Using science to verify the origin of wood products

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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Gabon pushing for certified timber

Gabon Advanced Wood Sarl (GAW) is a company in Gabon which holds a timber concession. It recently obtained a new Forest Stewardship Council™ forest management certificate for its Ogooué concession in the south of Gabon, located in the Haut Ogooué and Ogooué Lolo provinces.

The company’s operations are located in the town of Moanda and supply certified logs to processing industries established in the Nkok Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a 1126 ha multi-sectoral industrial park located 27 km from Libreville. It includes industrial, commercial and residential zones. In its entirety, it brings together 144 companies from 19 countries operating in 22 industrial sectors, including a cluster of 84 companies dedicated to wood processing. (

The Ogooué concession covers 179 861 hectares of forests, including 25 996 hectares of strictly conservation area. The concession includes about 309 inventoried tree species and iconic and threatened mammalian species such as elephants, chimpanzees and gorillas.

This is the first FSC forest management certificate in Gabon since 2014 and an important milestone for Gabon's ambition to have all their forest concessions certified by 2025. With this certificate, the total area of natural forest responsibly managed in Gabon under FSC certification reaches 2 241 051 hectares.
There are now more than 5.5 million hectares of FSC certified forest in three countries of the Congo Basin: Cameroon (341 708 ha), Gabon (2 241 051 ha) and the Republic of Congo (2 989 168 ha).

Covered 85% by forest, on 22 million hectares, Gabon has a stock of exploitable wood of 130 million m3 of Okoumé and 270 million m3 of other species. GSEZ has enabled the country to develop and modernise a wood sector that was previously not very promising by relying on specialisation, one-stop services and alignment with the national development strategy. With 3.4 million m3 produced each year, Gabon has become Africa’s leading producer and exporter of tropical plywood, and the world’s second largest exporter. The country intends to go further in adding value to its wood products by transforming GSEZ into a centre for the manufacture of "Made in Gabon" furniture by 2025.

Faced with growing demand, GSEZ has made sustainability, traceability and certification of wood sourced in Gabon and processed at its facilities one of its priorities. All of Gabon’s forest concessions are operated according to the sustainable forest management practices prescribed by the Gabonese Forest Code. In terms of traceability, since October 2018, GSEZ has benefited from the services of the Tracer-Nkok agency, which filters the logs entering the zone in order to limit the risk of illegal timber as much as possible. By 2022, all the country’s forest concessions will be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and/or PEFC Gabon in order to improve the traceability of the wood and ensure respect for communities and workers.

Integrating wildlife management and forestry in Zambia

Mbizi Farm in Eastern Zambia is one of those rare businesses that successfully integrates wildlife management with commercial forestry management objectives.

The 17 000ha estate, which employs nearly 50 people from surrounding communities, provides a personalised safari experience to visitors from around the world.

The mixed Mopani woodlands in which the farm is situated contains many tree species that are of significant importance to local communities for their fuel and other needs. Many of these tree species also have significant commercial value and about 2 400 m3 of Mopani, Kiaat, Pod Mahogany and Mukosa timber is harvested annually and processed at the Mbizi Sawmill for the production of export planks and other timber products.

The farm is FSC certified and as such provides assurance that it is managed in a responsible and sustainable manner.

This is a first for the Mopani ecoregion which covers extensive areas in Eastern Africa, and is home to an abundance of wildlife including elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and many other species.

New machines and technologies have been introduced at Mbizi to ensure low impact selective harvesting of the trees is conducted in terms of forest management plans that allow for the sustainable use of the woodlands and forests. Mbizi is also serving as a model for other local operations to opt for sustainable forest certification through the Afzelia Group Scheme.

Mbizi Farm is traversed by the Luangwa river which is an important water resource for farms and villages across eastern Zambia. Responsible management of this farm ensures that it will continue to provide valuable ecosystem services to surrounding communities.

Mbizi Farm is managed and owned by two Swedes, Michael de Gre-Dejestam and Lennart Packendorff. It is one of the first FSC certificates in Africa, and probably the world, where the management of wildlife is fully integrated with commercial forest management objectives.