Senegal loses 1million trees, Gambia gets $240 million in sales to China

By Sanna Camara

Senegal has lost more than 1 million trees, while its neighbour The Gambia has generated income of close to $240 million in sales to China since 2010, a former environment minister and activist has told journalists in Dakar today.

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Haidar El Ali said at least six other depots are operational along the border and are regularly replenished with logs originating in Senegal. Theses logs are emptied by Gambian agents in collaboration with Chinese officials and exported to China where middle class demand for rosewood furniture is booming.

“Senegal’s forested southern region of Casamance is already vulnerable to the effects of global climate change, notably the southern advance of the Sahara desert which is a factor driving migrants to Europe. However, deforestation has recently accelerated due to illegal timber sales from Senegal into the relatively treeless neighbouring Gambia,” says Mr Ali.

Logging activity map

 Below is a press release issued today:

DAKAR, May 26The forest of Casamance – the last major forested area of Senegal – will be depleted to a point of no return within two years if illegal sales to Gambia continue at the current rate.*

That is the conclusion of former environment minister and ecologist Haidar El Ali after a reporting trip to the region where a film crew captured aerial footage of a secret border market for the first time. Senegal’s forested southern region of Casamance is already vulnerable to the effects of global climate change, notably the southern advance of the Sahara desert which is a factor driving migrants to Europe.

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However, deforestation has recently accelerated due to illegal timber sales from Senegal into the relatively treeless neighbouring Gambia. The result is that while Senegal has lost more than 1 million trees since 2010, Gambia has generated a handsome income of close to $240 million in sales to China where middle class demand for rosewood furniture is booming.**

Secret footage of the Sare Bodjo border market, one kilometre inside Gambia, show thousands of rosewood logs and horse and carts going back and forth to collect timber from inside Senegal. Five other such depots are operational along the border and are regularly replenished with logs originating in Senegal and emptied by Gambian agents in collaboration with Chinese officials. (See appendix for locations of depots).

Drone footage of logging depot in Gambia

“The truth is being hidden from us. But from what I’ve seen on the ground is a Chinese mafia and thousands of logs being cut down and exported. Enough is enough,” said El Ali. Smuggling has accelerated in recent months due to the collusion of a growing number of Senegalese nationals in the trade.

But while Senegalese may gain from the trade in the short term, the loss of forest will deplete soil quality and reduce rainfall, affecting both agriculture and tourism in one of the country’s poorest regions. “If this trend continues, it’s clear that in two years the desert will have taken over Casamance irredeemably,” said El Ali. “Soon the only thing growing will be climate refugees.”

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