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The Trade in Forest Products Between Kenya and Tanzania

The most illegally traded commodity the world over today is timber. Up to 30 % of the timber on global markets is considered illegal or potentially from illegal sources. Illegal logging and trade of illegal timber products costs governments around the world over 10 billion dollar in lost revenue that could be used to the benefit of the local population. Kenya and Tanzania are not exceptions. Kenya is importing large quantities of undeclared and therefore illegal timber from Tanzania and Malawi. This is contributing to loss of revenue for the Tanzania and Kenya Governments. Losses from this illegal trade are not shared equally: Tanzania is losing an estimated amount of US$ 8,484,848 per year with charcoal alone contributing to US$ 3,942,735 while Kenya, as a result of it being a net importer of timber products and its tax exemption from all wood products, suffers minimal losses with charcoal contributing in government revenue loss of US$ 10,250. Anyone who has passed through the Namanga border will have seen the many lorries and trucks on daily basis that are loaded with timber and parked at the “No Man’s Land” awaiting clearance. This is the timber that we are talking about. What is saddening is that this is going on in the presence of law enforcement officers and custom officials on both sides of the border.

The revenue loss is based on findings of work undertaken between April 2011 and June 2012 across three border points in Kenya and Tanzania namely Namanga, Holili/Taveta and Horohoro/Lunga Lunga (figure 1) by East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) in partnership with Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF).

Map of Tanzania and Kenya indicating the location of Namanga, Taveta/Holili and Horohoro/Lunga Lunga border points. Source: Adapted from Nations Online Project (2009)
Map of Tanzania and Kenya indicating the location of Namanga, Taveta/Holili and Horohoro/Lunga Lunga border points. Source: Adapted from Nations Online Project (2009)

Support to the work came from the European Commission ACP Forest Law, Enforcement, Governance and Trade program implemented by FAO. These findings are contained in a recent publication on “The Trade in Forest Products Between Kenya and Tanzania”. The report is aimed at providing decision-makers in the two countries with information on the scale and magnitude of illegal trade, in order to improve forest governance and address transparency and accountability at boarder points.

In order of importance, timber, paper, poles, charcoal, furniture, wood carvings and firewood are identified as the main wood products traded across the three border points, with more exports coming from Tanzania into Kenya than vice versa. The revenue losses are mainly attributed to under estimation and valuation of traded products in volumes and number of loaded consignments and un-recorded trade. These problems are linked to shortfalls in forest governance in terms of transparency, accountability and weak coordination among responsible authorities; conflicting laws; poor enforcement; failure of traders to comply with existing laws and regulations; and corruption. Development of a system to monitor illegal wood and wood products trade across the Kenya-Tanzania border points will be essential in addressing the extent of this illegal trade.

Due to the need for enhancing collaboration and harmonization of laws relating to control of illegal wood and wood products trade, development of a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Kenya and Tanzania to facilitate information sharing and standardization of data, as well as promotion of transparency and accountability in wood and wood products trade, harmonization and regulation of laws, policies and procedures; is inevitable. It is also worth looking at how the ecosystem around border areas is being impacted by cross border trade on illegal wood and wood products especially where harvesting of wood for charcoal - whose source is not clearly stated at border points – is occurring. These proposed actions will form a platform to develop a monitoring system as a mechanism for tracking and reducing the illegal wood and wood products trade taking place across border points of Kenya and Tanzania.

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