Import of illegal wood

One of the great plagues that afflict our planet and contribute to global warming is deforestation: according to the World Resource Institute, which monitors the state of deforestation globally through the Global Forest Watch platform, 2020 was one of the worst years in terms of forest loss, with over 12 million hectares disappearing, an increase of 12% over the previous year.

The causes of deforestation are purely economic, as forests are burned or cut down to make room for crops and livestock, as well as for the illegal wood trade. This last criminal practice sees Italy among the most involved subjects, since, to date,huge seizures of illegal wood are still being caught by the police. It is estimated that 90% of the wood consumed in Italy comes from abroad, and 30% of this wood imported into the EU is of illegal origin, of poor quality and often contaminated. This gigantic business, estimated at 30 to 100 billion euros per year, favors ecomafia and harms legal producers, in addition to causing uncontrolled deforestation and increased CO2 emissions.

However, the European Union has put in place some useful tools to combat this trafficking, such as the FLEGT regulation (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade, EU Regulation No. 2173/2005), which includes measures to prevent and sanction the marketing of illegal wood in the Union, improve the quality of wood in circulation and increase demand for legal wood products.

There are also other very useful initiatives, such as the sustainable management and exploitation of forests through the adherence of wood companies and all other players in the supply chain to sustainability labels such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Good forest cutting and care practices really pay off, and the good news is that the Italian forest heritage is increasing, a fact due to the abandonment of human activities on many hilly areas, but also to a correct forest management that allows forests to regenerate properly without loss of biodiversity. Yet, it is still relatively easy to hide illegal imported wood among FLEGT licensed wood and not a month goes by when the police don’t make a seizure, managing to discover and eradicate a small part of an immense process.

We at Altrefiamme have asked ourselves what we can do to fight this phenomenon, looking for effective and really feasible solutions. We have come to the conclusion that an even more effective tracking technology is needed in order to be able to trace every step made by the wood, from the forest to the final consumer. All this would be achievable through the use of blockchain for the entire supply chain of agroforestry biomass, a technology that literally means “blockchain”: it is a computer network of nodes that creates a unique and certain register to contain, certify and share information.

In this way, there would be no more “grey areas” for the illegal market and a check on the origin of the wood could be done easily and at any time.

Technology can therefore help us to curb the illegal wood trade, with clear economic, environmental and social benefits. We invite you to follow the Altrefiamme blog to keep up to date on the latest developments of our projects at the service of the woody biomass supply chain.