Zambian mukula traders are involved in a high-stakes fight with government to halt the sale of logs, valued at more than US$20 million, seized from them.
Traders say the logs were lawfully harvested before a trade moratorium was imposed.
One of the traders wrote an open letter to President Edgar Lungu, appealing for his intervention.
“I will lose property and everything that I have worked for and all investment I brought into the country. My workers will be jobless and so will I,” said Kumbikilani Phiri, owner of Green Lake Sawmills.
Phiri says his company responded to an advertisement by the forestry department for indigenous companies to operate concessions and was issued with a licence.
“In July 2017, our timber was confiscated without notice from the forestry department and without a seizure notice,” he said.
Phiri is among many local timber traders whose mukula logs were seized when government banned all trade and transit of the sough-after tree.
Last year, at the height of an intensified fight against the illegal harvest and trade in mukula, Lungu called in the army to help. Government also barred the export and transport of the logs through Zambia. The ban remains.
Following the crackdown, mukula logs valued at more than US$20 million were seized.
Earlier in the year, a regional investigation into the smuggling of the endangered tree linked wealthy Chinese syndicates to the illegal trade in Zambia and its neighbours.
The investigation also revealed that an estimated 250–300 containers of raw mukula logs are sent to China monthly. It represents a region-wide decimation of the resource whose monetary value is estimated at US$16 million per month.
The route is believed to be the same as used for trafficking rhino horn, ivory and other wildlife contraband.
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