Like precious gems and metals, rosewood is a material that customers are willing to pay disproportionate amounts for, relative to the local economies where it grows. If those places suffer from weak governance, low observance of the rule of law, economic inequality and poverty, and widespread corruption, the potential for overexploitation, conflict, and corruption rapidly becomes a reality. Unfortunately, those socio-economic and political conditions describe the places where rosewood is most often found: the Amazon basin, Central America, the hinterlands of West and Central Africa, the Mekong River basin, and the island of Madagascar, sometimes known as “the Eighth Continent.”
All of these conditions have made rosewood vulnerable to over-exploitation. Exacerbating the issue over the past two decades are the rapid expansion of globalized trade in natural resources and the dizzying rise of China’s middle class—a “perfect storm” that is threatening the fate of rosewood forests worldwide. This was the challenge that faced the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species— CITES COP-17 for short—when 183 member countries gathered at their triennial meeting last fall in Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite a historical reluctance of governments to extend CITES regulatory controls to commercial timber species, COP-17 looked at the snowballing rosewood crisis and took the unprecedented step of unanimously listing the entire genus Dalbergia (which includes the 250-plus species of true rosewoods). CITES’ stock in trade since it came in to being in the 1970s, has been animals on the verge of extinction, including African elephants, rhinos, and tigers. Now it includes rosewood. Read full article.