To protect rainforest, Liberia barcodes every tree

Liberia and the European Union signed a deal to prevent illegal logging activity but still support its burgeoning forestry industry: track every tree with a barcode.

Liberia and the European Union signed a deal this month to prevent illegal logging activity while still supporting its burgeoning forestry industry.

The project is simple in concept but complex in application: barcode every tree in the country.

If that sounds unnecessary, consider this: 45 percent of all the rainforest in West Africa is in Liberia.

Liberia's timber industry has long been corrupt; former president Charles Taylor was accused of selling "logs of war" -- timber for weapons -- to fuel his regime.

The United Nations' resulting sanctions were lifted in 2006, but Liberia's timber industry has yet to gain its sea legs. (It was once 20 percent of Liberia's GDP.)

Among the hurdles: the ability to ensure the EU and other governmental bodies that its forestry activity can indeed be legal and sustainable.

The new agreement matches others made between the European Union and major timber exporters (such as Ghana, Cameroon and Indonesia). The pact defines legal timber and involves the deployment of a system to ensure tracking and compliance.

One way to do that: give a barcode to every tree.

The challenge, of course, is to ensure that the system is deployed and managed appropriately. But as Liberia's largest customer, the EU has good reason to pressure the country to be ethical and sustainable. After all, it's just one level down in the body's supply chain.

[via Yale e360]

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