What’s going on here?
Rosewood is a precious, endangered wood in high demand especially in China. The Gambia has been its largest exporter, but it’s an open secret that the wood is illegally smuggled from Senegal. Last week all timber exports were banned in The Gambia to combat the illegal trafficking.
What does this mean?
Rosewood has a distinct red colour and bleeds a red sap when cut. It is also one of the most trafficked wild products in the world. China is the biggest consumer of rosewood, where it’s used to produce ‘hongmu’: antique-style, luxury furniture.
The Gambia is a small, coastal country in West Africa bordered only by Senegal. In 2012 the West African rosewood tree was declared almost completely extinct in The Gambia. Yet the country remained one of the world’s largest exporters. This is because rosewood is now harvested in the Casamance region in Senegal and then smuggled illegally over the border for export. The BBC found at least 12 depots along the border where this takes place.
Last month CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) called on 16 source countries to suspend the international trade of rosewood. And last Friday The Gambia banned all timber exports and suspended export licences.
Why should we care?
West African rosewood has been listed as an endangered species since 2017. Yet between 2017 and 2020, 300,000 tonnes were transported from The Gambia to China.
The huge loss of forest cover leaves land vulnerable to erosion and temperature rise, which is worsened by the climate crisis. Not to mention the devastating impacts for biodiversity.
Rosewood trafficking is not just an environmental concern. The illegal trade also funds conflict in Senegal, which has displaced thousands of people. The armed rebel group Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance controls and profits from the trafficking.