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6. Improving data and knowledge

Many of the case studies undertaken for this paper highlight a lack of reliable and up-to-date information on the forest resource and how it is changing. Data and knowledge about the location, extent and nature of legal and illegal operations in the forest sector is also at best fragmented. Good information is essential for preventing, detecting, monitoring, reporting and investigating illegal operations, and thus facilitating law enforcement. Increased data about illegal forest activities will also enable governments to establish priorities for remedial actions. However, information will only be meaningful if a well-functioning policy is in place (see Chapter 4). The availability of data will allow the political debate, which invariably involves disparate interests, to focus on empirical evidence on magnitudes, causes and systemic weaknesses that need to be addressed in organizing corrective actions (Thomas et al. , 2000).


Forest resources assessment and monitoring can provide invaluable information for the development of adequate forestry policies and legislation. However, very few developing countries have up-to-date information on their forest resources and their tenure, and even fewer have the national capacity to generate such information. This problem is not limited to the developing world; the situation is also less than satisfactory in several industrialized countries. When they exist, state assessments of the forest resource are not always made public. Another key problem is the lack of reliable information on where and how forests are inhabited and used by local communities. The lack of a reliable baseline makes it difficult to identify illegal operations and to prosecute law offenders, as it is almost impossible to evaluate and demonstrate the nature and magnitude of the forest alterations they have caused.

National forest assessments are conducted in many countries and aim to fill this information gap. Once primarily focused on measuring the availability of wood and later forest area, they are now moving to address the full variety of benefits from forest and tree resources, including:

Besides tree measurement, some countries (such as Sweden) include stump measurement in their national forest assessments, in order to obtain a rough estimate of the real volumes harvested. When compared to the official harvest figures, this information gives an approximate picture of the scale of illegal logging.

Tools used for assessment and monitoring of forest resources include: remote sensing, satellite navigation systems, field measurements and inventories, mobile information and communications technology.

The following points are of particular importance for promoting the timely detection of illegal operations in the forest sector and inducing law compliance:


Improving law compliance in the forest sector requires a commonly agreed operational definition of what constitutes legality in order to enable enforcers to identify and distinguish between legal and illegal acts.

The scope of forest-related legislation, and therefore the array of possible illegal forest activities, is vast, and may involve labour laws, health regulations, tax laws, financial and banking legislation, and laws related to environmental protection. Because of these numerous legal dimensions, a universally accepted definition of legal products may not be possible or even desirable. The United Kingdom's Centre for Expertise in Timber has been established to deal with the issue of proof of legality and to develop the elements of what a definition needs to cover in the context of the United Kingdom's public procurement policy (Speechly, DFID, personal communication, 2005).

Since illegal activities affect many groups (various branches of government, forest landowners, forest products industry, indigenous peoples organizations, rural communities, consumers' organizations, etc.), a commonly agreed working definition of illegal acts in the forest sector can be best reached through a participatory approach and by including these actors in any conceptualization of legality. An agreement on definitions can be achieved, for example, through discussion fora or workshops involving these groups. Given the dynamic nature of the legal framework, working definitions of legality will need to be revised periodically.

While there is no universally accepted way to address all aspects of legality in the forest sector, Box 48 gives an idea of the possible elements to be included and of the potential complexity of operational definitions of legality. Countries should identify all elements required to define their standard of legality, taking into account international norms and local circumstances. Determination of what defines legality is the right of each country and the inclusion of a law in such a definition should be based on an analysis of the degree of harm that results from non-compliance. In this regard, it is important to distinguish between crimes and regulatory offences.

As Box 49 shows, Indonesia has already taken up many of the elements outlined in Box 48. In Indonesia, where about 900 laws, regulations and decrees govern timber exploitation, transportation and trade, a draft "legality standard" was developed to help auditors and buyers in differentiating between legal and illegal Indonesian wood. The standard comprises seven broad principles of legality, each supported by several criteria and indicators linking the principle to existing Indonesian legislation. Guidance notes to assist auditors in verifying compliance with each indicator have also been developed. This draft standard is the outcome of a participatory process conducted between April and June 2003 in several Indonesian districts. However, agreement from all stakeholders is still uncertain. Field testing of the system started in mid-2004. Development of the standard was carried out under the auspices of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry in close partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) under the Indonesia-United Kingdom Memorandum of Understanding on illegal logging (see Box 46)


On-the-ground verification/monitoring

Along with appropriately targeted incentives, monitoring is one of the most effective methods of preventing forest crime. Although direct surveillance is often difficult, timely information on operations can be used as a basis for sample on-the-ground inspections to verify the reliability of reporting by forest operators (often a requirement of retaining forest licences rather than a provision of forest law). Information could be supplied by operators according to a standard format and schedule, and complementary information supplied on request. Forestry officials should have the power to inspect all sites relevant to the operation, as well as transport, storage and processing facilities, for instance by including in concession contracts a clause, which explicitly gives officials and independent observers this right. Inspections must be allowed on a routine basis, not just when a crime is suspected (Christy, 2004).

Reporting along the chain of custody

Reporting may also be required of timber dealers and processors but this has to be part of a comprehensive monitoring system to be effective. Simply compiling a list of transactions is not helpful without cross-references to a register of licencees and accurate reports on logging operations. With the increased availability of computer networks, however, these different series of data can be correlated in real time, offering a powerful tool for both prevention and detection of forest crime (Christy, 2004).


The following methods may help improve the data about illegal activities in the forest sector and in detecting forest crime, sometimes even before an offence has been committed.

Reporting and monitoring

The most effective detection is based on information and analysis; the combination of reporting and sample verification outlined above. This will not necessarily reveal crimes, but it will give a good picture of the location and nature of activities, making it much easier to conduct targeted inspections to detect offences. The basic legal requirements are therefore the same as for preventive monitoring: mandatory reporting and powers of inspection. There are at least three degrees of inspection powers that need to be considered in forest legislation:

The type of inspection will depend on each country's general legal system, but the considerations include the urgency of inspection (e.g. a moving vehicle), the difficulty of obtaining a warrant (e.g. when the site is deep in the forest) and the privacy normally accorded the site (e.g. a dwelling). For example, the Republic of Congo authorizes free access to facilities and vehicles but not to houses and domestic enclosures, except in the case of a crime and in the presence of a police officer. Enforcement officers are not authorized to enter houses between the hours of 19.00 and 5.00. Tanzania does not allow searches of dwellings except where a crime is suspected (Christy, 2004).

Because on-the-ground assessments are essential to detect the existence and scale of illegal operations, improving the capacity to carry out effective field monitoring visits should be regarded as one of the most important objectives of any forest law compliance strategy. This should be based on three central elements:

Diagnostic surveys

Confidential diagnostic surveys of illegal activities can be an effective instrument to estimate their magnitude, procedures employed and motivations. These surveys can be aimed at business, government officials, communities and other major actors in the sector and can provide a useful baseline for designing corrective actions (Box 50). They are most useful if they are aimed at several different actors in order to cross-check the information received. Contrary to initial skepticism, experience shows that respondents can be quite honest and informative. Diagnostic surveys have been useful in obtaining information on the most secretive acts, such as wood "laundering", payments of bribes and specific procedures used to break the law. Surveys can be aimed at measuring the extent of illegal acts, exploring the factors (including policy failure) that facilitate them or investigating specific acts or actors.

Diagnostic surveys require careful design to ensure objective and statistically valid results and therefore, in the final analysis, a degree of credibility. They must assure respondents of the absolute confidentiality of their responses. The employment of independent and reputable surveyors is an important condition to ensure objectivity and credibility (Kaufmann et al. , 2001). To date such surveys in the forest sector have been relatively rare.


Another aid to the detection of forest offences can come from encouraging informants. Legislation frequently foresees rewards for those who help in the conviction of offenders, and in some countries even forest officials, whose job it is to enforce the law, are entitled to rewards (see example of Niger in
Chapter 5). However, giving a share of rewards to officials, when combined with the ability to levy fines on the spot, may also encourage petty harassing actions to gain rewards at the expense of more laborious investigation of major offences. Informants will be more likely to provide reliable information if rewards can be paid without conviction and protection is provided from vengeful defendants (Christy, 2004).

Use of NGOs as information sources

As already mentioned in Chapter 5, NGOs can be an important and reliable source of information on illegal activities in the forest sector. Several examples in this chapter also refer to the prominent role that NGOs have in detecting and monitoring illegal logging and trade over time.

Industrial wood input-output estimates

When production is highly concentrated, involving only a few firms, industrial output can be monitored and measured in relatively easy ways. This information can in turn be used to estimate the corresponding raw material needs of the industry, which are either met through imported sources, stocks, or national sources. Of these three possible sources, the first two are normally easily monitored. Thus, if the input of raw materials from national sources declared by the enterprise differs markedly from the estimated intake, the difference can reflect the presence of either illegal declaration or illegal sourcing of wood. If wood suppliers are few and requested to declare their sales, discrepancies can indicate illegal sourcing.

This method was used in the Indonesian forest industry, including sawmilling, pulp and plywood production. Figures indicate that conservatively, the aggregate of industry consumed some 61 million cubic metres of wood in 1997. This was well in excess of the 36 million cubic metres that the government considered as the sustainable harvest at that time and indicated the scale of illegal sourcing of wood in the country.

Aerial surveillance and satellite detection

Some of the best evidence of illegal forest activities comes from aerial surveillance and satellite detection. Expertise is required in order to interpret remote sensing data, and courts may not be willing to admit expert testimony if they are not familiar with the subject matter. However, monitoring of illegal logging using satellite imagery has been used successfully in Cameroon, with the World Resource Institute providing expertise in satellite data interpretation (Box 51).

With support from ITTO, a similar system is being developed by Global Forest Watch for the Republic of Congo and is planned for the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Costa Rica is currently starting to apply a new system for detecting illegal conversion of forests into pasture land, which is based on the use of GIS and GPS (Box 52).

Log tracking

Log tracking enables authorities to closely monitor timber production and related flows through the chain of custody. It has been used in several countries to improve forest monitoring and control, including in Cameroon (Box 53) and Fiji (Box 54).

Road or river checkpoints

Road or river checkpoints do not require any advanced and costly technology and may, under certain conditions, be very efficient in detecting wood which has been logged or is being transported illegally. The circulation of logging trucks must be restricted to working hours or checkpoints must be manned around the clock, otherwise they will be ineffective. Effective controls have been established in Ecuador (Box 41 in Chapter 5), Mozambique (Box 55) and Honduras.


Comparing declared exports and the corresponding import statistics can in some cases be used to estimate the extent of illegal international trade. This methodology is most useful if the country is a major exporter and discrepancies occur regularly over time. However, a recent study (ITTO, 2004) identifies a number of sources of discrepancies that do not necessarily reflect illegal activities, including:

Also, it is not possible to use trade data discrepancies to estimate the extent of some kinds of illegally traded wood products. Examples include:

The capacity to distinguish between discrepancies indicating illegal acts and other sources of discrepancies is vital to obtaining adequate estimates of illegal trade. This implies the progressive elimination of the "legitimate" sources of discrepancies by examining the systems of import and export.

One such attempt was made in 2002 involving several industrialized and developing countries, and results showed that there were discrepancies that fell outside the range of what could be considered "normal" and therefore were possibly due to illegal or "abnormal" acts (Eastin and Pérez-García, 2002).

When discrepancies are large, occur systematically for a number of years, and cannot be explained by "normal" factors, there is a strong presumption that a large proportion of wood has been illegally traded. Box 56 shows data for the past several years for trade between Indonesia and partners China and Malaysia.

Of possible actions to address data discrepancies and facilitate identification of illegal trade, the following initiatives scored highest in a survey of countries that took part in a number of bilateral investigations of trade data discrepancies (ITTO, 2004):


Resource inaccessibility and an imperfect knowledge of the condition of forests also mean that forest crime is seldom in the public eye. An uninformed public with imperfect understanding of the threats to forest values is unlikely to exert political pressure on elected leaders to force governmental remedial actions. Good forest management translates into few votes in comparison with other far more visible public issues such as education and health that normally tend to dominate the political debate. Therefore, raising the awareness of the general public about the negative ecological, social and economic impacts of illegal activities and the importance of monitoring/detecting illegal operations in the forest sector is of crucial importance (Box 57). Likewise, supporting environmental education programmes among local populations can be important. Assessments of the forest resource and of illegal logging operations should be made available to the public.


Box 48
Potential components of legality

  • Tenure and use rights. Clearly established property rights or use rights approved by relevant authorities; clear property boundaries, land registries, and approved uses of land
  • Forest management. Forest management plans including silvicultural systems to be employed, harvesting plans and permits
  • Protected areas. Conformity with protected area legislation both within the forest management unit and in surrounding areas
  • Protected species. Compliance with laws and regulations regarding protected species of flora and fauna and their habitat
  • Environmental and social impact assessments. Observance of laws and regulations regarding environmental and social impacts and mitigation procedures
  • Indigenous peoples and local community rights. Compliance with legislation related to the protection of indigenous and local community rights that may be affected by forest operations
  • Workers rights, health and safety. Respect of work laws such as those related to minimum wage and job stability, as well those concerning health conditions and safety of operations
  • Taxes and fees. Compliance with tax laws and other payments to government related to the operations of forest corporations
  • International agreements. Satisfaction of prescriptions contained in international treaties such as CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Chain of custody. Compliance with regulations that mandate specific ways to prove legal origin through the whole chain of custody
  • Product marking. Observance of rules regarding marking and identification of products and consistency with associated documentation
  • Processing, sales and shipping. Compliance of processing, sales and shipping corporations with legal requirements for their activities such as operating licences, registration with relevant authorities, building permits for processing and storage facilities

Source: Amariei, 2004

Box 49
Indonesia: proposed principles for establishing legality of timber products

The following principles are further described by criteria and are complemented by indicators to verify compliance.

  • Land tenure and use rights. The legal status of, and tenure rights of the Forest Management Unit are clearly defined and its boundaries have been properly set. The Company has documented, legally established rights to harvest timber within those boundaries, and only within those boundaries.
  • Physical and social environmental impact. The Company has an Environmental Impact Assessment (AMDAL) prepared in the prescribed manner and demonstrating that the forest management unit complies with all legal, physical, social and environmental requirements stated in the AMDAL, as well as all legal requirements for monitoring and reporting on implementation of the AMDAL.
  • Community relations and workers rights. The Company complies with all its legal responsibilities in ensuring the well-being of communities affected by its activities in the forest management unit, its provision of services to local communities, and the well-being and safety of its workers and contractors employed in the forest management unit.
  • Timber harvesting laws and regulations. The company conducts all forest planning, harvesting and other activities within the forest management unit in compliance with relevant government regulations.
  • Forest taxes. The company pays all relevant legally prescribed fees, royalties, taxes and other legal charges related to the use of the forest management unit and the timber extracted from it.
  • Log identification, transfer and delivery. The company ensures that all logs transported from the forest management unit are properly identified, have correct associated documentation and are transported in accordance with government regulations.
  • Timber processing and shipping. Timber processing facilities and shipping companies have valid licences and operate in accordance with applicable government regulations.

Source: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2004

Box 50
Diagnostic surveys of corruption

The design and implementation of agency-specific, in-depth diagnostic surveys for public officials, users and enterprises constitute an innovation that provides tangible inputs for countries committed to implementing capacity building and institutional change programmes. Challenging conventional wisdom, the new surveys of public officials, enterprises and citizens find respondents willing to provide detailed information on misgovernance that they have observed and experienced (as opposed to merely indicating their vague perceptions about countrywide corruption).

Survey respondents report on embezzlement of public funds, theft of state property, bribery to shorten processing time, bribery to obtain monopoly power and bribery in procurement. In these diagnostic surveys, detailed statistics are collected on the frequency and cost of bribes paid by enterprises to regulators in different agencies as well as the shortcomings of public service delivery and other performance and effectiveness indicators. A multiplicity of governance dimensions is included in these diagnostics, permitting an in-depth analysis of issues such as meritocracy, discretionality, budgetary transparency, and poverty alleviation focus and impact. The analysis of these statistics then serves as a vital input for prioritizing in the formulation of a governance improvement reform programme.

When data were presented to members of the business community, major civil society, and the executive and legislative branches, the policy debate abruptly changed from vague, unsubstantiated, and often personalized accusations to one focused on empirical evidence and systemic weaknesses that needed to be addressed.

Source: Thomas et al ., 2000

Box 51
Satellite detection and map-based monitoring of illegal logging in Cameroon

The World Resources Institute (WRI) Global Forest Watch and the Government of Cameroon signed an agreement in 2002 to share data and maps about the country's forests in a bid to curb rampant illegal logging. This is the first map-based monitoring agreement of its kind in Africa. The agreement stipulates that Cameroon's Ministry of Environment and Forests (MINEF) will provide Global Forest Watch with information on forest concessions and allocations in the country. In turn, WRI will produce reports on the state of forest concessions in Cameroon and create maps that will enable MINEF officials to detect illegal logging in the country. Maps of logging roads created by Global Forest Watch from satellite imagery, combined with accurate information on where logging may legally take place, will permit the identification of problem areas and prioritize them for field audits. Satellite imagery makes it possible to detect new logging roads outside of active concession areas and in national parks. They will also help to determine whether the rate and extent of logging follows forest management plans. Global Forest Watch have now released their first Interactive Forestry Atlas of Cameroon. Although data were sometimes incomplete or missing, it includes data on 179 sales of standing volumes (of a total of 331) and 12 allocated community forests (of a total of 67). The information is made publicly available and can be accessed through the Global Forest Watch Web site.

Source: Global Forest Watch, 2002

Box 52
GIS/GPS-supported detection of illegal forest conversion in Costa Rica

FUNDECOR, an NGO in Costa Rica, whose aim is to promote the conservation and sustainable management of the natural resources of the Cordillera Volcánica Central, has developed a new system to detect illegal conversion of forests to pasture lands. Costa Rica's production forests are generally privately owned, small in size and highly fragmented, and any conversion of forests to other land uses is prohibited by law. Although the regulations governing the development of forest management plans are rigorous and technically sound, complying with these regulations is very costly and time-consuming. Instead of developing the required management plan, many owners therefore prefer to illegally convert their forests into pastures by cutting the underbrush and sowing pasture grasses while leaving the valuable commercial trees standing. Subsequently they request a permit to cut individual trees in pastures, which is easier, cheaper and much faster to obtain than a harvesting permit based on a forest management plan.

With the help of hand-held electronic personal agendas, a geographic information system including the forest cover map of Costa Rica and a GPS, forestry officials can easily determine if the area for which the permit is requested should be under forest cover. The system is affordable (under US$ 600) and has an error margin of only five metres, which is sufficient for most applications.
It can also be used to detect illegal logging in forests. FUNDECOR is collaborating closely with the Costa Rican Ministry for Environment and Mines (MINAE) in an effort to introduce this system across the country by helping train forestry personnel in its use.

Source: FUNDECOR, 2005

Box 53
Collaboration between the Cameroon Government and SGS

As part of the log-tracking project, the independent certifying firm SGS is assisting the Ministry of the Environment and Forests to establish and operate a separate government unit responsible for controlling log flows from forest sources (log ponds initially, then from stumps) through the production chain to ports and processing mills. The project includes the following activities:

  • identifying all logs/stumps with bar-coded tags allocated to legitimate logging companies according to agreed cut volumes;
  • monitoring log production and movements as declared by the logging companies (barcode number used on regulatory declarations; cross-checking with utilization of the tags) and verifying through spot checks including government control at log yards and roadsides and SGS inspections at ports;
  • managing a central database;
  • carrying out further field checks independently (field investigation is the responsibility of the Ministry's Programme de Sécurisation des Recettes Forestières units operating at checkpoints and mills, and of the Ministry's Central Control Unit in the forest);
  • piloting a computerized system and continuous auditing program to control log supplies to processing mills;
  • estimating the amount of felling and supply taxes due by industry and monitor processing quotas;
  • issuing monthly/quarterly reports and statistics;
  • providing training to logging companies and the units of the Ministry's Programme de Sécurisation des Recettes Forestières and organizing the transfer of technology.

Source: Amariei, 2005

Box 54
Log tracking in Fiji

The Fiji Forestry Department has developed a system using information technology to process, document and store information on harvesting, processing and export of its forest products. This initiative, financed by ITTO, includes log numbering to trace any log right back to its stump. A plastic number tag is attached to the log and associated stump after felling. Log tags and hammers were first tested on a wide range of timber species in order to assess feasibility. Log and stump numbers are recorded into a special form, and this procedure is repeated for all trees that are felled. Once the logs arrive at the log landing, additional log sizing and log numbering is done. These new numbers are used by forestry officers during log scaling and in the timber statement. A full-time worker was recruited by the department to carry out the log numbering in the field. He is supervised by the forest ranger responsible for the area. The project was well received by field officers. Fiji is examining the economics of extending the log-tracking system to the national level.

Source: Fiji Forestry Department, 2000

Box 55
Road checkpoints in Mozambique

One of the most important elements of the current forest control system in Mozambique is based on roadside checkpoints between the logging sites and the major ports and cities, where government controllers check timber volumes by category and track licensing compliance (registered volumes are also used for tax collection purposes). The work of these fixed checkpoints is also complemented when possible by mobile patrols.

A new law forbids the circulation of large trucks at night. The major checkpoints coincide with police posts and therefore operate 24 hours. Those transporting forest products during the night are halted by the police, immediately fined and undergo further controls/investigation. In remote areas, however, the road checkpoints are only manned during the day because of lack of equipment and human resources. There are plans to have all checkpoints working 24 hours a day and to delegate forest law enforcement authority to any official agent (custom officer, police officer, etc.) in the absence of forest law enforcers on the checkpoint.

This system works reasonably well (as proven by the considerable amount of fines that are charged every year). However, one weakness appears to be the lack of qualified personnel.

Source: Del Gatto, 2003; Chicue, Ministry of Tourism in Mozambique, personal communication, 2005

Box 56
Selected Indonesian trade flows with China and Malaysia (1 000 m3 )



Malaysia's declared import volume
Indonesia's declared export volume
China's declared import volume  
Indonesia's declared export volume







Source: ITTO, 2005






1 121  







1 138



1 168

1 316

1 052







Box 57
Raising public awareness about illegal logging in Costa Rica

As part of its national strategy to combat illegal logging, the Costa Rican Ministry for the Environment and Mines (MINAE) has developed a short television spot which is currently aired regularly on national television. It informs the public about the problem of illegal logging in the country and its negative environmental and socio-economic impacts. It requests citizens only to buy wood from legal origins and to denounce witnessed cases of illegal forestry activities to an easily remembered three-digit phone number, which is accessed by the Ministry. A similar spot was developed by FUNDECOR, an NGO that closely collaborates with the Ministry in its efforts to combat illegal logging. This second television spot raises public awareness of the new technology to detect illegal forest conversion, which is based on the use of GIS and GPS.

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