Is China partly responsible for the destruction of Africa's Miombo woodlands?

The Miombo woodlands cover several countries in the Congo Basin and southern Africa. The woodlands are comprised of tropical and subtropical grasslands that contribute to the sequestration of between 0.5 tons and 0.9 tons of carbon per hectare per year, making them a crucial part of offsetting human carbon emissions.

Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, DR Congo, Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, DR Congo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, which house the Miombo woodlands, benefit enormously from the forest because it effectively fights against global warming and erosion phenomena and can help limit climatic disasters in the region

The Miombo forest in Malawi. Wikicommons license CC BY-SA 3.0

The forest and surrounding ecosystem also play a crucial part in supporting local livelihoods, economies, and cultures. For instance, at the turn of the season, the Miombo trees shed their leaves, which supports the growth of red mushrooms called “Kabengera” in the Kirundi language. The red mushrooms can cost between USD 5–7 per kilo, making them a lucrative economic resource, particularly in Burundi and Tanzania where the income per capita is among the lowest in the region.

At least 300 million people in Southern Africa, East Africa, and Central Africa benefit from Miombo Woodlands products, according to the President of Mozambique Filipe Nyusi. The Miombo woodlands are home to some endemic species of animals and fauna, including lions, great apes, elephants, rhinoceroses, and more. 

Despite the woodlands’ important role in society, foreign investors, specifically Chinese trade groups, are participating in illegal deforestation for mining, logging, and trade purposes.

Chinese companies in the Miombo Forest

Many logging companies have complicated relationships with China in the Miombo Forest and the Congo Basin. Three-quarters of the timber from the Miombo is exported to China. At the same time, China imports two-thirds of the world's tropical logs. According to China's National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA), the wood consumption in 2019 was 431 million cubic meters RWE (a unit used to measure the volume of logs), with 90 percent being used for construction, paper, and furniture manufacturing.

Local Chinese companies play a crucial role in promoting local timber trade and exports. However, whether Chinese companies are following local logging regulations remains to be seen.  

Most of these Chinese logging companies are privately owned, rather than state-owned and on paper, most have obtained timber harvesting rights. For instance, in Gabon, China holds 25 percent of the timber harvesting rights, and this percentage is steadily increasing. However, possessing these rights doesn't guarantee that the extraction follows the legal regulations. In 2022, an investigation by EL PAÍS/Planeta Futuro, a Spanish newspaper, revealed that numerous Chinese companies and local authorities engaged in bribes to illegally acquire logging rights. 

In Yaliwasa, located in the northern part of the Republic of the Congo, centuries-old trees in the tropical rainforest were hastily cut down and illegally shipped to China and other nations. One of the logging companies involved in this deforestation was a Chinese enterprise called Fodeco. Despite lacking industrial logging experience, Fodeco has been operating under the protection of successive Congolese ministers, violating Congo's 20-year moratorium on new industrial logging. 

“In the DRC, any document, any proof of legality can be bought; administrations are legalizing machines,” an international consultant based in Kinshasa, who requested anonymity due to his advisory role with DRC authorities on forest governance, told EL PAÍS/Planeta Futuro.

This situation is not unique to Fodeco. Downstream, a subsidiary of Booming Group, a company registered in Hong Kong, is also violating Congolese laws by logging hardwood. These companies have obtained local logging permits, but engage in illegal logging and transportation with the participation or acquiescence of local government officials. The abuse of permits is common in many African countries.

In a Linkedin post, Booming Green's chairman promotes the company's Afrormosia, an endangered tree species.

In Mozambique, local insiders claim that the bribe to export a container of non-compliant raw timber is about USD 520, usually requiring bribes to at least four government officials. In Cameroon, some illegal enterprises even hire officials to escort the transport of illegal timber. These government officials facilitate communication and secure passage at checkpoints, representing another form of collusion to violate logging bans. 

According to researchers, Mozambique received as many as 66 projects owned by public or private Chinese investors, between 2000 and 2010.


For several years now, Mozambique has been facing an insurgency near its border with Tanzania. Between 2017 and 2023, about 3.7 million tons of timber were exported to China from Mozambique — sometimes from insurgent-controlled areas — making the country the main timber supplier to China. A US-based NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report reveals that more than 89 percent of timber exports were illegal, with much of it being the rare, endangered rosewood trees. 

While China bans importing endangered trees from African countries, the traffic in wood linked to the Miombo woodlands continues to increase, with an estimated USD 23 million worth of illegal wood exported per year. Much of the revenue from this illicit timber trade is being used to fund terrorist groups, according to the BBC.

According to a report recently cited by the BBC, investigators tracked more than 300 containers shipped to China, between October 2023 and March 2024 and found that the value of each container was USD 60,000 for a total of USD 18,000,000. 

In Africa, authorities such as the African Union are becoming aware of the issue and trying to find solutions against the illegal exploitation of timber and minerals. Most countries sharing the forest signed the Maputo Declaration in 2022, aiming to protect this area of more than 2.7 million square kilometers. 

Furthermore, President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique, whose country loses the equivalent of 1,000 football fields of forests annually through vandalism, illegal timber trade, and illicit logging in the Miombo woodlands forests, is sounding the alarm. 

Speaking at a Miombo protection seminar in the US, Nyusi spoke of the need to work with heads of state in the region to combat the disappearance of the Miombo forest. “To go far, we must work together,” he said.

Ambiguity from China

Over the past few years, illegal timber from Africa has consistently flowed into the Chinese market, and defining responsibility for illegal logging has been difficult. In 2023, the international environmental watchdog Global Witness reported that Congo King Baisheng Forestry Development exported USD 5 million worth of illegally logged timber to China's Wanpeng Wood Industry Co., Ltd. over six months. 

In response, Chinese customs officials, addressing the evidence collected by Global Witness, indicated that since the logging occurred in the Republic of Congo, the investigation should be conducted by the local government. If requested by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Chinese government can investigate Chinese companies and citizens involved in illegal logging. In general, the Chinese authorities’ approach to transnational business investigations has been based on voluntary remediation. Therefore, the legitimacy of the entire process relies on self-regulation by enterprises.

This is a contradictory stance, as in countries like Congo, where corruption is rampant, the law often equates to bribery negotiations. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Congo ranked 158 out of 180 countries for corruption in 2023. Charlie Hammans, a Global Witness investigator, believes that the only truly effective way to curb illegal timber is for China to explicitly ban the import of illegal overseas timber in its Forest Law.

China has implemented some measures to do this in recent years. In July 2020, China revised its Forest Law to establish a legal basis for tracing the source of illegal timber. Article 65 of the revised law requires:


Timber processing enterprises shall establish ledgers for the entry and exit of raw materials and products. No unit or individual may purchase, process, or transport timber known to be of illegal origin, such as stolen or indiscriminately logged timber.

However, this regulation has yet to explicitly cover imported timber and does not require enterprises to conduct due diligence on their timber purchases. The Ministry of Natural Resources has included the amendment of this regulation on its agenda, but it has not yet been issued.

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