosewood worth at least $2 billion from West Africa, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, an international NGO.
In addition to prohibiting all timber exports, Gambia has also revoked all export licenses.
Haidar el Ali, Senegal’s former environment minister and the former director of the country’s reforestation agency, said Gambia banned rosewood exports in the past, but the laws were seldom enforced.
He said that every time the wood depots empty, they said they’d prohibit exports, because in reality there was no wood left to export. And afterward, once the traffickers refilled the depots, exports resumed. Rosewood trafficking will end only when the last tree has been cut, he said.
El Ali acknowledged that this time might be different. Gambia’s latest ban comes one month after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITIES, suspended all international trade of rosewood from West Africa.
The decision applies to all 184 member states of the convention, including China.
“That is one of the strengths, the power, of CITIES’ decision – that the importers and exporters have to comply," said Raphael Edou, Africa program manager for the Environmental Investigation Agency and Benin's former environment minister. "So even if we may have some hesitation from the Gambia, we know that now there is no way to escape this decision.”
Although Gambia’s rosewood stocks are nearly extinct, the country continues to be a top exporter. Logs are transported primarily from Senegal’s Casamance region, where the illegal trade funds a violent separatist movement.
Seydi Gassama, director of Amnesty International Senegal, said that because of this rebellion, the state’s water and forestry services, which combat illegal logging, no longer want to enter the forests of Casamance. And because of their absence, rosewood trafficking has also fed the rebellion, he said.
Separatist rebels also collect taxes on exported logs, according to local reports.
Thousands have died since the conflict between the government and separatists began in 1982, and a flare-up in March displaced thousands. The conflict is one of the oldest in Africa.