Conservation researcher Hazel Chapman tells us about the alarming pace of woodland destruction in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa -- fueled by a highly valued tree species.
The rampant logging of Rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) -- a valuable timber used for luxury furniture -- is devastating woodlands in Nigeria and beyond in West Africa.
And where is the Rosewood going? To China, of course, the world's biggest timber importer.
Huge Jump in Timber Imports
From 2010 to 2014, China’s Rosewood imports from West Africa jumped by 700 percent. In the first half of 2016 alone, nearly US$216 million worth of West African Rosewood was imported into China, according to the international group Forest Trends.
In Nigeria, the logging is most intense in Taraba State in the country's southeast, where entire woodlands are being felled.
Taraba State was expecting to receive accreditation to receive carbon-trading (REDD+) funds from the United Nations, but all that has changed now.
Much of Taraba's woodlands have become denuded wastelands.
Roadsides in Taraba State are lined with pile after pile of roughly sawn Rosewood logs, awaiting transport to Lagos for export.
The frenzy of timber cutting has been likened to a fevered 'gold rush' that is turning swaths of Taraba State into a nearly lifeless desert.
It all began just over a year ago. Now loggers are penetrating deeper and deeper into the bush, hacking logs from steep hillsides where they are rolled downhill, knocking flat any vegetation in their way.
Rampant Illegal Logging
Elsewhere in West Africa, the illegal logging of Rosewood continues apace, with Interpol and other authorities seizing illegal felled timber worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Rosewood is a key component of Sahel savanna-woodlands, a biologically important ecosystem. Rosewood also has many uses for local peoples, including forage for livestock, medicinal properties, and dyes for clothing.
Why is this systematic deforestation being allowed to continue? Lax regulations and weak law enforcement, an aggressive Asian business culture, poverty, and corruption are all to blame.
In Nigeria, the Taraba State government seems powerless to stop the destruction. The State Minister of Environment asked the Federal Ministry to halt Rosewood exports. The request was made at least three months ago, but no action yet been taken.
Every day of delay leads to the death of many more trees and the diverse wildlife that depend on them.
If a ban is not enforced immediately, there will be no Rosewood left in Taraba State, just as the tree is vanishing across large swaths of West Africa.
How can a Nigerian government dedicated to supporting a Great Green Wall -- a giant land-reclamation and afforestation project -- allow such a shocking destruction of its native woodlands to occur?
And how can the Chinese government -- which claims it is trying to reign in predatory and unlawful practices among its corporations operating overseas -- stand idly by while such rapacious activities fuel yet another environmental crisis?