Using science to reduce illegality in the forestry sector through genetic timber tracking

Dschang,UDs/SIC-11/11/21.In a context where illegal logging is identified as one of the major causes of deforestation and tropical forest degradation, several certification schemes, including the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), Legal Wood Origin (LWO) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PFEC), provide the timber industry with a means of carrying out due diligence checks within supply chains, by providing paper evidence linked to forest and supplier audits. However, certification bodies are only able to audit a fraction of the world’s forests in a fraction of the time and participation by timber operators is only voluntary. As a result of these weaknesses in determining the origin of harvested timber, the University of Dschang, as a crucible of sustainable development, with an increased scientific outreach and a Forestry Department with a strong reputation in sustainable forest management in Cameroon and the Central African sub-region, has joined a global consortium of 5 renowned organisations (FSC, WRI, Agroisolab, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and US Forest Service International Programs) to guide the reflection on a new project that aims at improving the traceability of tropical woods based on genetic markers called World Forest ID (WFID). 

For the implementation of this project in Cameroon, the PALLISCO and CUF forest concessions and the Djoum Communal Forest located in the East and South regions hosted a team of researchers from the Faculty of Agronomy and Agricultural Sciences (FASA) of the University of Dschang led by Herman Zanguim, a doctoral student from this faculty, from 23 September to 20 October 2021. The mission was to continue sampling commonly harvested forest species in the Congo Basin (having started in Gabon and the Republic of Congo) to complement a global library of tree samples housed at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England.

This ambitious project, which involves cataloguing the largest number of tree samples from all the world’s forests, aims to analyse all these samples, in particular to geo-reference them. Thanks to stable isotope analysis, scientists will be able to authenticate the species of trees and also determine the exact geographical origin within a 10 km radius of the tree.

This extremely reliable and precise identification makes it possible to resolve contentious cases in the context of seizures of wood products of doubtful origin. For example, if the authorities seize a shipment of wood, they can use these analyses to verify that the species is legal and comes from the place declared on the logs. These verification methods, used on a large scale, will make it possible to combat illegal trafficking and deforestation more effectively.

As part of this expedition, under the supervision of Professor Martin Tchamba, Herman Zanguim and Steve Tassiamba, two doctoral students from the Environmental Geomatics Laboratory of the University of Dschang, were able to take samples of numerous commercial and endangered species such as Sapelli (Entandrophragma cylindricum), White mahogany (Khaya anthotheca), Red padouk (Pterocarpus soyauxii), Okoumé (Aucoumea klaineana), Azobé (Lophira alata), Assamela (Pericopsis elata), Ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon), and Light humpback (Guarea cedrata/(Leplaea cedrata). A total of 120 samples were collected and will be analysed at the Kew Gardens Laboratory. Samples were also kept at the University of Dschang.

For Paul Lagoute, Managing Director of PALLISCO, participating in this type of study is part of its commitment to sustainable and transparent forestry. « For us, PALLISCO, any approach aimed at proving the benefits of certification and a reliable chain of custody helps us to differentiate ourselves from other market players and to promote our values, which are aimed at sustainable and profitable wood exploitation for all, both locally and for consumers in importing countries, » he said.

Professor Martin Tchamba, Head of the Forestry Department at FASA and focal point of the WFID project in Cameroon, expressed his satisfaction with the partnership between the University of Dschang and WFID and his determination to accompany the project in its second phase in Cameroon, which will undoubtedly contribute to the sustainable management of forest resources in Central Africa.

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