Fighting timber trafficking in Senegal: will President Sall's new measures make a difference?


Every year, Senegal loses 40 000 hectares of forest, especially in the Casamance region where timber trafficking has increased. To address this, Senegalese President Macky Sall announced a number of new measures on 24 July 2015.

Deemed courageous by environmental organisations, these measures include the immediate and countrywide suspension of issuing timber licences; the mobilising of defence and security forces; the recruitment of 400 officials for the Department of Water and Forestry; and new tighter penalties for offenders. 

From the onset, however, implementing these measures in Casamance seems to be more difficult than expected.

The analysis in this ISS Today is based on field research conducted in Casamance in March 2015 and phone interviews in August. Casamance, which includes the regions of Ziguinchor, Kolda and Sédhiou, is located in the south of Senegal. The area is home to the country’s most important forest reserves, and is one of the main contributors of wood fuel (which includes firewood, chips and sawdust) and softwood lumber. This sector is also hugely important from an employment perspective.

In addition to the legal logging, the forests of Casamance have also seen a great deal of illegal logging. According to the Department of Water and Forestry of Ziguinchor, Casamance loses dozens of hectares of forests every year to illegal and abusive exploitation.

On 4 August, the Senegalese News Agency announced that 20 000 illegally logged tree trunks were recently discovered in Casamance. This figure does not include the thousands of illegally logged trees from Casamance that are trafficked north to neighbouring countries and China.

Implementing these measures in Casamance might be more difficult than expected

In fact, the illegal logging of Casamance’s forests has grown to an intricate network of international timber trafficking. This happens mainly in the areas bordering Gambia and involves the local population, some factions of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) and some Gambian citizens. The forests in the district of Sindian, and the departments of Bounkiling and Medina Yoro Foula, which border with Gambia, are the most affected. This trafficking is believed to be fuelled largely by Chinese sawmill operators in Gambia.

Such trafficking also seems to be taking place, albeit to a lesser extent, in the South of Casamance – particularly at the border with Guinea-Bissau. Logging is illegal in the forests of Bissine and Bayottes, located in Ziguinchor, yet they seem to be the worst affected. Only the forests located in Oussouye, which are used as a place of worship by the vast majority of animists in Casamance, have been spared – at least for now. The targeted woods are mainly teak, vene and caïlcédrat.

There are three main reasons behind the worsening of this situation. The first is related to the insecurity caused by the armed conflict, which started in 1982, between the MFDC and the Senegalese army. The fighting, rebel groups and land mines have resulted in widespread displacement of the local population. The limited presence of government in those areas, which have been abandoned by the population, is an important driving force of the development of timber trafficking.

The second factor is the lack of resources and capacity of government officials. The Department of Water and Forestry, which is tasked with protecting the environment, often lacks the human and material resources needed to carry out their mission. For instance, there is only one Water and Forestry official in charge of surveillance in the district of Sindian. Ongoing insecurity, resulting from conflict in the area, often prevents these agents from overseeing dangerous areas.

The third factor is related to the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the region. This has been partly caused by the armed conflict. The regions of Ziguinchor, Kolda and Sédhiou are among the poorest in Senegal and have an unemployment rate that exceeds the national average. For a large part of the population, illegal logging is therefore a main source of revenue. For every 30 logs delivered, a young person engaged in this traffic might receive one motorcycle, which is often used as a taxi.

The consequences of illegal logging are already being felt. Disrupted rainfall patterns and soil erosion have resulted in bad crop yields, which add to growing poverty. This situation is a major contributing factor to an exodus away from these rural areas, and has driven young people especially to contemplate illegal immigration.

Military and legal means alone will not be enough to stop timber trafficking

In addition, the ongoing depletion of forestry resources has, at times, been a source of conflict. Besides the tensions between technical service officers and offenders as well as between farmers and herders, villages might also compete over access to resources. The scarcity of forestry resources might increase these conflicts.

Against this backdrop of insecurity, poverty, inadequate state services and the apathy of neighbouring countries, the measures announced by President Sall will be difficult to implement.

Firstly, the suspension of issuing timber licences could lead to a loss of jobs at sawmills and joineries. This, in turn, could fuel the ongoing trafficking. The sector should be re-organised in collaboration with loggers, and Senegalese authorities should provide plans to guarantee an income for those who might lose their jobs.

Secondly, while the government decision to increase the staff of the Department of Water and Forestry is commendable, the value of additional human resources will be limited without the required equipment. A recent attack on a guide and a security guard in the forest of Medina Yoro Foula by armed traffickers is one example.

Furthermore, collaboration with Gambian and Guinea Bissau authorities remains critical to strengthen border control, and to better regulate the export of wood to these countries.

Finally, Sall’s new strategy will only be effective in a peaceful and secure environment. As a matter of urgency, timber trafficking should be included in discussions with the rebel groups during ongoing peace talks. The aim would be to prevent possible armed clashes that could jeopardise the peace process.

Military and legal means alone will not be enough to stop timber trafficking. The success of Sall’s new measures will depend greatly on improvement in socio-economic conditions for the local population, the strengthening of state services, cooperation with neighbouring countries and changes in the security situation.

Paulin Maurice Toupane, Junior Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Dakar

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