Using science to verify the origin of wood products

May 26, 2022

The fight to stop illegal logging has received a major boost from an international organisation that uses scientific analysis to verify the source of timber products, thus ensuring that retailers and consumers cannot be duped into supporting the illegal destruction of the world’s forests.

On their journey from forest to market, timber products typically travel through complex supply chains. Much of this trade is not verified, while the methods that are often used to trace the origin of wood products are inefficient, paper-based and wide open to fraud. With so many points of potential failure it is nearly impossible to effectively police the system and prevent wood products from entering the supply chain that were sourced from land that should not have been deforested.

This science-based approach to traceability allows companies and enforcement agencies to shine a light on whole supply chains and provide irrefutable proof of species and origin. This is achieved by using scientific analyses to test a wood product’s origin based on its physical properties. The organisation is building an extensive global library of reference samples, from various forest regions around the world, for use in cross verification.

Woodbois Limited, an African focused forestry, timber trading, reforestation and voluntary carbon credit company, is the latest company to partner with World Forest ID to enhance the traceability and identification of timber originating from its forest concessions in Gabon. 

Woodbois Ltd is supporting World Forest ID's mission by coordinating the collection of samples from within its concession areas.

“This partnership with World Forest ID represents a critical building block in the Woodbois suite of services for the sustainable management of Africa's forests,” commented Woodbois CEO, Paul Dolan. 

Woodbois Ltd has three divisions focusing on the production and supply of sustainable African hardwood products, the trading of hardwood and hardwood products, and a reforestation and carbon credit division. The forestry division has production facilities in Gabon and Mozambique, managing a total of 470 000 hectares of natural forest concessions. The trading division sources and supplies sustainable timber to a global customer base while the carbon sequestration division aims to generate voluntary carbon credits for corporate partners through the delivery of large-scale reforestation projects.

World Forest ID was formed by an international group of organisations which bring expertise in forestry, traceability and biological sciences, to create a global standard in species and origin verification. To date it has collected 2 163 samples, from 290 species in 28 countries. Data from the library of references can be used by companies and prosecutors around the world to verify the origin of any wood product, thus ensuring that consumers are not being sold a lie.

All plants have chemical, genetic and anatomical signatures that are specific to their species and location of origin. By creating a detailed library of geo-referenced plant samples from around the world, the World Forest ID team can test products against this library to verify the authenticity of the claimed origin of the timber. With such accurate, indisputable data, it provides assurance for people to consume responsibly and for governments to prosecute criminal behaviour.

Samples are collected from forests and agricultural land around the world with sufficient density to create a global map of samples. Once collected, each sample is analysed to provide a unique chemical, genetic and anatomical signature that’s specific to its species and location. When complete, this information is added to the World Forest ID library.

By applying the same analysis to consumer products, matches can be found within the reference library to identify what the product is and where it originated.

The challenge is to build a library of reference samples from around the world in sufficient detail to enable any consumer product to be tested against this to determine its origin.

As well as being used to create paper, packaging and timber products such as furniture and flooring, a huge amount of deforestation is caused by land being cleared for agriculture. Often this is for products such as palm oil, soy and rubber, which are used in many everyday consumer products. Forests are also being cleared to grow the animal feeds used in meat and dairy production. The sheer volume and diversity of consumer products involved means that the likelihood of us using produce linked to deforested land is pretty high.
World Forest ID was established by a consortium of organisations including the US Forest Service International Programme, Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, World Resources Institute, Agroisolab, FSC and Assurance Services International.

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