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«The Socio-Economic Context of Illegal Logging and Trade of Rosewood Along the Cambodian-Lao Border With support from The Socio-Economic Context of ...»

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Forest Trends Report Series

November 2013

Forest Trade and Finance

The Socio-Economic Context of Illegal

Logging and Trade of Rosewood Along

the Cambodian-Lao Border

With support from

The Socio-Economic Context of Illegal Logging and

Trade of Rosewood Along the Cambodian-Lao Border

Dr Sarinda Singh

November 2013

With support from

Table of Contents


Rosewood Logging and Trade on the Cambodian–Lao Border

Background on Rosewood

Protection Status

Cross-border Logging and Trade

Role of Rosewood in Village Livelihoods in Northeast Cambodia

Economic Importance of Rosewood in a Cambodian village (2009 Study)

Importance of Social Factors for Cross-border Rosewood Logging and Trade

Implications for Forest Management and Governance

Purpose Purpose Siamese Rovsewood (Dalbergia cochinensis) has recently been listed on Appendix II of The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This listing means that source countries are legally required to export only controlled quantities of rosewood with close monitoring and documentation, which is intended to ensure that the international trade is not detrimental to the survival of this species.

This briefing note outlines the socio-economic context of illegal cross-border rosewood logging in the Cambodian–Lao border region, identifying the main factors that prompt local involvement in this activity, as

well as broader implications for forest governance in both countries. The analysis draws upon two data sources:

(i) four months of fieldwork in 2009 in a Cambodian village (‘Sekong Village’) in the border district of Siem Pang, Stung Treng Province, where rosewood logging has been common; and (ii) literature review and media monitoring through to early 2013 relating to rosewood logging in the region.

The Four Main Findings of This Brief Include:

1. As rosewood becomes increasingly rare, it is increasingly restricted to remote locales, including remote international borders, which often receive limited attention from national governments and forest management forums. Increased understanding of cross-border logging and trade in remote locales is crucial to the design of effective and socially appropriate management interventions.

2. The illegal trade in luxury timbers is often reported as providing few benefits to local communities and entailing many negative impacts. But, a case study of village livelihoods in northeast Cambodia shows why cross-border rosewood logging in Laos is widespread and, at times, socially acceptable.

3. The case study from the Cambodian–Lao border also demonstrates the importance of specific socioeconomic factors that influence local patterns of illegal cross-border rosewood logging. Consequently, policy interventions to control cross-border logging must recognise the importance of formal and informal institutions based on the local socio-economic context.

4. The case study from the Cambodia–Lao border has further implications for forest management and

governance, including:

– Interventions to reduce illegal rosewood logging in remote border regions will require innovative engagements with development issues (e.g. poverty alleviation, transport infrastructure, sustainable development);

– Formal national and sub-national regulations are expanding to incorporate remote border regions in governance frameworks, but effective implementation remains a challenge;

– Tackling the illegal logging and trade of rosewood will be a challenge that requires sustained national, regional and global cooperation.

The Socio-economic Context of Illegal Logging and Trade of Rosewood Along the Cambodian-Lao Border Rosewood Logging and Trade on the Cambodian–Lao Border Background on Rosewood The term ‘rosewood’ here refers to Siamese rosewood (Dalbergia cochinensis) found in mainland Southeast Asia. Rosewoods have long been commercially valued in Southeast Asia; however, the scale and scope of rosewood trade has recently changed. On the demand-side, increasing market linkages and demand in China has driven up prices for luxury timbers for traditional-styled furniture.1 On the supply-side, as readily accessible areas are denuded of luxury timbers, logging activities have moved to remote forest frontiers. The rosewood trade is widely reported as being unsustainable, mostly illegal and increasingly violent.2 Protection Status Siamese rosewood is now legally protected in all its range states. Also at the national regulatory level, the main areas now targeted for rosewood logging are protected areas. Siamese rosewood is listed on the IUCN Red List as ‘vulnerable’. Thailand and Vietnam had proposed the listing of rosewood on CITES since 2008, but initially this was not supported by other range states.3 In March 2013, member countries of CITES voted to list Siamese rosewood in Appendix II of CITES with trade restrictions coming into force in June 2013.4 Despite these multi-layered legal protections across the region, legal exceptions may be granted and rule-of-law is weak, particularly in relation to the enforcement of environmental laws. Furthermore, the increasing scarcity and legal protection of rosewood has been resulted in rapidly increasing prices, which increases incentives for those who log and trade in the species illegally.

Cross-Border Logging and Trade Remote, forested border regions are increasingly being drawn into the illegal rosewood trade through crossborder logging. This issue has received considerable national and regional attention in relation to Cambodia’s western border with Thailand.5 However, little attention has been directed towards the shared border of Cambodia and Laos, which is also a hotspot for rosewood logging and trade. The Cambodian–Lao border region is associated with small populations, poverty, ethnic diversity, and weak regulation of trans-border activities.

This region also has relatively high forest cover, including the largest National Park (NP) in Cambodia (Virachey NP, 3325 km2) and one of the largest National Protected Areas (NPA) in Laos (Xe Pian NPA, 2400 km2).

In the 1990s, timber was illegally logged in Cambodia and then transported through Laos to Thailand.6 However, in recent years Cambodians living near the border have been crossing into Laos to log rosewood, which they then take back to Cambodia to sell. In 2007-2008, high prices for rosewood saw over 400m3 logged in Xe Pian EIA (2012a). Appetite for Destruction: China’s Trade in Illegal Timber. London: Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). TRAFFIC (2012).

Precious Woods: Exploitation of the Finest Timber. Paper presented at the Chatham House Workshop: Tackling the Trade in Illegal Precious Woods, 23-24 April, 2012, UK.

EIA (2012b). Rosewood Robbery: The Case for Thailand to List Rosewood on CITES. London: Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA); Boyle, D.

(2012). China’s bloody timber trail. Phnom Penh Post, 30 November 2012; EIA (2013a). EIA Briefing Report: 16th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP16) to the UN Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Bangkok March 2013. Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA); Hance, J. (2012). Blood rosewood: Thailand and Cambodia team up to tackle illegal logging crisis and save lives.

Mongabay, 11 April 2012; Milne, S. (2012). Chut Wutty: Tragic casualty of Cambodia’s dirty war to save forests. New Mandala, 30 April 2012;

Peal (2011); Vrieze, P. and Vannarin, N. (2012). In Cambodia, quality wood makes for murder. Global Post, 13 November 2012.

EIA (2013a).

EIA (2013b). International protection for Siam rosewood begins. Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). 11 June 2013.

Weinland, D. and V. Sokheng (2011). Business boom depletes forests. Phnom Penh Post, 6 September 2011.

Global Witness (1998). $50 million worth of Cambodian logs destined for Thailand via Laos in new illegal export deal. Global Witness,

–  –  –

NPA in Laos and smuggled to Stung Treng Province.7 In 2009, Cambodian villagers reported that the activities of timber traders became increasingly common and less hidden following the completion of a major conservation project in Virachey NP.8 By 2011, Cambodian officials estimated that 70-90% of villagers in Siem Pang District were involved in illegal cross-border logging of rosewood from Laos.9

A number of factors contribute to this pattern of cross-border logging and trade:

• much rosewood was logged out on the Cambodian side of the border during the 1990s10;

• because of historical, cultural and social reasons (see below), many Cambodian citizens in the border region can easily travel in Laos, whereas the converse is less common;

• the Cambodian–Lao border checkpoints on the Sekong River are relatively isolated and formal regulations are weakly implemented; and

• incomplete border demarcation, sparse settlements and very limited infrastructure have maintained relatively abundant forest resources in the border region.

Role of Rosewood in Village Livelihoods in Northeast Cambodia The illegal trade in luxury timbers is commonly regarded as providing little or no benefits to local people.11 Undoubtedly, the rosewood trade is heavily skewed in the distribution of benefits (Table 1) and the larger-scale trade often completely excludes local villagers. But small-scale, artisanal rosewood logging is also providing substantial economic returns to the many rural inhabitants of the border region. Both Cambodia and Laos are least-developed countries with per capita incomes under US$1000 and US$1300 respectively12, and remote regions along their shared border are especially poor.13 14 Table 1: Price of Rosewood in Different Markets

–  –  –

Baird I.G. (2010). Quotas, Powers, Patronage and Illegal Rent-Seeking: The Political Economy of Logging and the Timber Trade in Southern Laos.

Washington DC: Forest Trends.

On the ‘Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Project (BPAMP)’ see: Global Witness (2009). Country for Sale: How Cambodia’s Elite has Captured the Country’s Extractive Industries. London: Global Witness.

Phnom Penh Post (2011). Laos logging leaves Cambodians in limbo. Phnom Penh Post, 28 October 2011; Seangly, P. (2011). Cambodian border crossers still languishing in Laos. Phnom Penh Post, 20 December 2011. See also, P.122-124, Birdlife International (2012). The Biodiversity of the Western Siem Pang Proposed Protected Forest, Stung Treng Province, Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Birdlife International.

Global Witness (1998).

TRAFFIC (2012).

World Bank (2012). GDP Per Capita (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD).

CEPA (2009). Report on the achievement and potential of Stung Treng Province. Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA).

EIA (2012a, 2012b).

The Socio-economic Context of Illegal Logging and Trade of Rosewood Along the Cambodian-Lao Border In Cambodia and Laos, rosewood trees are scattered in extensive forest areas, which often have limited road infrastructure. This means that traders must rely on artisanal loggers who know the forests (e.g. villagers), to whom logging represents a compelling economic opportunity. In Sekong Village, the issue of rosewood logging

is sensitive, but despite its illegality, logging was regarded as socially acceptable because:

• it relies on natural resources in the local region and reflects villagers’ common crossing the Cambodian– Lao border to harvest resources for trade and consumption;

• few alternative opportunities for poverty alleviation exist and government assistance programs are limited;

• illegal logging does not have the negative social consequences of other illegal cross-border activities (e.g. drug smuggling); and

• weak law enforcement and the value of rosewood made it highly likely that illegal logging and trade would persist even if individual villagers did not participate.

Yet, villagers also often recognize that luxury timbers are becoming increasingly scarce and will not be available as an income source in the future if current logging and forest governance practices continue unchanged.

Economic Importance of Rosewood in a Cambodian Village (2009 Study) Logging trips: From Sekong Village, small groups of men travelled to Laos by motorboat with 2-4 men • per boat and 1-2 boats travelling together. Logging trips lasted about 10-30 days, with the duration often depending on their paddy farming requirements (Table 2). In general, middle-aged men (30 years) who owned motorboats led logging groups, choosing men from their relatives and friends.

Women had little direct involvement in rosewood logging or trade. Villagers could make between US$100-1000/man/trip. Logging trips were usually self-financed to cover major expenses (e.g. petrol,

rice). Villagers’ profits depended on:

– the capital they could invest;

– the duration of the trip;

– number of men in the logging team;

– connections with border authorities;

– knowledge of the forest;

– as well as timber quality.

– Motorboats and chainsaws are essential for high returns, and often the owner of such equipment would get a larger share of profits.

Villagers reported that the cross-border rosewood trade was instigated in 2006 when traders and soldiers from the border checkpoint came to offer high prices for rosewood.15 Timber traders mostly came to riverside villages to buy rosewood in the wet season when timber can be floated easily down the Sekong River. However, a new road between Siem Pang District and Stung Treng town (Provincial Road No.301) built in late 2009 led to increased cross-border logging.16 Village livelihoods: Rosewood offers much greater returns to villagers than any other available livelihood • activities (Table 2), and this clearly contributes to ongoing logging and trade. The Cambodian–Lao border region is classed as poor by both national governments and lacks basic services. Livelihoods in Siem Pang Around this time, rosewood sharply escalated in price in the lead-up to the Olympic Games in China and was also seeing high prices in neighboring Laos (Baird 2010).

Birdlife International (2012).

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