How Technology Could Curb Illegal Logging

  • Published on September 20th, 2013 by

There can be no doubt the illegal timber trade is a pervasive problem, causing untold harm to forests, communities and economies of the countries affected.  Yet, despite the economic importance of the timber trade to producer countries, many of them do not have any legal means of stemming illegally sourced timber.


In addition, the process of identifying timber that has been logged or traded illegally has proved technically difficult and ultimately impractical.

Experts in the timber industry have estimated that logging on public land alone has cost producer countries in excess of 10 billion USD on an annual basis. To make matters worse, more than 50 per cent of these practices are – in both an environmental and economic sense – carried out in the some of the most vulnerable areas, such as the Amazon Basin, Central Africa, Southeast Asia and Russia.

However, a number of new technologies are being developed that may signal the death knell of the illegal timber trade in the not too distant future.

Mobile phone technology

There can be no doubt that mobile phone technology has seen exponential advances in the last few years, making it easier to access, store and share information than ever before. In the context of illegal logging, these technological advances have enabled experiments with the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and digital mapping, which will allow information on forest extraction activities to be monitored and shared.

The use of GIS  on mobile phones  is still very much in its pilot stage within this industry, yet the potential for development is clearly there, showing that smartphones could become powerful  tools  of surveillance in preventing the production of illegal timber at its source.

DNA tracking

In 2007, an Australian timber wholesaler called Simmons Lumber became the first company in the world to pilot a new timber-tracking technology, involving DNA sampling and testing. This technology was developed by Singapore company, DoubleHelix, in partnership with Certisource, and involves analysing the genetic codes of trees that are known to be grown in sustainably managed areas.

This genetic information can used to determine the origin of different timber from a mere wood shaving and will in theory prove to be an effective authentication system that will curb its illegal sale and distribution.

Barcode tags

Oxford-based technology company, Helveta, exists purely to trace the supply chain of timber, using its patented barcoding technology. Helveta provides what it calls a ‘digital passport’ for both buyers and sellers.  This method of verification uses barcode tags in order to trace a timber right back to the area in which is began life as a sapling, and is reported to be proving effective in countries such as Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This post was written by Nick Collinson from UK timber merchant Duffield Timber.

About the Author