It’s a myth that money doesn’t grow on trees — a glance at any timber baron’s bank balance would confirm that. But for people living near tropical forests it has long been clear that when money flows to logging companies, there is little left behind for local development. Now, in Liberia, that is all changing, thanks in part to a trade deal called a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) the country negotiated with the EU.
The head of Tan Hoi village sits cross-legged on the floor describing the pressures his people face. “The older generation lacks education. The younger ones leave school as early as 11. Only one person has ever graduated from university as most people don’t have the resources to be able to afford it,” says Lê Văn Bức, a wiry, softly-spoken man in his 40s.
The major threat to tropical forests today comes not from loggers but from large-scale forest clearance to meet rising demand for agricultural commodities. Recognising this, governments and businesses around the world are increasingly pledging to eradicate deforestation from supply chains of such commodities.
Twenty-two years ago Global Witness cut its teeth exposing the trade in conflict timber in war-torn Cambodia. Posing as European timber buyers, my colleagues and I exposed how the genocidal Khmer Rouge was selling wood to logging companies just across the border in Thailand.