Open Case Studies/FRST522/Mozambique

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Illegal Logging: Detrimental to Mozambique's economy, environment and society

Map of Mozambique, public domain on Wikimedia Commons

The Republic of Mozambique is a country in the southeast of Africa bordered by the Indian ocean to the east, Tanzania to the North, Malawi and Zambia to the Northwest, Zimbabwe to the West and Swaziland and South Africa to the Southwest. Although one of the world’s poorest countries, Mozambique has tremendous potential for eco-tourism with its beautiful beaches, safari life and Lake Malawi diving opportunities.[1] Mozambique endured sixteen years of brutal civil war and now finds itself at a crossroads between conservation and development. This case study will examine the various ways that development and conservation can co-exist in Mozambique, showing that, when done properly, both are possible.[1]

About 50% of Mozambique's land area is forested, however none of the country’s primary forest remains.[2] Mozambique's forests are state-owned, and about half of the area is allocated for production.[2] The annual rate of deforestation for the period of 2010-2015 was 0.5%.[2] There is widespread illegal logging in the country. In 2013, it was estimated that nearly half of the country’s timber export to China was illegal.[3] The cross-border smuggling of illegal timber to Tanzania is also a problem.[4] In 2012 the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at improving management of forest and wildlife resources through improved cooperation with law enforcement to reduce the trade of illegal timber.[4]

Framing the Problem

Framing the Problem: A Forestry Perspective

Despite the low rate of deforestation reported above, Mozambique is currently experiencing a high rate of illegal logging. The increased rate of illegal logging is being accelerated by the demand for hardwoods in China.[5] Insatiable Chinese demand for timber is driving an unsustainable illegal logging and timber smuggling crisis which threatens to undermine Mozambique’s forest resources.[5] Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed that a staggering 93 per cent of logging in Mozambique during 2013 was illegal.[5] Research, undercover investigation and analysis conducted by EIA 2013-2014 demonstrated that that the key driver of forest crime in Mozambique was the ongoing demand for hardwoods in China.[5]

Many Mozambicans are implicated in illegal logging for Chinese companies; by lending capital for equipment such as chainsaws, Chinese companies locked loggers into dependency, leaving them no choice but to continue logging to pay off their debts.[6] By buying from individual Mozambicans, the Chinese avoid the high costs of obtaining a logging licence and obligation to replant the trees.[6]

Corruption has also contributed to the increased rate of illegal logging. One Chinese business person reported that, “whenever they [got] pulled over by police, they [gave] them some money so they [could] continue with their journey.”[6] Many logging companies also move timber at night when there are no inspectors on the road.[7] It is reported that there is extensive corruption, especially in the provincial forest services, police and customs.[7] For instance, many of the small Mozambican operators are forced to pay bribes as high as US $400 to forestry officials, simply to obtain a licence.[7] They harvest more than they are legally allowed to do, and pay bribes to the police at check points.[7] As a result of this widespread corruption, several Mozambican politicians and officials are quickly becoming rich while the inhabitants of the forest remain desperately poor.[6] According to the Mozambican law, local communities should receive 20% of taxes charged on timber harvesting but this money does not flow back to them at all.[6]

This veritable epidemic of crime and environmental mismanagement has deprived the world’s second least developed country of US $146 million in lost tax revenue since 2007. Without major reforms, Mozambique’s forest and forest economy are staring down the barrel of very a bleak future.[5]

Framing the Problem: Layering Perspectives

The description above describes illegal logging in Mozambique from the perspective of a forestry student. In this section we welcome contributions from other perspectives. Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

  1. How do scholars and professionals outside of forestry conceptualize the practice of illegal logging in Mozambique?
  2. What are other possible ways of framing this problem?
  3. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us understand this phenomenon better?


Implications: A Forestry Perpective

Corruption, at many levels, is a significant factor in the mismanagement of Mozambique's forests; the benefits received by governmental staff, as well as public and private elites, contributes to inconsistent and sub-standard enforcement of regulations. The excessive harvesting and exporting that results, enables foreign buyers to maximize their profits on Mozambican timber.[7] Thus, government failure to enforce their own laws leads to many economic, social, and cultural problems.[7]

Economic Impact

There are several economic problems associated with the issue of illegal logging including, loss of revenue and opportunities, loss of opportunities for employment, skills acquisition, and industrial development, loss of opportunities for rural communities to manage and benefit from their own resources, loss of tax and other government revenues as a consequence of the export of raw rather than processed materials, and unrecorded illegal harvest and export. Proper management of the logging industry in Mozambique could mean that these profits could have been captured and used to help alleviate poverty in the country.[7]

Social Impact

The exploitation of hardwoods has many significantly and negatively affects local communities. Loggers entering the communities cause social disruption, division and inequities by bribing local leaders in order to get their consent[7], undermining local governance systems as well as the rule of law. This corruption militates against future development efforts in the community.[7] Lastly, most of the Mozambicans live in rural-based communities, practicing a subsistence form of agriculture;[7] deforestation fundamentally affects local ecosystems as well as native community ties to the land by disrupting this relationship.[7]

Cultural Impact

Communities are both formal and informal stakeholders in the forest sector.[8] Formally they provide labour to concession holders and simple licence operators. But jobs are few (in relation to the number of community members), seasonal and often pay below the minimum wage.[8] Women rarely receive employment and are typically disadvantaged by loss of their spouses' labour in agriculture and lack of control over the wages earned.[8] Moreover, Mozambicans have deep historical, cultural and social ties to the land. With the current rate of deforestation, however, many Mozambicans may see their livelihood and ancestral claims vanish within a few generations.[8]

Implications: Layering Perspectives

The description above describes the implications from illegal logging in Mozambique from the perspective of a forestry student. In this section we welcome contributions from other perspectives. Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

  1. How could someone from a different discipline or profession add to the implications above?
  2. What other implications become apparent when illegal logging is viewed through the lens of other disciplines and professions?
  3. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us better understand the implications associated with illegal logging in Mozambique?

Current Initiatives to Combat Illegal Logging

Due to the high rate of illegal logging in Mozambique, the government has entered into a regional agreement to combat illegal logging with Tanzania, Madagascar, Uganda and Kenya.[9] The declaration was signed on 10 September 2015 at the XIV World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa. It takes aim at the burgeoning trade of illegal timber in the region.[9] Madagascar and Central African countries are generally the source of illicit timber, while Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are major transit points through which it is sent to overseas markets.[9] Mozambique is both a source and transit country. The declaration asked member states to develop monitoring and reporting systems for their respective timber industries as well as implement bans on log exports.[9]


Recommendations: A Forestry Perspective

  1. Mozambique should immediately impose an embargo on log exports to China and investigate the Environmental Investigation Agency's account of internal corruption among Mozambique’s high-ranking officials.[8]
  2. Chief consumer countries including China, India, European and the Middle East should be pressured to consider the issue of illegal timber exports to their countries as a priority agenda item.[9]
  3. Government should introduce community-based forest management practices that directly involve communities in the management of forests. This is due to the fact that Mozambicans have deep historic, cultural and social ties to the land and with the current rate of deforestation, many Mozambicans may see their livelihood and ancestral claims vanish within a few generations.[8]

Recommendations: Layering Perspectives

What recommendations might someone from another discipline or profession make to combat the issue of illegal logging in Mozambique? Examples might include:

  • Law
  • Geography
  • Environmental Science
  • Social Justice
  • Economics
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Philosophy


  1. 1.0 1.1 Monga Bay. 2006. Tropical Rainforests: Mozambique.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 FAO. 2015. Global Forest Resources Assessment.
  3. Environmental Investigation Agency. 2013. Mozambique loses a fortune to illegal timber exports.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Chatham House. 2017. Mozambique: Illegal Logging.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Environmental Investigation Agency. 2014. China's illegal timber imports ransack Mozambique's forests.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Dijkstra, Andrea. 2015. Mozambique will be stripped of its forests 'in just a few years,' Mail & Guardian. 20 March.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 Catherine Mackenzie. 2006. Forest Governance in Zambézia, Mozambique: Chinese Takeaway! Final Report for Fongza.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Online Petition. 2013. Bring an end to the illegal Mozambique timber trade.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Monga Bay. 2015. 5 African countries agree to combat illegal timber trade. 10 September.