Increasing demand for Rosewood furniture in China is threatening the survival of Mukula tree, a rare, slow-growing hardwood tree unique to southern and central Africa.
The tree, which resembles the now threatened rosewood species in West Africa and China, is disappearing fast in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Chinese buyers have made it a major source of income for poor rural residents, according to the International Institute for Environment and Department (IIED).
Although it has improved the lives of many rural villagers, the rush for Mukula tree, which started in 2012, has unfortunately come at a cost to the precious forests in the region.
“We started going deeper and deeper into the forests. Nowadays, we walk for several days to find a good tree to cut. It wasn’t like this before,” a Zambian logger told IIED in a recent interview.
The tree has earned the nickname “gold” among locals in Zambia and DRC, with tens of trucks laden with logs of the tree being intercepted by authorities almost on a weekly basis.
Experts now warn that if the current nationwide hunt for Mukula tree in Zambia and other central African countries continues, the indigenous tree may be gone completely in the near future.
In a bid to arrest the situation, the Forest Department of Zambia has put in place several measures to control the trade in Mukula tree, including a recent ban on export of the timber.
In May, authorities in DRC arrested 14 Chinese nationals in connection with illegal logging of Mukula tree.
But even with these efforts, illegal logging still continues unabated in the region. Experts now advise that any meaningful efforts to stop the illegal trade in the precious wood will have to come from China, its biggest destination.
IIED also reports that big businesses in Zambia are often allowed to continue exploiting the resource with minimal oversight from government, while law enforcers strictly focus on smallholders who are economically affected by the ban.
Although there are no official statistics for the actual impact of continued logging of Mukula tree in Africa, its high demand in China has definitely threatened its survival, with Greenpeace estimating that as much as 15,000 tons of the wood are sold each month in eastern China.
It is reported that a ton of Mukula wood sells for between $2,500 and $3,200 in China, which is a lot of money for poor rural villagers in Africa.
The tree’s middle layer is coveted as a material for traditional luxury furniture in China due to its high quality and longevity, while its inner brown layer is used for making gun butts. Some people also say its outer layer has numerous medicinal usages.