YANGON — Myanmar seized a record amount of illegal timber this financial year as part of a government clampdown to protect the country’s rapidly disappearing forests, a senior official said on Wednesday.
Forest ministry director U Tin Tun said authorities had confiscated 40,000 tonnes of timber since April 2016, months before the newly elected government issued a nationwide ban on logging.
“There has been illegal trade in timber in Myanmar from the junta era to the present day, so we can’t say that the illegal trade has peaked this year,” he told AFP.
“But we can say that by tonnage, we seized the highest amount of timber ever this financial year.”
Seizures were highest in northern Kachin state which borders China, the world’s top importer of illegal timber whose insatiable appetite for rare trees such as teak and rosewood has ravaged Myanmar’s vast forests.
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency estimates some $2.7 billion worth of timber crossed the border between 2000-14.
Logging exploded under the former military government as the generals plundered the country’s vast natural resources to line their own pockets.
Myanmar’s forests are disappearing at the third-fastest rate in the world, behind only Brazil and Indonesia, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Between 1990 and 2010 the agency said the country lost almost 20 percent of its forest cover.
Authorities have sought to clamp down on the illegal trade since the junta handed over power in 2011.
The U Thein Sein administration banned exports and a diplomatic spat erupted when Myanmar arrested 155 Chinese labourers for illegal logging in Kachin state and sentenced them to life in prison.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government outlawed logging across the country for a year and issued a 10-year ban in the badly hit Pegu Yoma region shortly after taking power in 2016.
Forestry Ministry Vice General Manager Aye Cho Thaung said the government plans to harvest 15,000 tonnes of teak and 350,000 tonnes of other types of hardwood in the financial year starting in April.
That is just a fraction of the 200,000 tonnes of teak and 1.2 million tonnes of hardwood he said were cut down every year from 2011 to 2014.
“Before we produced a lot of timber and logs. Now the ministry has a vision to curtail deforestation,” he told AFP.