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The Rape & Pillage of Mozambique's Indigenous Forests


On the 16th December 2017 we set off from Gorongosa National Park headed northeast on our way to visit a sustainable indigenous hardwood timber operation owned and operated by an ex-Rhodesian Mr Anthony White. Catapu forestry concession is located about 30km from Caia Town which is situated in Sofala Province on the south bank of the mighty Zambezi River where midday temperatures often reach 40+ celsius with high humidity during the summer months. After a 2 night stopover camping in the lovely Gorongosa National Park, we left Chitengo camp headed for Catapu at around 9 AM passing by the spectacular Gorongosa mountain on to Inhaminga where the roads became atrocious due to massive freight liners overloaded with felled timber headed South to the port city of Beira. 


The roads are barely passable for a 4x4 vehicle and luckily we just got through after many delays due to the road being blocked by trucks stuck in the gravel roads relying on local kids to dig them out, funny thing is the road traversed parallel to a railway line that had been built by the Portuguese colonialists but these days is a sorry sight with carriage wreckages lying everywhere rusting away. In a normal country such heavy loads would go by rail but this is Africa and nothing is normal there is no plan at all, this is a common occurrence where failed states (being most of them) have let the effective & efficient colonial railway infrastructure fall into disrepair leaving people with no other option but to transport freight by road. We eventually reached our destination approaching 9 pm exhausted but thankful that we didn't have to stay the night camped out alongside the road. We were greeted with ice cold beers and sat around a fire pit under the African stars taking a moment to just relax before our lovely dinner.

   Notice: Google maps doesn't account for the state of the roads in Africa haha..

 

Catapu is about a 30,000-hectare property which includes M'phingwe a lovely small rustic lodge nestled amongst thick indigenous bush that offers serene walking trails where an array of Wildlife can be seen including the impressive but elusive African Pitta which attracts many bird enthusiasts AKA ''Twichers'', we were hoping to have a glimpse of the bird that had been seen at our chalet 10 days earlier though it wasn't to be this time unfortunately. Mr White is a real Gentleman and a rather intriguing character, prior to Moving to Mozambique in the early 80's Mr white was in the Selous Scouts the most aggressive (and feared) arm of the Rhodesian military machine that fought in the Bush War that ended in 1979. Later on, Mr White was named (rumoured) to be the assassin of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme.

 

Mozambique is a massive country with the longest coastline in Africa, many say the country should have been divided into 2 separate countries along the natural border which would have been the Zambezi river. About 50% of Mozambique’s land area is forested made up of various indigenous hardwoods which are of high commercial value and are being depleted very quickly, some reports say the country will be stripped of its forests in just a few years. As a kid in the 90's after the Mozambican Civil War ended I clearly remember travelling through some amazing forests on quiet dirt roads meandering our way east towards the Mozambican coastline, after numerous visits many years later much of those same forests have pretty much disappeared. It is no secret one see's massive overloaded trucks and timber yards full of illegally felled hardwoods, it has been going on for a decade at least and there is no question about it what is going on is purely Criminal, So what is the driving force behind the sheer destruction of Mozambique's Forrest's ???

It's fact that China is the world's new superpower by a long way with a ferocious appetite for anything of value required to keep feeding its massive economy. Even when observing our dear friend Mr Trump it is clear his gigantic ego takes a blow when dealing with trade relations between the two superpowers as it has become evident that he is coming off second best. People from this amazing country are truly lovely people and in our opinion much easier to deal with compared to western countries, they are very prompt, polite and humble natured in many ways more so than European society as well as being hungry for your business they are very trustworthy 9 times out of 10, more than 50% of our customers are from China so we know this first hand and are grateful to do business with them.

 The problem is not China but African politics where greed and corruption abound, making the continent easy pickings for opportunists from abroad oftentimes such people with business dealings are unscrupulous more often than not as long as they get what they want they are happy despite the consequences to the local people and environment that don't even come into the equation.  China is the most populous country on earth at more than 1.4 Billion people, with such a large population it is only logical to assume that a very very small minority of the population has bad intentions no different to any other country in the world. On a tour of Mr White's Saw Mill, we asked him what really is going on and is it as bad as one's gut feeling suggests?

The answer is yes these Chinese opportunists are raping the place, high level corruption all the way down South in the countries capital Maputo where the big chefs/ corrupt elite sit as per normal in most of Africa where resources are discounted and given away in return for measly infrastructure like roads etc.. that are often built below the first world's accepted specifications and standards ensuring the foreign contractors margins are increased to the max with little regard for high-quality workmanship. The trees are being felled by cheap Mozambican labour made to do the dirty job often being paid USD$1.50 or less per tree, Ant says they go into forested areas and will take out every single tree that is of commercial value, cutting trees 1m or more above the ground giving them little chance of coppicing again (meaning the trees are unlikely to put out new shoots from their stump to regrow), many of these trees are extremely old hardwoods that are truly spectacular and in no way can their ill fate be justified.

In comparison Ant's sustainable operation has 30,000 hectares that he has divided into 30 areas of 1000 hectares each and each year they work in only 1 of the areas felling about 1 tree per hectare which means it is very low impact on the environment and the next time they work in that same 1000hectare area will be 30 years later. Ant's philosophy is to cut trees one fist length above the ground to improve the chances of trees coppicing as well as reafforestation in his lands where necessary. Ant's operation utilises old Portuguese equipment from colonial times that still works amazingly well today which is testament to how things were done properly once upon a time. Ant exports most of his wholesale processed timber to the United Kingdom as well as making some furniture locally empowering locals in the art of woodturning providing them with the tools and the skillset required to make a living. Ant makes most of his hand tools out of recovered Jaw traps that poachers use to catch unsuspecting wildlife as seen in the image below of a Maimed lion found in the Gorongosa National Park.

Ant told us in China timber is apparently being stockpiled in huge quantities buried under fertile soils where agriculture takes place, to be used at some future date when needed. I have heard similar reports of coal from around the world including coal from Mozambique being dumped in the sea off the coast of China. I asked Ant if any environmental organisations are doing anything about the shenanigans that are going on? 

Besides a few conferences in nice hotels really nothing is being achieved, Ant mentioned that he used to get very angry with what is going on in his country but he realized long ago there is nothing he can do except to carry on with his interests and do his best to not look outside at what is going on in various forested areas around the country. As the plundering continues Ant admits his resources are becoming more and more valuable as each day passes which is good for their business as demand will only increase and supply will dry up. Catapu Sawmill is a model to be proud of, using every last bit of timber as best they can limiting wastage, empowering locals and having a truly responsible attitude towards the environment which makes them an ideal model for how timber operations should be run in Africa where ethics, law and order seem to be something of a forgotten time. Ant has been approached numerous times to sell but ethically he wouldn't dare do such a thing no matter the colour of the money since he has built up his business over 25 years and is passionate about his bit of paradise where wildlife roams free in total balance with his timber business. The shortsightedness of these people wanting to get their hands on his land is scary and one can only imagine what would happen to all the protected trees and wildlife if this was to ever happen :(

At the end of the day, China has an insatiable appetite for anything of value and the world has many greedy opportunists willing to feed off any unscrupulous activities that bear evidence of $ signs as if oblivious to the destruction being caused by their actions. Some say love makes the world go round others prefer the notion that it's greed, unfortunately, i tend to be a believer of the latter since all humans are inherently greedy to a point but this can be stopped as long as ignorance is not left to prevail. It's really the wild west out here and yet again like in so many other African countries it's all because a lack of credible leadership which is undoubtedly driven by sheer greed, infested with corruption with no heart for a nation's people and ultimately rotten to the core. African Leaders in positions of power more times than not tend to be purely savage like in nature towards their own kind who remain in poverty and ignorance.