Cocobolo back in the news

Decomissioned cocobolo logs in the Azuero province of Panama. Photo courtesy of La Prensa.

Decomissioned cocobolo logs in the Azuero province of Panama. Photo courtesy of La Prensa.

Rosewood was in the news recently because new export laws have been impacting the transportation and export of music instruments containing rosewood components. About a week later, we read in the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa that the Ministry of Environment busted a truckload of illegal rosewood--or “cocobolo”--in the Azuero province of Panama.

As in Panama, globally the illegal harvesting of cocobolo continues to be a problem as Asian demand (mostly China) for furniture made from it continues unabated. In Panama and at least in the Darien, the rosewood “fever” that occurred during 2014-2015 seemed to have dissipated, but that also could be because most of the easy to get rosewood has been cut. It has been awhile since we’ve heard stories of roots of rosewood trees being dug up to make sure they get every last piece. It was being sold by the pound during that time.

Our fincas include cocobolo among other tropical hardwoods. Our anecdotal experience is that the rosewood trees thrive in our mix of native species. What we don’t know is if the tree will be mature enough to have developed “rose” colored heartwood by the end of the 25-year lease cycle. However, if they have not developed heartwood, we can leave them to grow and our local partners will be able to benefit from them in the future. The benefit of growing trees is that they only increase in value the older and larger they grow.

While we hope the illegal harvesting of these beautiful trees is stopped, there should be a place for the use of the beautiful wood in the instruments recently profiled. We want our farms to be a source of legal and sustainable cocobolo for those instruments. In only about 12 more years we should know if we will be able to. We will keep you posted.

Costa Rican officials also battling cocobolo logging

An official points out heartwood of an illegally felled cocobolo tree. Photo courtesy of the  Diario Extra .

An official points out heartwood of an illegally felled cocobolo tree. Photo courtesy of the Diario Extra.

In Panama, cocobolo fever (el fiebre de cocobolo) is rising, as the dry season moves into its second month. But it's not limited to Panama. In Costa Rica, officials are battling illegal harvesting of the precious wood, facing a "mafia" that is becoming ever more sophisticated in how they smuggle the wood to market. Here's the full story (Spanish).

According to the latest International Tropical Timber Organization report, a cubic meter of cocobolo (dalbergia retusa), in one port at least, is selling for nearly $8,500. As a point of reference, a cubic meter of teak is going for around $1280.

Cocobolo doesn't tend to develop heartwood until it's more mature, so ours should be safe for now. But come year 20, we might need a small army to fend off opportunistic loggers.

Read more about the cocobolo frenzy in our previous blogs here, here, here, and here.

A Rosier Year for Rosewood?

Photo of Cocobolo (rosewood) logs on their way to be milled into timber.

Photo of Cocobolo (rosewood) logs on their way to be milled into timber.

Cocobolo (rosewood) logs on their way to be milled into timberLast year, we wrote a couple of blog posts about the surge in rosewood (cocobolo) logging that has gripped Panama, and the resulting problems. It unfortunately led to conflict that left two people dead, and finally made the Panamanian government take measures to control the violence.

With the dry season in February in Panama comes increased logging thanks to easier access to primary forests. Will the Panamanian government be proactive to stop the loss of lives and primary forests that will inevitably occur if the rosewood fever continues?

We hope so. Belize set an example last month by torching and donating illegally harvested rosewood. In the Darien, where much of the cocobolo harvesting takes place, there are Ministry of Environment and police checkpoints on all of the roads leading to Panama City, so controlling the movement of illegally harvested wood shouldn’t be difficult in theory. However, with the Ministry of Environment’s budget being cut, there are not sufficient “boots on the ground” to do the necessary field inspections.

One way the Panamanian government could address the problem is by accelerating the land titling of Indigenous territories. This would give Indigenous communities more legal clout to expel illegal loggers. Last year, it titled two Wounaan communities, the first Indigenous communities since 2000 to receive titles. It’s a good start, but there are still 39 communities left.

From an industry perspective, we also hope that more forestry companies will recognize both the environmental and financial benefits of growing this valuable tropical timber.

Illegal Rosewood Logging Continues

Planting Empowerment employee demonstrating cocobolo heartwood from a tree in PanamaPlanting Empowerment employee demonstrating cocobolo heartwood from a tree in Panama

Earlier this year, we wrote about the tragic death of an Indigenous leader who was killed trying to stop illegal cocobolo (rosewood) harvesting in Panama. Rosewood is one of the world’s most sought-after tropical hardwoods, and loggers have been encroaching on indigenous lands to access the dwindling stocks.

Unfortunately, the illegal harvesting of rosewood is not slowing down, but actually increasing throughout the world according to a report issued by the non-profit organization Environmental Investigation Agency.

Their report was covered by stories both in the New York Times and the Huffington Post. While there is little logging happening in Panama at the moment because it is the rainy season, logging will resume around February when the roads start to dry out. Will the Panamanian government effectively deal with illegal cocobolo harvesting in 2013? Doubtful after the Ministry of Environment’s budget was cut by 25% year-over-year.

The illegal harvesting of cocobolo in Panama hasn’t reached the point of the loggers battling authorities with high powered weapons, but they’ve definitely robbed trees and even dug dug up the roots of cocobolo trees. The easily accessed trees have already been poached, but there are still stocks remaining in primary forest.

Planting Empowerment is trying to do our small part by producing rosewood in our sustainable forestry projects. Hopefully our sustainably produced supply will eventually ease some of the pressure on those remaining trees left in the primary forest.