Africa is losing billions of dollars through illegal fishing and logging, a report released by the Africa Progress Panel chaired by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said last week.
The report estimates that Africa loses $17 billion every year to loggers and at least $1.3 billion through illegal and unreported fishing in West Africa alone, suggesting that the figures on the eastern and southern coasts of the continent may be higher.
Africa has some of the most prized marine resources in the world, especially on its western and eastern seaboards, making it a magnet for foreign fishing vessels.
The report blames the threat to marine resources on the growing demand for fish in emerging markets and conservation policies in the US and Europe.
Rich nations in the EU, East Asia and Russia allegedly finance the plunder of Africa’s oceans by giving their fishing industries $27 billion in subsidies.
“Part of these subsidies goes to fleets that are implicated in illegal fishing activities in Africa,” the report said.
Many of the illegal logging activities are being played out in the forests of the Congo Basin and beyond.
Here too, the commercial value of Africa’s lumber resources is increasing as a result of global forces, notably to support construction in growing urban centres in the East.
Covering about 200 million hectares and second in size only to the Amazon Basin, the proportion of the forest that is at risk in the Congo Basin ranges between 64 and 92 per cent.
Affecting the livelihoods of over 60 million people, extensive deforestation is already evident in Cameroon, the Central African Republic and DR Congo, the report warns.
Logs and lumber from Africa currently make up about 4 per cent of China’s forest product imports, with a value of $1.3 billion, according to Chinese government statistics.
This market is expected to grow even bigger in the coming years and the report warns that no multilateral framework on sustainable forest management in Africa will have credibility unless China is involved.
Estimates by Interpol say the global illegal timber trade is worth $100 billion annually.
Corruption, limited capacity and poor regulation in Africa, combined with weak international co-operation, are limiting the ability of African countries to protect their resources.
“Systematic abuse of poorly regulated logging permits — by companies, forest officials and politicians — is undermining efforts to fight deforestation and prevent illegal timber exports,” the report said.
It warned that the social, economic and human consequences of illegal fishing and logging are devastating.
Unlike the mining and petroleum sectors, fisheries represent a critical source of employment, trade and food security for millions of Africans.
One of the more visible consequences of illegal fishing and logging is Africa’s food import bill, which the Africa Progress Panel says stands at $34 billion annually. The share accounted for by trade within African countries was less than five per cent.
Drawing parallels between the money lost though tax evasion, the report said that resources that should be used for investment in Africa are being plundered through the activities of local elites and foreign investors.