Tanzania and Kenya have sealed a bilateral agreement that would see key border posts put under tight surveillance in latest efforts to tighten noose on timber smugglers.
Whereas Tanzania reportedly loses $8.3 million annually to timber smugglers, its north neighbour Kenya suffers loses estimated as $10,000, a 2012 study on illegal timber trade across the borders of the two countries indicates.
The bilateral deal, signed in Arusha mid last week by Kenya Forest Service (KFS) acting director Emilio Mugo and the chief executive officer of the Tanzania Forest Services Agency (TFS) Juma Mgoo, will intensify surveillance on three borders identified as most notorious for timber trafficking.
Horohoro-Lungalunga, Holili-Taveta and Namanga, are the three infamous border points for timber smuggling between Kenya and Tanzania, according to Mr Mgoo.
Blacklisting dealers involved in the smuggling syndicate and transboundary illegal trade in timber information, swap and joint operations are among several measures to be enforced.
A 2012 study on illegal timber trade across the borders of the two countries is a factor behind the new forest cooperation agreement to improve the effectiveness of measures to tackle the rampant illegal logging and smuggling.
The study noted that Tanzania’s losses were due to under-valuation of timber and unrecorded volumes that crossed the border into Kenya.
“This is not something we can take lightly. We must act to reserve the trend,” said Mr Mgoo, adding: “To do otherwise will be a betrayal of our children’s heritage and future generations.”
For his part, Mr Mugo said that the pact was an effort to manage the forest resources in a more sustainable manner together with Tanzania, where they will coordinate monitoring and law enforcement activities.
Over the next five years, the two countries plan to focus on transboundary collaboration in law enforcement to reduce illegal trade in forest resources such as timber and charcoal.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) country director for Tanzania, Dr Amani Ngusaru, said the huge losses were unacceptable considering that the money was needed to build schools, hospitals and other social amenities.
The agreement is the result of several years’ work by the WWF, the world’s leading conservation organisation, and TRAFFIC, the wild plants and animals trade monitoring network, which facilitated exchange visits and organised several meetings.
Geofrey Mwanjela, WWF technical programme coordinator for the Coastal East Africa Initiative, said the signing of the MoU would open up more doors for Tanzania to engage regional cooperation in reducing illegal timber trade and improving forestry governance.
“WWF is working with the EAC and SADC to further strengthen the inter-regional cooperation of forestry agencies in Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique and Zanzibar,” he said.