Why Zambia has not benefited from its rosewood trade with China!

Story by: Paolo Omar Cerutti & Davison Gumbo

Rosewood is the generic name for several dark-red hardwood species found in tropical regions across the globe. It fetches very high prices because it’s strong, heavy, has a beautiful red hue and takes polish very well – and because the trees are becoming increasingly scarce. On the Chinese market in 2014, for example, prices were in excess of USD$17,000 per ton. That’s ten times higher than the price of more standard tropical hardwood.

There’s a huge demand in China for rosewood logs to make hongmu – antique furniture. Hongmu was used historically by the imperial elite and is now coveted by China’s rising middle class. Supplies of the wood from markets in Latin America and South-East Asia have dwindled in recent years, so Africa has become a key source. Within Africa, Zambia has become one of China’s main rosewood exporters in the past decade.

But the harvesting of rosewood is often not done sustainably. Several African species have already received protection under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species.