The begining of the end?

We drove in silence. Talking wasn’t necessary anymore. We shared the same thoughts; the same thoughts as many others who turn down the long road that cuts through the Mozambican bush to Maputo.


We use to talk about this place a lot. It was one of those re-occurring conversations we had every time we drove that road, marveling at the beauty of the area and thinking what a magnificent nature reserve it would make. It was one of those places that teemed with wild life and plant species – with a canopy of trees for as far as I could see. That was just last year. I wish we had stopped for a coffee break or a pee break, any reason to stop. I wish I had taken a picture and absorbed the colours, shapes and sounds of somewhere wild and beautiful.

Deforested land

We took her for granted, thinking she’d still be there next time. But now she has gone, all of her. And the only evidence of her magnificent past is hill upon hill dotted with smoldering black stumps.

In one year, a 40-50 kilometer stretch of forested land has completely disappeared. And that is only on one part of one road in Mozambique. There are many roads in Mozambique. And where there is a road, there are people. And where there are people, there are no trees.

Forests in Sacks

Mozambique’s forests are being burnt, chopped and ring barked. You are more likely to see a freightliner gunning down the road at reckless speeds heavily loaded with the trunks of 100 year old hard wood trees or bulging sugar sacks of charcoal for sale than an untouched forest.

Logging  ii

The main reason for deforestation in Mozambique is due to the heavy use of charcoal to cook with. To make charcoal, an entire area will be burnt; killing all plant species, young and old. Once an area has been burnt, they’ll shift over to the next, destroying that too.

Walking in smoke

Selling charcoal

But it’s no use in getting angry with these people. They are simply trying to survive. They are the poorest of all Mozambicans, living day to day struggling to feed their families and to provide medicine when disease hits. How else can they make a living in such a remote area? The answer is to create employment, education, supply electricity etc. But that is airy fairy stuff, something that could take bloody years especially when considering Africa’s track record with matters of urgency! We need something immediate.

Cream of Tartar sellersMorning sun

Fire Wood iiFisherman

The second big cause of deforestation links to the rush to grab Africa’s natural resources; take as much as you can get and leave her bare, baron and raped of herself. Loggers are doing their fair share of damage, stripping the country of her hard wood trees and with no re-plant program in place. Word amongst the loggers is that there is only 5 years worth of hard wood logging left in Mozambique. And I can believe it. We live 60km from the city of Beira. In the last 3 years, the entire stretch of road has been developed and is now lined with sawmills and huge stock piles of hardwood waiting for shipment to China.

SawmillsSawmills ii

People will do what they can get away with. And the fact is that those involved with the big ‘resource’ grab simply don’t give a shit about the environment. There is no use in appealing to them; their vision is short and self-serving, only seeing the zip to their own money bag.

Fire Wood

Africa is changing drastically. All those romantic ideas you have of this continent – of game wondering freely, of forests, savannah and infinite wilderness – it’s going quickly! Instead we’re seeing forests in sacks, slabs of wood being sent off shore for your must-have furniture, rhino’s wrongfully being slaughtered for penis problems, herds of elephant being poisoned with cyanide for their tusks and fish in their millions being scooped up for consumption. There is no real control. And the people who have the real power to save this continent from destruction seem not to care.

Forest in SacksNetters

Gorongosa ElephantLogging iii

If I was the president of an African country, I’d be reserving vast areas of land. Cordoning them off from destruction and development. Because neither destruction nor development is going to stop, ever. A country needs development to escape poverty and we all know Africa is rife with poverty.

Imagine if African governments were united in the quest to preserve the natural environment while they still have the chance….maybe then in 50 years time, our children’s children will still have the opportunity to marvel at Africa’s famous wilderness. Maybe then, some of the Africa we know and love will survive.

“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat your money.”

North America Proverb

The Woodcutters wife

The Gallery

16 replies »

  1. it’s very sad, I can only imagine how you felt seeing this change… If it is really mainly for charcoal that Mozambique is losing its forests, I think education is the key. People should understand that it makes more sense to cut down only small fraction of trees in the forest and let it restore. This would make the practice sustainable. BTW you should submit these photos to National Geographic for “Explore Our Changing World” assignment.

  2. Utterly depressing Lianne, and while I feel desperately sorry for the farmers cutting the trees to make charcoal, it’s the companies, and the governments that makes my blood boil. Everything in Africa seems to happen so slowly, and yet as you so eloquently point out, this is the time for haste. It reminds me of Easter Island, where every single tree was cut down, and ended a civilisation. Who was the person who cut the last tree down….

  3. This is an amazing post. Sitting here on the edge of China, I read article after article about ivory smugglers and the market for rhino horn. And now these startling logging images. Sigh. What else to say….

  4. A poignant, thought-provoking post. It seems that after centuries of European exploitiation, Africa is now being exploited by the Chinese. The worse thing is, it is happening largely unmonitored and at unprecedented rates, due to modern infrastructure. Building a stadium or a highway gets large companies unfettered access to untold natural resources, some of which are shipped out from custom-built ports and airports.

    Thanks for giving a close-up view of the tragedy as it unfolds.

  5. It is such a sad thing to see, and the unfortunate reality everywhere. It is also a common sight here in Ethiopia too – many of the only forests are monocultures of Eucalyptus trees. Great post, thank you for sharing – it is important.

  6. This is such an important post and the proverb is so true. Sadly we won’t realize that until it is too late. Thank you for sharing this post and doing something to raise awareness of our rapidly disappearing world.

  7. The traditional hardwood furniture industry in North Carolina, with our abundant managed forests, has been decimated in the past ten years by cheap Chinese imports. 10’s of thousand of jobs lost here. Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Costco opened the flood gates, furniture manufacturers followed. I could not find kitchen cabinets that the pieces weren’t made in China, anything that can be flat packed. Having a local guy make ours because I want quality. I have to go to a specialty lumber dealer here if I want US products. Big box homes stores ( Home Depot & Lowes) all carry imports. They are cheap. Looking at local furniture stores in North Carolina, every dining room table & chairs we looked at were sourced in Asia, primarily China. Cheap is going to kill us.

  8. There are no words right now. I am stunned, heartbroken, but know I cannot deny a very poor country their right to survive. Thank you for sharing. (I can’t “like” this post, but I am sharing it with my sister who once worked in Africa.) Thank you.

  9. Hey my friend. Its always sad when such a rape of natural resources takes place on your doorstep. The Asians are the ones doing rape…the locals only get the scraps. The profits don’t even stay in the country and there is no serious sustainable development and no contribution to reduction of poverty. If you looked at these operations from the air it will be a 100 to 200 km either side of the main roads that have been. The forests further away from the road should be intact because it becomes too expensive to transport the timber. Its sad what is happening and things like this almost make me asamed to be forester…but a true forester uses the forest for the long term and for the next generation to benefit from it… Great job at raising awareness of this rape.


  10. Don’t know if “liking” this post is the right word. It’s tragic and seems to be irreversible. The wildlife, the trees, the degredation of land, the greed of rulers and the fact that the povo are only thinking about how they can survive today. I really believe there is no future in the hearts of those who have no vision for a better tomorrow for all. The children will bear the brunt of what is happening and their needs will be even more desparate.