AN ASSESSMENT OF THE USE OF CELL PHONES IN COMBATING ILLEGAL LOGGING IN AFRICA. A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW ANALYSIS
Emmanuel Eilu, Ph.D., Lecturer, Uganda Christian University, P.O. Box 4, Mobile. +256 772687232, e-mail. [email protected],
Statistics show that more than 15 million hectares of tropical rainforests in Africa are destroyed so as to pave way for small and large-scale agriculture, cattle rearing, firewood and illegal logging for timber. As a result of the high rate of deforestation, estimates show that about 13 million tonnes of soil are washed into the water bodies in Africa yearly. Illegal logging contributes to about 70 percent of the forest destructive forces. If the current destruction pattern of rainforest is sustained, it is estimated that by 2050, there will be no more forests left in Africa, therefore, contributing to a park of devastating effects such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, Global warming, land degradation, desertification, drought, food security, and poverty. One major way to significantly reduce deforestation is to combat illegal logging. There are several ways of curbing illegal logging, however, many of these methods that would help curb illegal logging in Africa are quite expensive for the cash-strapped countries. Nevertheless, the use of technology, particularly mobile phones, can be an inexpensive way of curbing illegal logging, and currently, a handful of such projects are being piloted cross Africa. However, very little has been published on how recent mobile phone innovations have been used to combat illegal logging in Africa. Using systematic review method, this paper, therefore, attempts to bridge this gap, by exploring recent innovations in mobile phone technology used for curbing illegal logging in Africa.
KEYWORDS: Africa, Tropical Rain Forest, Cell Phones, Illegal Logging
The continent of Africa is home to the second largest blocks of tropical rainforest in the world after, the rainforest of the Amazon Basin in South America. There are a number of tropical rainforests in Africa and the largest is the Congo basin forest, it is spread across 170 million hectares of land 12. The numerous rainforest stretch for about 4800 km from Liberia in West Africa through Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, the Cameroons, French Equatorial Africa, and the Belgian Congo, to the great lakes region in East Africa 3. These different rainforests are scattered all over Africa are very vital to the survival of the entire continent, in that, they balance the eco-system, regulated both local and global climate patterns support biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and timber and wood fuel production which boost economic growth and development in Africa 14.
However, Africa is currently witnessing a new wave of deforestation which is sweeping across the entire continent destroying wildlife and incapacitating the resilience of its ecosystems to withstand the effects of climate change, especially in the area of food security, desertification and global warming 8. There are local variations in which tropical rainforests are being destroyed. For example, in countries like Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Madagascar, rainforests are normally destroyed to pave way for agriculture, whereas in some parts of DR Congo, Congo Brazzaville, and Gabon, the rainforests are being logged for timber 6. Statistics show that more than 15 million hectares of tropical rainforests are destroyed so as to pave way for small and large-scale agriculture, cattle rearing, firewood and timber 22. According to the Africa Regional Review Report on Energy for Sustainable Development 1, in some sub- Saharan African countries like Burundi, Rwanda Mozambique and Burkina Faso, wood fuel constitute over 87 percent of the energy used for heating. In Ghana, 70 percent of the wood fuel used for domestic heating comes from the rainforests, resulting in to the destruction of over 20,000 hectares each year, while in Uganda, 90 percent of the population lives in rural areas and their major activity is agriculture, this activity has made the rainforest shrink from 45 percent of the country’s surface area to 21 percent between 1890 and 2000 22; 1). As a result of the high rate of deforestation, estimates show that about 13 million tonnes of soil is washed into the water bodies in Africa yearly 23. If the current destruction pattern of rainforest is sustained, It is estimated that by 2050, there will be no more forests left in Africa, hence contributing to a park of devastating effects such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, Global warming, land degradation, desertification, drought, food security and poverty 23.
The preservation of tropical rain forests in Africa is now becoming a global issue. One of the ways to preserve the tropical rainforests in Africa is to fight illegal logging. Illegal logging can be defined as logging practices and activities in violation of national law 12. The World Bank 24 estimates that illegal logging costs the legal forest industry more US$ 10 billion per year and deprives governments of about US$ 5 billion in revenue. According to Blaser 5, millions of hectares of forested land are made bare without prior authorization. This activity is estimated to generate between $30 billion and $100 billion yearly representing between 10-30% of the total global wood market 20. A 2014 assessment conducted by INTERPOL found that illegal logging for charcoal trade is a vital source of revenue for criminal organizations and militias in African countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Somalia and Tanzania 20.
However, there are several ways of curbing illegal logging, however, many of these methods that would help curb illegal logging in Africa are quite expensive for the cash-strapped countries. Nevertheless, the use of technology, particularly mobile phones, can be an inexpensive way of curbing illegal logging. By 2015, mobile phone penetration in many Sub-Saharan countries stood at 41 percent, more than double what it was in 2008 with 386 million subscribers. Mobile phone subscription is expected to reach nearly 50 percent by 2020 with over 500 million subscribers, 400 million of them smartphones 17. In a Sub –Saharan African country like Uganda, there are over 7 giant telecommunication companies, and over 19 million Ugandans own cell phones 21. By December 2009, the coverage for mobile telephony in Uganda reached 100 percent with a total of 2,300 base stations erected throughout the country 21. Therefore, the high level of mobile phone penetration in Africa has created a means of overcoming illegal logging in Africa. A handful of such projects are being piloted cross Africa. However, very little has been published on recent innovations in mobile phone technology used for curbing illegal logging in Africa. This paper, therefore, attempts to bridge this gap, by exploring recent innovative ways of using mobile phone technology to curb illegal logging Africa. Two research questions were developed to guide this exploration namely.
What are the recent innovative ways of using mobile phone technology to curb illegal logging Africa?
What are the challenges of deploying these innovations for curbing illegal logging in Africa?
A systematic review
A systematic review was the main method used in this paper. In the last 30 years or so, some scholars have criticized narrative- literature reviews style, observing that it is biased and inadequate in terms of the thoroughness of research performed. This led to the emergence and widespread use of systematic review method of research. Systematic Review is a laborious method used to plot out secondary data and lets the evidence to emerge out automatically 9. The strength of systematic review method lies in using empirical evidence to establish what works and how it worked 25. The systematic review method has been extensively used in medical research and the natural sciences. It is commonly used by international agencies such as the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and many others directly or indirectly by individuals or organisations contracted to do research on their behalf with the sole aim of finding what works and how it worked in generating development outcomes 25. This paper come up with clear research questions, as already stated above, these questions guided the structure of the paper. An extensive and unbiased literature search was conducted. The study selection criteria was directly guided by the research questions. Keywords were identified from the research questions. The review covered reports, journals, conference proceedings, books, and Web sites. Google Scholar was of much help for this review. The selection of papers was based on how each paper comprehensively addressed each of the research questions and particularly the keywords.
PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS
This section presents the results of recent innovative ways of using mobile phone technology to curb illegal logging Africa and also identifies some of the challenges of deploying these innovations for curbing illegal logging in Africa
Dunn 10 observes that, in response to illegal logging, the Cameroonian government partnered with a number of development partners such as the Department of International Development (DFID), the Waterloo Foundation and The Rainforest Fund FODER (Forest and Rural Development) to deploy a program called ForestLink. The system allows surrounding forest dwellers to photograph trees cut illegally with smartphones and upload the photos to the forest authorities. The forest link systems is a satellite-based and therefore does not need mobile or internet connectivity. The volunteer forest watchers can upload the photos and make toll-free phone calls to authorities, the forest ministry, and the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The system has been an effective approach to curbing illegal logging in that, through this systems, the government of Cameroon collected over US $ 88,000 in fines for illegal forestry activities and revoked the licenses of four major logging companies in 2016. However, volunteer forest watchers are at a very high risk of getting killed by the illegal loggers. According to the International human rights organization Global Witness, at least 185 volunteer forest, land, and river watchers were killed in 2015, this is the highest annual death toll recorded for people defending natural resources.
THE RAINFOREST CONNECTION (RFCX): CAMEROONIAN
Butler 7 writes that the Rainforest Connection (RFCx) an American -based non-profit company and a London based company called Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have installed a real-time anti-deforestation technology at sites in Cameroon. The technology uses disused mobile phones to create a real-time alert system against logging and poaching. About 30 RFCx devices, recycled from old Android handsets monitor about 10,000 hectares of forest land, covering an area of almost 40 square miles. The device listens out for audio signals associated with logging and poaching. These sounds would include the whir of a chainsaw, a gunshot, or the sound of a logging truck. The system then automatically alerts local authorities who can take action as the environmental crime is being committed. The constellation of Android smartphones connected throughout the forest is powered by an array of solar panels that are designed for low-light conditions of the rainforest canopy. The units are durable to ensure they can survive hot and humid conditions for a number of years. Each device is able to provide surveillance to 300 hectares of forest land (about 1 square mile). If the software detects the sound of chainsaws, it triangulates the position of the logging and sends the info to workers at the preserve
FIGURE 1.RFCx device and its network connection. (Source: 7)
Up to now, there are no published results of the project in Cameroon, however, the pilot scheme of the same project in Kalaweit forest reserve in Indonesia revealed that, within just 24 hours of its deployment, the devices had already picked up sounds from illegal loggers and forest guards were immediately dispatched. After two weeks of operation, loggers stopped entering the 135-hectare region covered by the system. A year on, they have not returned. However, just like any other technology, the device has some limitations, in that, powering the device has been a great challenge. Because of the densely covered tropical rain forest, direct light breaks through only in sporadic sun flecks. Typical solar photovoltaic arrays are compromised when even the smallest shadow falls upon them.
TIMBY a short form for ‘This Is My Back Yard’ is an innovative smartphone application that helps volunteer forest watches the monitor and report illegal logging and destructive oil palm plantation expansion in Liberia. The application delivers real-time actionable reports of illegal logging and other destructive forestry activities, triggering action from government and policymakers to address the reported issues. Volunteer forest watchers can report illegal logging by uploading images, video or audio on the mobile application. It, therefore, means that volunteer forest watchers can prevent the illegal logging before the first tree is felled. The local forest watchers have already been trained on how best to use the technology. The program, in its pilot stages, is already showing promising results, in that, one of the companies that had been issued with a license to carry out logging in Sinoe County, had its license revoked because it was issued without due process, in violation of the law. The team used TIMBY and reported the violation, which led to its revocation. Through TIMBY also, there have been more than 60 forestry concessions canceled, millions of dollars of misspent county social development funds have been reported by through the application, and of recently unearthed a 10.5 million dollar scandal, where corporate funding didn’t go through government accounts 19.
FIGURE 2TIMBY App. (Source: 19)
According to Petersen ; Pintea 16, Forest Watcher is yet another ingeniously designed smartphone application that helps volunteer forest watchers monitor and report illegal logging in Kibale Forest in Uganda. The smartphone application is designed to allow easy, offline access to data about forest changes. Once the application is installed on a smartphone, it caches data to the phone, then the application directs users to a nearby forest clearing and enables the users to capture photos and fill out forms about deforestation they do encounter, which they can upload when back within internet reach. The application is unique in the sense that it displays forest change straight on the mobile devices in the hands of forest managers, indigenous communities and law enforcement anywhere in the world, regardless of connectivity. Forest Watcher allows users to:
Identifies place(s) of interest to monitor.
Download various satellite-based forest change and other contextual data (e.g. near real-time deforestation alerts, protected areas, and intact forest landscapes) onto a mobile device.
Navigate to alerts in the field, even without the internet connection
Collect information including GPS points and photos through customizable forms
Review, analyze and download data collected via the app
Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) had already deployed an earlier version of Forest Watcher in Uganda since 2014. Hundreds of private forest owners, forest authority officers were trained on how to use mobile tools to navigate deforestation data in the field and collect evidence to support conservation action, this led to hundreds of prosecutions and fines for illegal forest loggers and encroachers 4.
FIGURE 3Forest Watch (Source: 16).
Despite the availability of other ways to fight illegal logging such as lawsuits, government regulations, consumer boycotts, market pressure campaigns and many others, High-tech surveillance is clearly one of the most effective ways to reduce illegal logging in Africa. There have been a number of pilot projects across Africa and results from the pilot projects are quite promising. As already seen from the results, the forest cell phone monitoring systems piloted in Cameroon, Liberia, and Uganda are showing interesting results. For example, the ForestLink in Cameroon was able to curb illegal logging, in that, the government of Cameroon collected over US $ 88,000 in fines for illegal forestry activities and revoked the licenses of four major logging companies in 2016 10, while in Kalaweit forest reserve in Indonesia, the mobile phone devices had already picked up sounds from illegal loggers and forest guards were immediately dispatched, and one year on, illegal loggers had not returned 7. Nunez 15 confirms this success and observes that this technology has also been successfully piloted in Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. The same promising results were seen in Uganda, whereby, through the ForestLink app, hundreds of prosecutions were made and huge sums of fines paid by illegal loggers and encroachers.
However, from the findings, there are also a number of challenges of using mobile phone technology in combating illegal logging. Volunteer forest watchers who use the technology to report illegal logging become the number one target to be killed by the illegal logger. The International human rights organization Global Witness observes that at least 185 volunteer forest, land, and river watchers were killed in 2015 10. This, therefore, puts the lives of the volunteer forest watchers at risk. There are also challenges of deploying the technology itself. The densely covered tropical rainforest makes it difficult for the RFCx devices to get direct sunlight for the solar discs. Typical solar photovoltaic arrays are compromised when even the smallest shadow falls upon them. This has turned out to be a challenge.
Whereas a new wave of deforestation is currently sweeping across the entire continent destroying wildlife and incapacitating the resilience of its ecosystems to withstand the effects of climate change. There is still hope that this wave of terror aim at Africa’s rainforest can be combated using technology, and more so, the readily available mobile phones. Recent use of mobile phones to combat illegal forest logging has resulted in some interesting results. These successes can be seen in pilot projects in Cameroon, Liberia, and Uganda. Though substantial challenges still do exist, there are deliberate efforts to address the challenges.
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