Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Illegal logging spurred by neighbouring countries timber demand endangers forests

Vientiane Times, 15 May 2014

Forests in Laos are being put under threat by surging demand for timber in neighbouring countries, despite the government’s efforts to deal with the problem. In April alone, authorities seized more than 200 cubic metres of timber and wood products in the middle and southern provinces of Khammuan, Savannakhet, Saravan and Xekong, according to a report from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

According to the report, 23 cases of illegal logging went to trial. Of those, 15 perpetrators were together fined more than 71 million kip. The government has imposed various measures to crack down on illegal logging but the practice remains widespread in Laos. The country’s most commonly smuggled timbers are rosewood and other hardwoods, due to their high value.

People around Laos have been stealing expensive hardwood timbers from each other more and more frequently, including by cutting down trees in other people’s farms and looting it from the walls of huts and rice-storage buildings. China is one of the major consumers of timber in the region, importing a large amount from Mekong countries such as Laos.

The New York Times this week quoted the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) as saying “from 2000-13, China imported a total of 3.5 million cubic metres of ho ngmu [redwood] timber. It [the EIA] says “Nearly half of China’s hongmu imports since 2000 – amounting to 1,666,471 cubic metres valued at nearly US$2.4 billion – c ame from the Mekong.”

A senior forestry official who asked not be named said there were several ways illegal loggers operate, including hiring villagers to cut down trees and sell them to traders. In many cases these illegal activities are facilitated by or directly involve corrupt government officials. Some traders spend a lot of money hiring officials to facilitate the movement of timber from forests to other provinces. Illegal logging not only degrades the country’s forests but also causes great loss to the nation and the environment.

In January, Savannakhet provincial authorities inspected four pick-up trucks and a car in Outhoumphone district and found 3,090 kilograms of rosewood. Most of the wood came from Khammuan province and the authorities seized it all. In the same month, Champassak provincial authorities seized 145 cubic metres of timber that had come from Xekong province after inspecting four trucks found carrying undocumented wood into the province.

A meeting of economic police in March reported that logging and tax avoidance issues involving state officials topped corruption cases in 2013, with 257 cases relating to the illegal trading of timber out of a total 559 cases. Given the importance of the issue, the government has decided to inspect wood processing factories in Savannakhet and Champassak provinces as part of the government’s efforts to crack down on illegal logging.

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