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Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda Unite Efforts to Combat Illegal Timber Trade in East Africa

Blog | Thu, 26 Jun, 2014 · 12 min read

Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda Unite Efforts to Combat Illegal Timber Trade in East Africa:

Coordinated Approach Set to Curb Trade that Costs World Economy US$30-100 Billion Annually

Nairobi, 26 June 2014 –High-level government representatives from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania today, at the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), announced their intention to work together, along with INTERPOL and UN agencies, to curb the illegal timber trade that is stripping East Africa of one of its most valuable natural resources.

The East Africa Initiative on Illegal Timber Trade and REDD+ represents an innovative cross-border, multi-sectoral effort that will create a powerful deterrent to Africa’s illegal timber trade.

Illegal logging degrades forests, causes economic loss, destroys biodiversity and livelihoods, promotes corruption, and funds armed conflict. The economic costs of illegal logging are staggering. Including processing, an estimated US$30-100 billion is lost to the global economy through illegal logging every year, making the trade in illegally harvested timber highly damaging to national and regional economies.

Well-managed forests are a vital economic resource that supports the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people. Ecosystem services from tropical forests alone are estimated to be worth, on average, US$6,120 per hectare each year. Africa’s forest cover is estimated at 675 million hectares, or 23 per cent of the continent’s total land area continent. Between 2000 and 2010, 3.4 million hectares were lost annually to illegal logging –equivalent to an area 322 times the size of Paris, or 5.1 million football pitches.

In addition to facing the challenges of illegal logging within their borders, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are also used as transit countries for timber illegally logged in other countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Tanzanian strategy to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), the on-going Kenya REDD+ governance project and the Uganda REDD+ readiness plan highlight the importance of strengthening law enforcement and forest governance to address the illegal timber trade as one of the key drivers of deforestation.

These countries recognize that illegal logging must be mitigated, and forests managed sustainably, in order to reduce emissions from forest loss. As such, a key goal of the initiative is to curb illegal logging and trade in East Africa as a way to address deforestation and subsequently reduce emissions from forests.

The government of Norway, a strong global supporter of tropical forests and those that depend on them, has announced its intended support for this important collaboration.

”I am very enthusiastic to learn that there is great interest from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to tackle illegal logging and trade,” said Tine Sundtoft, Minister of Climate and Environment, Norway. “We know that these illegal activities constitute an important driver of deforestation and forest degradation in the region.”

“Due to illegal logging, countries are deprived of substantial revenues from the forest sector, and the income from this trade often ends up in illegal networks, fuelling crime as well as conflict,” she said. “Norway is committed to supporting this initiative and congratulates the countries, the UN and INTERPOL, for coming together and announcing their dedication to work together on this important initiative.”

The East Africa Initiative on Illegal Timber Trade and REDD+ provides an opportunity to build on each country’s experiences combatting the illegal timber trade, and brings in the specialized expertise of INTERPOL and each collaborating UN agency. The five agencies will assist the governments of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to address a different facet of the illegal trade in timber: from economic drivers, and corruption, to law enforcement, customs control, and monitoring.

“Safeguarding the world’s forests is not just the most cost-effective way to mitigate climate change: well-managed forests also generate multi-trillion dollar services such as reliable water flow, clean air, sustainable timber products, soil stabilization and nutrient recycling,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“We cannot afford, economically or environmentally, to allow the continued wholesale destruction of one of our planet’s most valuable resources,” he added. “That is why UNEP applauds the East Africa Initiative on Illegal Timber Trade and REDD+ and the firm commitment of the governments of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to help ensure the responsible management of one of the most important sources of inclusive and sustainable economic growth available to us.”

Given the multi-sectoral negative impact of the illegal timber trade, the initiative will receive strong implementation support from Interpol, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“This initiative demonstrates the UN’s strong support to Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda in tackling illegal logging and trade, and our appreciation to Norway for leading this process,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. “Moving forward, leadership and agreement on the need to act is critical, and co-operation remains essential.”

A key element of the initiative’s strategy is to support countries in addressing the illegal timber trade from source (illegal logging) to export. This will focus on increasing accountability, transparency and developing the technical capacities to deliver effective enforcement and verification.

“Wildlife and forest crime demands a global solution that offers international cooperation founded on joint operations, intelligence sharing and strong and compatible national legislations,” said Yury Fedotov, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “We can do nothing less. This is our shared planet; wildlife and forest crime is our shared responsibility.”

Enforcement plays a critical role in the process. The apprehension and prosecution of those involved in the illegal timber trade and in illegal logging reduces the perceived rewards of taking part in these illegal activities. For this reason, the initiative will also include, with the support of INTERPOL, and with the engagement of police forces, strengthened exchange of intelligence and communication across borders.

“We remain committed to developing and maintaining networks of cooperation like the one we see here today between UN agencies and INTERPOL,” said David Higgins, Head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Security Unit. “Through collaboration and coordination, we are building an unprecedented approach to address illegal logging and trade in East Africa.”

Additional Information

To download the joint UNEP-INTERPOL report, The Environmental Crime Crisis, which defines the cost of environmental crime that is threatening security and development, please visit

General photos of the timber trade and logging (not specifically illegal or in East Africa), are available here, with full photo credits required:

About the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)

UNEA is the highest-level UN body ever convened on the environment. It enjoys universal membership of all 193 UN member states as well as other stakeholder groups. With this wide reach into the legislative, financial and development arenas, the new body presents a ground-breaking platform for leadership on global environmental policy. UNEA boasts over 1200 participants, 170 national delegations, 80 ministers and 40 events during the five-day event from 23 to 27 June 2014 at UNEP’s HQ in Nairobi, Kenya.