SERBIA – One of the most significant problems the Southeastern European country of Serbia has been facing is that of illegal logging. Across the country, an average of 17,000 hectares (ha) or forests have been disappearing each year due to illegal logging. The main cause of these illegal activities is the chronically difficult economic conditions many Serbians face, which are intensified during socio-economic crisis.
Illegal logging is common in Serbia because of the widespread forests and the difficulty in securing them. Serbia’s forests account for 29.1 percent (2.3 million ha) of the country’s area. There are two types of forest ownership: public and private. Public forests make up over the half of the countries forests and are managed by two state-owned enterprises.
Illegal logging in Serbia occurs mainly on a small-scale, in particular by households logging firewood for personal use or simply for sale locally. However, private forests face the highest risk of illegal logging since owners typically do not live on the property and are therefore unable to adequately monitor the land. People most commonly engage in illegal logging in order to obtain firewood, which can be easily sold on the local market without any documentation, such as bills or proof of ownership, making these transactions less expensive to conduct.
So how is the trade of illegally harvested wood conducted and in what volume? The majority of illegally harvested timber, primarily firewood but also sawn logs, is traded within Serbia. The highest volume of illegally-harvested timber comes from private forests, having been logged by the owners themselves without approval from the forestry management authority. The value of illegally harvested wood from all forests in Serbia is estimated to have the worth of about 3.84 million RSD (40,063.22 USD), according to the data for criminal offences solely from 2016.
The estimated value of illegally harvested wood from state-owned forests is significantly less than in private ones, approximately US$300,000, with 90 percent of the timber in the form of firewood and the remainder being sawn logs. Stolen timber from state forests is transported without any documentation or with fraudulent documentation stating that the timber was removed from private forests. Timber is usually stolen during periods of forest fires because when they occur, that loss of timber cannot be proven as illegally logged. Because of this, illegal loggers will cause fires in order to obtain the firewood from the burning sites, after which they sell it as the highest quality technical wood.
In Serbia, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Waters is in charge of addressing policies and introducing bills in regards to forestry, which are ultimately voted on by Parliament. Serbia’s Criminal Code addresses both the destruction of forests and forest theft. The penalization for the destruction or theft is a fine or up to 3 years in prison.
In April 2016 The Global Environment Fund, a global alternative asset manager that invests in businesses whose models can be made more environmentally sustainable, stated that it had approved US$3.2 million a grant to help Serbia with their forests. This grant will be used for the improvement of the condition and health of the forests around Serbia.
No matter the socio-economic situation in Serbia, illegal logging has always taken place. However, with increased supervision there can be improved confidence in the ability of inspectors to enforce forest regulations. The supervision implementation is a great step towards stopping illegal logging in Serbia.
Marija Sunjka is a Fall 2020 policy intern with Global Financial Integrity and an undergraduate international student from Serbia, at the University of Virginia, where she is studying Foreign Affairs.