Timber Trade in Africa’s Great Lakes: The Road From Beni, DRC to Kampala, Uganda

Image: Flickr, CIFOR
Image: Flickr, CIFOR

The report provides a political economy analysis of the trade in tropical timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to and through Uganda via the Northern Transit Corridor.

The study focuses on international, regional and local demand-side drivers for tropical timber exports from the eastern DRC to and through Uganda. Extensive fieldwork, conducted in the Great Lakes region as part of this study, found that the bulk of tropical timber on East African markets is from the eastern DRC. Approximately 80% of this timber leaves the eastern DRC across its border with Uganda. The flow is largely unregulated and provides little revenue for the country of origin. This is a concern for both Congolese policymakers and for international timber buyers, who do not want their wood imports tainted by illegal and unsustainable practices.

To better understand these trends, the report investigates the growing consumer demand for legal and certified forest products in developed countries, particularly in Europe and the US. Consumers require strict chain of custody mechanisms that enable importers to comply with legal and/or other certification requirements. International chains are becoming increasingly regulated – both from the supply- and demand-side – through such initiatives as the EU-supported Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade and the related Voluntary Partnership Agreements, and the US Lacey Act. These initiatives include a ‘chain of custody’ component that requires the participation of intermediary actors like China – the ‘wood workshop of the world’.

Although the international flow of timber may well become a major issue in the future (as illustrated by a country like Mozambique), closer inspection of the timber chain in Africa’s Great Lakes reveals that currently most of the timber from the eastern DRC supplies regional markets and very little is exported beyond the region. Uganda serves as both a market and a transit destination for wood to Kenya and South Sudan. Although numbers vary, Kenya is the largest regional consumer of Congolese timber.

The study finds that the regional timber trade, despite being larger in volume, differs from the international timber trade in that it is small scale and largely informal. There isalso less pressure to regulate this trade from the regional demand-side (in East Africa) than from the international demand-side (for example, in Europe and the US). In part, this is owing to East Africa suffering from a timber shortage and so welcoming timber from all sources. The study examines several regional initiatives that may have an impact on the trade and/or provide lessons for its regulation. These include trade facilitation along the Northern Corridor (linked to the Trilateral Partnership Agreement between the Southern African Development Community, the East African Community and the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa); and the Albertine Rift Strategic Planning Process which involves co-operation on protected areas. It also considers the role that local nongovernmental stakeholders can play in reducing governance loopholes and improving transparency in this sector.

The report finds that within Uganda there are some actors who benefit more financially than others from this trade. It examines the actors involved in the local part of this chain, and reveals that middlemen and a select group of traders benefit most, while much of the risk is carried by timber cutters and truck drivers. Those with political connections also stand to benefit more than those without, largely because they can ‘save’ along the chain and so undercut others in price. In formulating recommendations, asking ‘Who loses out?’ is as important as asking ‘Who benefits?’

15 Jul 2012