Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Logging curbs

Tuesday August 4, 2009 The Star, Malaysia

DEEP in the world’s tropical rainforests, workers are hammering thousands of barcodes into hardwood trees to help in the fight against illegal logging, corruption and global warming. The plastic tags, like those on supermarket groceries, have been nailed to a million trees to help countries keep track of timber reserves.

Helveta, the British company behind the technology, says the barcodes will help firms comply with tough laws on importing sustainable timber into the United States and Europe. They could also play a role in fighting deforestation, which accounts for about a fifth of global emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

The company has put barcodes on trees in Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia, Malaysia and Peru. The computerised system is less prone to fraud than traditional paper records, carries live data and can help governments to collect more timber taxes, said Patrick Newton, Helveta’s chief executive officer.

He said while the barcodes can’t prevent criminals from chopping down trees, the system makes it hard for them to process, sell or export the wood. Foresters use handheld computers to scan the tags from the moment a tree is felled to its processing and export, and the live data is put onto Helveta’s secure database.

Every tree above a certain size in a plantation is given a barcode. When a tree is cut down, another barcode is attached to the stump and more tags are nailed to the processed wood to allow customs officials to audit exports at the docks.

Officials and companies can track individual trees through the supply chain and view computerised maps of forests on the database.

Timber leaving a forest or factory without tags will immediately be viewed as illegal, Newton said. – Reuters