By Jasmine Phillips, Danique Kerkhof, Paul Wamp, Chris Knobloch

In 2022, CIVIC partnered with the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University to examine contemporary challenges in the protection of civilians. Bachelors degree students in the integrated security studies project course divided into teams, and developed policy briefs for a range of institutional partners, including CIVIC. The winning brief is summarized in the below post, which examines the implications of the growing timber industry on conflict and the protection of civilians. 


“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

In Africa, thousands of trees are felled each year due to illicit logging practices. The effects may not be heard in the western world, but its impact reverberates throughout Africa. The harm logging poses to local communities makes it necessary to take measures that ensure the well-being and safety of local civilians.

As part of a co-op program at Leiden University in the Netherlands, we were directed to develop a policy report examining an underreported industry that has a large impact on the livelihood of civilians. For this, we opted to analyze the timber industry in Africa. Over the course of several months, our team spoke with experts and conducted open-source research into the timber industry to understand the phenomenon and chart paths ahead for CIVIC’s potential engagement in easing the resulting harm to civilians.

Background: EI-Related Conflict is Nothing New

Conflict associated with extractive resources is nothing new, but its widespread impact has become increasingly apparent. Disputes over extractive industries (EI) have been a dominant theme in the natural resource market, as past conflicts often led to violent security challenges for local communities and the state.

From a local perspective, past extractive projects were often associated with a negative impact on the direct environment, resulting in conflict between local communities and extractive companies.

Timber presents the potential to trigger new conflicts for several reasons. First, like other extractive resources, timber production produces negative externalities that fall onto local communities, such as pollution, displacement, and erosion of cultural sites. Secondly, precedent cases of illegal timber logging show the effects of the industry on communities, causing, or exacerbating, conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. Finally, the demand for timber will only increase with the demand for development. This increased demand for development in the region thus increases the potential for new conflicts to emerge. 

Due to these risk factors, timber-logging should be the focus of future extractive industry related conflict-prevention strategies.

Timber Logging Directly Impact Civilians

Additionally, the timber industry is associated with ever-increasing socio-economic burdens felt by civilians, as many communities rely on the forest as their main resource and livelihood. Logging has been associated with forced displacement, murder, and famine in forest-dependent communities. Moreover, rebel groups exploit the timber industry to finance their operations, while corrupt officials utilize timber as a financial resource to preserve their position of power. These circumstances perpetuate a continuous loop of corruption, violence, and natural devastation.

NCCT: An Applicable Framework

In order to prevent future conflicts and other negative externalities as a result of the timber industry, it is valuable to determine future potential “hotspots”. In attempt to forecast these potential timber “hotspots” the NCCT  framework was developed. The NCCT framework aims to determine these “hotspots” based on prior conflict timber trends and projected future climate change effects. Four factors which regulate and control the timber market are as follows:

  • Non state actors and the presence of civil conflicts are a major indicator of the potential outbreak of the phenomenon of conflict timber. Conflict timber has emerged to be essentially a “Plan B” for violent non-state actors after regulations have rendered it near impossible to successfully utilize diamonds and other similar minerals as a source of funding.
  • Corruption, and it’s magnitude in regions that have large timber resources. Corruption is often the defining factor in whether the state-regulated timber trade will transpire into an arrangement that harms local civilian populations.
  • Foreign Capital, its influx is a strong incentive for individuals to participate in illicit activities as it provides actors with a significant amount of money for partaking in illegal pursuits that they would never receive by participating in legal lines of work.
  • Timber is determined by the amount and species of forestry available to fell and trade. 

Due to a lack of data and time constraints, our team was not able to exhaustively identify all high-risk countries, though this could be a potential avenue for future research. However, based on the NCCT variables, certain regions have been assessed as posing a high-risk for timber-conflict materializing; Sub-Saharan Africa.

Actionable Recommendations

We have developed six recommendations, consisting of policy-oriented and citizen-oriented initiatives.

The policy-oriented recommendations are as follows:

  • Forge collaborative networks between local non-profits and logging companies
  • Urge potential “hotspot” states to join transparency initiatives
  • Promote financing for restoration initiatives
  • Partnerships with research organizations should be fostered and CIVIC should work to foster further research via CIVIC’s local and regional relationships

The citizen-oriented recommendations are as follows:

  • Develop educational programs for communities in logging regions
  • Collaborate with local NGOs to create opportunities for local youth
  • Push for prior community consent from local communities to be received by logging companies before beginning operations
Image courtesy of Rainforest Foundation UK 2017
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