03 October 2011

Gibson and CITES: Attention finally being paid to Madagascar?

If you know anything about socio-ecological issues in Madagascar, you know that exploitation of precious timber, especially rosewood, ebony, and polysandre, has been especially egregious since the 2009 coup d'etat. Even if you don't know anything about Madagascar, you might have heard recently of the ramifications of this through your rabid devourment of American political news. US Fish and Wildlife Service investigations of Gibson guitar have become a battleground between tea-party activists who think the government is over-regulating and environmentalists who see corporate greed ravishing the forests of impoverished nations like Madagascar. Here's a link to a fairly comprehensive article about the case from the Tennessean, published in the home state of Gibson Guitars.

(BTW, Razia, a malagasy singer who lives abroad, just played at one of the dueling concerts scheduled around the controversy and got some good media attention. I saw her last year in Madison and she's awesome. In fact, NPR declared her band one of "5 new African bands that rocked 2010." [hat tip to Chris Planicka over at Hurry Boy, It's Waiting There For You...] She also has a pretty fantastic cause, The March of 10,000 Trees Back to Madagascar, which is doing good things for Madagascar and is even more relevant in the wake of the passing of Wangari Mathaii.)

The placeholder government has been fairly complicit since they came to power, alternately banning and revoking their bans on logging these species. Millions of dollars of timber that has been harvested illegally has left the country in the last couple of years.

Of course, the problem goes back to far before the coup, as the investigation around Gibson demonstrates. It goes back to 2006, with Gibson allegedly importing unfinished planks for fret-boards from India against Indian national law, which the Lacey Act obligates our government to enforce. The feds of both America and Madagascar just got some help from CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Madagascar has gotten 89 species of ebony and rosewood listed in CITES appendix III, which officializes the malagasy request for support by other signatory nations in upholding its national laws regarding the trade of these species. This is the weakest protection under CITES but it's a stepping stone toward more stringent protection and as the first Malagasy timber species listed marks a high point on the path to better forest governance in Madagascar.