Once you have gone through the scientific publication process and your article is published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is often a good idea to write a blog post to increase its visibility and reach more readers across diverse disciplines.
This process is encouraged at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), and indeed – as a policy-oriented research center – a short non-technical document can convey useful information to a broader audience, including government officials and policymakers who are unlikely to read an entire published scientific article. Hopefully, better and more informed policy decisions will also ensue.
Yet, after a recent trip along the Luapula River, which cuts across the beautiful, unique and fragile south African miombo forests, and for a long stretch materializes the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, we came home with a sense of urgency to write this blog. This is not ordinary procedure, as the scientific article about our research there is currently in its embryonic stage. So we beg the pardon of the academic world in advance for our impatience.
A FRAME OF REFERENCE
To explain our sense of urgency, we need to make a short reference to CIFOR and our partners’ research. For more than a decade now, we have roamed the dense humid forests that stretch from Liberia to the DRC, trying to bring a novel and broader look at what is generally considered the “timber sector” in those countries’ political circles.
Long story short, while historically, the focus of forest policies has been on large-scale, export-oriented forest operations (i.e. logging concessions), in recent years, domestic timber markets, which are largely supplied by small-scale operations, have gained prominence. Be it large or small-scale operations, when conducting our research and thinking about potential policy options, two commonalities are often taken for granted.
First, one of our priority audiences are state officials from national and local governments. We incorporate them into our research from its inception; working with them on the ground and sharing problematic issues with them, such as corruption, over and over again until sooner or later, they can rapidly act on forest operations and become part of the solution.
Second, both logging companies and smallholders are linked to a specific jurisdiction (or a forest), connecting them to the related sovereign government that has the power to regulate (and sanction if need be) their behavior.
Or so we thought before visiting the Luapula region.
We were conducting research on the largely illegal harvesting of one of its magnificent tree species, Pterocarpus tinctorius. Locally known as mukula, it is internationally sold under the general name of rosewood. In the 18 months since our research began there, we have witnessed the number of rosewood trees cut skyrocketing by the day, and have felt worried about the looming negative environmental and social consequences.
And this brings us back to our sense of urgency, because in this case (and in many others across Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond), there seems to be neither a single government, nor companies or individuals fitting solely under one jurisdiction that can be targeted with the classic solution of improved national policies.