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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


Barcodes on Wood to Save the Rainforest

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: logging, lumber, forests, rainforest, sustainable business, wilderness and wildlife, environment, Solutions Journal, Keith Goetzman,

Bar code 

Is that wood legal? Scan it and see. Liberia is putting barcodes on lumber in order to clean up its logging industry and preserve its rainforest. The U.K.’s Solutions Journal reports in its July-August issue on the innovation ordered by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which is part of a deal that clears the way for sales to the European Union.

Liberia’s landscape and recent history both factor into the new policy, reports Solutions:

Liberia has nearly two-thirds of West Africa’s remaining rainforest; it also has a history of corruption and illegal logging. The U.N. placed sanctions on Liberian “logs of war” after former President Charles Taylor was accused of using timber profits to buy weapons during the country’s 14-year civil war. The sanctions were lifted in 2006, but the country’s timber industry has not recovered. … Sirleaf is hoping the deal with the EU will stimulate growth and encourage foreign investment in Liberia.

Opinions are divided as to whether the new approach will in fact clean up Liberia’s logging industry; some observers worry that new markets will lead to corruption and actually increase unsustainable logging.

Fred Pearce at Yale Environment 360 recently traveled to Liberia to investigate, and while his report adds valuable historical and social context, he ultimately finds that political factors—most notably the outcome of the upcoming Liberian October presidential election—could undo any progress made by the new barcoding policy.

Still, it’s an interesting idea, and one worth watching. As one conservationist tells Environment 360, “Liberia has an opportunity to show the world how it’s done. They start from a fresh place.”

Sources: The Solutions Journal (article not available online), Yale Environment 360 

Image by otakusan55, licensed under Creative Commons.