# Human Practices
## Integrating the Communities
Today, the planet faces great risks for its survival. Global warming, the increasing population, and the ecological crisis are forcing humans to question the future of our own species and others that inhabit the planet. Added to this is the illegal and systematic trafficking of wildlife products which constitutes the final nail in the coffin, aggravating the ecological crisis. Elephant’s ivory, rhinoceros’ horn, tiger’s fur are all well-known examples, but the most trafficked wildlife product in the world is Rosewood (Figure 1) [](#ref1). It was for this reason that Rosewood became the center of our project.
In addition to animal species, Rosewood trafficking impacts many human communities, who live in danger and fear. Currently it is a major problem because this type of trafficking can generate natural disasters and also pandemics.
*Dalbergia maritima* is the main species of Rosewood coming from Madagascar. It is included, along with all *Dalbergia* species from Madagascar, in the Appendix II of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which list the species who's trade must be controlled in order to avoid their extinction [](#ref2). After a careful study of the stakeholders and processes involved in this complex problem, we decided to contribute to the fight against Rosewood illegal trade by creating a portable and inexpensive biosensor.
**Figure 1.** Trafficked wildlife products in the world [](#ref1).
During our human practices work we read the literature and conducted interviews with several personalities (two scientists, a politician and an environmental activist and a lawyer) to allow us to have a much more exhaustive understanding of the phenomenon of Rosewood trafficking and its impacts on populations and the environment. We will first introduce our interviewees, then we will present the points which they have helped us understand and finally we’ll present what our project proposes as a solution.
## Our Interviewers
We interviewed several personalities, each a specialist in a different field. They helped us better understand the trafficking of Rosewood. Some of them have worked on domestic trafficking, others have studied it scientifically; and one of them is still campaigning to stop it.
1. Annah Zhu is an Assistant Professor at the Environmental Policy Group of Wageningen University and Research. Dr. Zhu received her PhD in Society and Environment from the University of California, Berkeley. Her current research focuses on the role of China in processes of environmental globalization and the impacts of "Global China" on the environment.
2. Alex Widmer has been a Professor of Plant Ecological Genetics at the Institute of Integrative Biology within the Department of Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zurich since 2005. His research focuses on the genetic basis of adaptation, the evolution of reproductive isolation and ecological speciation, as well as the evolution of separate sexes and sex chromosomes in plants.
3. Haïdar el-Ali is a Senegalese environmentalist nicknamed "The Man Who Made the Earth Rich". He is one of the ten personalities who advance ecology in Africa, according to Jeune Afrique magazine [](#ref3). El-Ali was Minister of Ecology and Nature Protection in the government in Senegal.
4. Julien Prieur has a PhD in environmental, urban planning, and sustainable development law. He is a university lecturer and trainer both in Madagascar and in France, a legal expert in sustainable development and an international consultant.
## The level of Rosewood illegal trade
The Rosewood illegal trade is the most important trafficking in terms of value and volume in the world [](#ref1). Since the ban of Rosewood’s illegal logging 10 years ago, in Madagascar alone an estimated 2 millions logs are still hidden in the Northeastern part of the country summing up to an equivalent of $300 million dollars [](#ref4). Also, during the year 2009 the frenzy of exploitation of Rosewood increased because there were no restrictions. It is estimated that in one year 1000 maritime containers left the island, each with a capacity of at least 52000 tons of this wood, which represents at least $200 million dollars [](#ref5).
We tried to find more and detailed statistics but, as Annah Zhu says, it is very difficult to get statistics because this trafficking is illegal.
## The impact of Rosewood illegal trade on the environment
Nature has a dimension that surpasses us. Many current works show us the intelligence of plants and their communication [[6-7]](#ref6). Interaction is part of the life of nature. Environmental degradation is a major problem in our society in general, and the traffic of Rosewood obviously has an impact on deforestation but not as much as other species.
Talking with Haïdar el-Ali, we discovered that, in general, its logging is selective and with little to no machinery. The logs are dragged through the forest by rope with manpower. It's the most benign type of deforestation one can imagine, but it's still deforestation. Also, many smaller logs are needed to transport the Rosewood logs down the river with rafts (Rosewood does not float, so rafts from logs that do float are required). The ecological consequences of Rosewood logging are much preferred to clear-cutting or mining, but it is an endangered species.
This traffic leads to deforestation, so we asked ourselves what could be done for the reforestation of Rosewood and the answer is not as simple as yes or no.
Talking with Annah Zhu, we discovered that Rosewood has its particularities: its foliage captures nitrogen. This enriches the soil with nutrients, so when the Rosewood disappears, the soil becomes poor. If you plant Rosewood that needs rich soil, it will have a hard time growing. In areas completely affected by Rosewood trafficking, mango trees are planted, because the soil becomes poor. In areas that are not very affected, other species that play the same role as Rosewood are planted. So, reforesting with Rosewood requires very significant resources.
In order to fight against this deforestation, some richer residents in the North-East of Madagascar also plant Rosewood as a type of retirement, but they have to hire a guard to watch over it. There are no campaigns for educating the public and the focus is on stopping the logging, not developing Rosewood plantations.
## Rosewood illegal trade and the populations living in the affected areas: perceptions and impacts
To explain the perception of the people, Haïdar el-Ali thinks that it varies according to the ethnicity, according to the culture, the education and the economical means of the residents. People who live in the forest, of an animist culture, they live with the geniuses of the forest, the spirits of the forest. They have sacred spaces called "sacred groves" where only the initiates are allowed to enter. In these sacred forests, we are not even allowed to take a tree leaf, even a falling leaf, we are not allowed to touch it. When we walk, we walk barefoot, clothed in a certain way, and we are Others, inhabitants of the forest that are breeders need to feed their animals. For them, the tree is a source of food for his flocks. So, depending on people's occupation, customs, and education, we have different approaches to nature.
Africa is often plundered, its resources plundered, all African resources are taken by multinationals, thinks Haïdar el-Ali. If we go back a long way, when some countries could colonize other countries and take their wealth, that is no longer the case today. We can no longer afford to put South Africa on apartheid. But this is no longer the case in most of the world. Today the planet is held hostage by multinationals, and they have the money. For example, a young farmer who sees people coming from everywhere with permits who cut his wood, he said to himself “anyway, the wood will go away, the diamond, the gold, etc.” so he starts also to log, and, in turn, he becomes a looter. But it is a looter who is exploited by the system. Because when the boy cuts down a tree, he winds it for a small price. There is a small amount that goes to the cart that carries the tree. It is the international trafficker who makes the most money, while passing through corporations, large multinationals who export it by sea. It’s very complex. This is not something that we are going to take away easily, because capitalist society dominates the world, it dominates the system; it puts us in a system of dependence which makes us almost slaves.
The populations who live in the affected areas are indeed victims of a system of illegal trafficking. Trafficking is based exclusively on exploitation, sometimes of the environment, but also of populations. Being close to the trafficking zones, they are the first victims. They are the object of violence, of disease; sometimes individuals are killed by traffickers. They are also the first victims of the consequences of the degradation of the environment which goes hand in hand with the illegal and excessive traffic of Rosewood.
## What the authorities do and what they can do ? What other international organizations are involved ? What are the laws ?
We also wanted to know how this trafficking is and would be handled, and the situation is complex.
In an article published in a peer reviewed journal, an author whose identity is obscured to protect respondents stated: “I argue that revenues generated during Madagascar's Rosewood logging outbreak, combined with the country's return to electoral politics at the end of 2013, have together facilitated the political ascendancy of an elite group of Rosewood traders from northeastern Madagascar. Through a process that I refer to as ‘Rosewood democracy’, these Rosewood traders have been voted into central offices in Madagascar's Fourth Republic, ultimately demonstrating how democratic institutions that are supposed to foster equality are captured to sustain long-standing patterns of inequality” [](#ref8).
As Anna Zhu highlights, “the Chinese ships come to the coast - they don't dock their boats because there are no ports. Smaller boats come to deliver the logs. The Chinese ships have Malagasy currency onboard and pay. Then they deliver the logs to intermediary ports - in Tanzania, Singapore, etc. - and register the logs as coming from a different country (not Madagascar).”
CITES controls and regulates international trade in specimens of species listed in its Appendices [](#ref2). Any import, export, re-export (export of an imported specimen) or introduction from the sea of specimens of species covered by the Convention must be authorized under a permit system. Each Party to the Convention must designate at least one Management Authority to administer the permit system and at least one Scientific Authority to advise it on the effects of trade on the species [](#ref9).
There are 3 appendices :
- Appendix I: includes all species threatened with extinction. Trade in their specimens is only allowed under exceptional conditions.
- Appendix II: includes all species which are not necessarily threatened with extinction but whose trade in specimens must be regulated to avoid exploitation incompatible with their survival.
- Appendix III: includes all species protected in a country that has requested assistance from other CITES Parties to control trade.
Madagascar's Rosewood is in Appendix II but it is difficult to implement CITES in reality.
“CITES technically can sanction Madagascar for exporting the wood (not logging it), but in practice they rarely do. Sanctioning a very poor country is unlikely to do much of anything good. It will likely cause prices to increase, creating a further need to log the wood for income.”
These obligations are not the same from one annex to another, of course. But beyond the protection, it is the control and, if necessary, the sanction that must be effective, that is to say, that must really take place.
“In most cases, the law prohibits cutting wood that is live, green. But people play with words, they cut the wood, let it dry and then they say it was dry wood. You know, when you're a trafficker, you use all the schemes. You can't put identifications on the woods to identify Rosewood, anyway the traffickers don't care. They cut them anyway.”
“Several international associations are fighting against this traffic. Indeed, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Conservation International (CI) are the biggest presences on the ground in the North-East of Madagascar, mostly through Makira. Makira Natural Park is a protected area that contains Rosewood and a REDD+ project (REDD+ standing for “Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”). The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC are also involved at the national level. They have helped build a "Rosewood task force" to do this, with financing from the World Bank. This group sends military troops to the region to stop the trade. But often instead of stopping the trade, they simply solicit fines and bribes. WCS and CI have community based management in Makira, which may help reduce the logging. WCS is also involved with Masoala National Park, but to a lesser extent.”
“States must strengthen the measures imposed by international conventions or laws by making environmental policing more effective. Today less than 2% of offences before a judge concern environmental issues !”
“Nature law is part of environmental law. Environmental law is already adapted. The problem is not in environmental law, but in its application !”
“In theory, it would be possible to create an International Criminal Court (ICC) because wildlife crime is important. In practice, few States wish to do so. In principle, the domestic courts of States have jurisdiction.“
## What the end consumers think ? What can they do ?
The trafficked Rosewood is mainly headed to China, which consumes a lot of this wood to make furniture that traditionally represents a certain wealth for the family.
Through a ["collaboration"](https://2020.igem.org/Team:Evry_Paris-Saclay/Collaborations) with the iBowu-China iGEM team, we were able to get Mrs. Li and her family’s views:
They like Rosewood furniture for its practicality and artistic nature. The carved patterns and decorations are representative of the traditional Chinese culture – phoenix, bamboo, dragons, turtles, etc. Dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese folklore. They are typically representative of mighty and auspicious power.
Therefore, a portrayal of them on household furniture symbolizes auspiciousness and prosperity.
In addition, bamboo is a symbol of harmony between humans and the natural world. Its height and straight stature represents honor and distinguished personal values.
This beautiful cultural heritage is created flawlessly with no visible seams. Hence, it has extreme popularity in Chinese culture. Of course, different ranks of Rosewood are determined by their age and quality, which influences the cost.
The Chinese government should not be blamed directly, said Haïdar el-Ali. “Bandits are (intelligently) looting the forest. I'll give you some examples. If you are a cocaine trafficker, if you are arrested with $10 million worth of cocaine, you can face ten years in prison or spend your life in prison. If you are caught trafficking Rosewood for the same amount ($10 million), you are not going to spend even a day in jail. You pay a fine, and then it's over. We just take a record, and sell the product we seized at auction; and you start again the next day.” Moreover, Haïdar el-Ali also stated that the Chinese government could have a greater participation to ban the logs. “They could probably do so somewhat successfully, as they did with the Elephant’s Ivory ban. China could also help Madagascar reforest Rosewood, as could WCS, CI, and WWF. They do some work with this, but their main focus is stopping the logging, not reforestation. I think cooperation could help a bit, but the main issue is that many people in China prefer the wood as furniture and, from their perspective, what is happening with the logging is not really a sad thing. It is in fact good because it allows more people to own beautiful furniture that will last for many generations. But this is mostly the older generation that thinks this, and as younger people grow older, there will be (at least a little) less demand for Rosewood and perhaps even a stigma because of deforestation.”
## What our project does
In the wild, it is easy to distinguish Rosewood from other species through morphological features. In logs, however, species are determined based on section anatomy (wood anatomy of CITES-listed tree species are available). This method cannot be used to distinguish between Rosewood genera. Rosewood trees flower after cyclones and they are recognized and differentiated based on their flower characteristics which is not available in the case of logs. If the samples are fresh, DNA could be extracted and sequenced; Otherwise samples have to be taken into a forensic lab where Rosewood species could be distinguished through the chemical fingerprint revealed by a mass spectrometry technique called direct analysis in real time (DART MS). Of note, Rosewood is colloquially misused referring, in addition to Rosewood, for species including timber and ebony.
In a meeting with Prof. Widmer, he stated that DNA extraction from Rosewood heartwood showed poor results with 30 % success. However, he said that amplifying chloroplast DNA is more successful, perhaps for plastid-specific reasons such as their high copy number and slow degradation rate. He guided us in our search for markers that could serve as trigger sequences for our toehold switch (see the ["Model"](https://2020.igem.org/Team:Evry_Paris-Saclay/Model) page of this wiki).
All the input we received from the integrated human practice was the key to develop and orient our project towards a product that can be used in Rosewood traffic. We hope that this project will prove to be a valuable asset in the fight against the trafficking of Rosewood. We would like to specially thank the interviewees who continue to fight against this present crisis.
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