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Science to tackle the illegal timber trade


According to the World Bank, an area of forest the size of a football pitch is cleared by illegal loggers every 2 seconds around the world. Illegal logging damages forests, can deprive local communities of livelihood resources and undermines national economies. It is a serious and growing problem for both producer and consumer countries, contributing to deforestation and biodiversity loss, and furthering corruption.


“Although a global movement to curb illegal logging is growing, the current reliance on paper-based tracking of timber is insufficient to eradicate fraud from the global supply chain. Practical control tools are needed to identify the species and origin of wood so that importers can be confident they are buying legal timber,” says Laura Snook, Leader of the Forest Genetic Resources Programme, Bioversity International.


This challenge is being addressed through 'Development and implementation of a species identification and timber tracking system using DNA fingerprints and stable isotopes', a Bioversity International project which will produce tools to reduce the illegal timber trade.


In April 2012, the Global Timber Tracking Network (GTTN) was launched to bring together scientists, policymakers and other key players to develop such tools, which can be applied both to logs and wood products. GTTN is coordinated by Bioversity International with support from the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. This year the network laid the groundwork for collaborative development of DNA and isotope-based tools for identifying key timber species and their origins so that customs inspectors and others can confidently determine the geographic origin of logs and wood products.



Photo: A logging concession in Ghana - Credit: Bioversity International/M. Ekue