Spotlight on Hou

Chinese national Xuecheng Hou has denied he is in the timber business, saying his company is simply being paid to transport wood to Walvis Bay.

15 March 2019 | Agriculture

Well-placed sources say the harvesting of precious and protected trees continues despite the environment ministry's moratorium on logging since 26 November last year.

The sources claim Chinese national Xuecheng Hou's New Force Logistics CC is currently cutting down trees south-east of Rundu in the Kavango East Region.

They say the logging is taking place on farms in the Cumo and Gcwatjinga areas, along the D3401 and D3425 roads.

Some even claim that the operation is on an “industrial scale”.

The sources, all preferring anonymity for fear of retribution, say Hou has set up camp near a turn-off between Rundu and Ncaute where he stockpiles freshly cut timber from these farms.

“You know the difference between recently cut trees and those that have been lying in the sun for a long time. The freshly cut ones look yellow; the older ones have turned reddish,” one source says.

According to this source Hou has transported five or six truckloads of timber to Walvis Bay over the last three weeks, to be exported primarily to the Chinese market.

One of the trucks was stopped because the transport/export licence had lapsed.

“Hou does not care if licences are no longer valid. All he does is pay a fine. He does not care,” the source said. The source also said that Hou does not care about overloading the trucks, some of which carry up to 40 cubic metres of wood instead of the maximum allowable 20 cubic metres.





It is also understood that timber harvesting and transport – whatever can be done under the radar and in apparent collusion with forestry officials in the Rundu office and elsewhere in the Kavango East region - has reached a crescendo as timber traders fear a complete shutdown of the timber business.



One source said Hou was now feverishly trying to complete harvesting commissions he had received from 35 farm owners in the Ncaute and Coma areas in September last year.



Before the moratorium was announced, Hou had reportedly completed the harvesting quota on 20 farms and he is allegedly continuing with the remaining 15 commissions in defiance of the moratorium.



It is understood that Hou has sophisticated machinery that can harvest up to 740 trees per day.



“They [timber traders] are destroying entire forests,” this source said.



“They are cutting and loading trees during the day but their trucks are only moving at night,” one source said.



This was confirmed by an insider, who said that Hou paid up to N$500 000 per truck – often in the middle of the night - for transporting the logs to Walvis Bay.



On his WhatsApp profile Hou describes his occupation as: “Purchase wood (log/block), cash payment available harvest […], timbers transportation, timbers export”.



His profile also sports pictures of a truck loaded with huge tree trunks, a forklift, a chopped-off tree and Maersk shipping containers being loaded onto trucks.



“Timber is the new gold,” the insider commented, adding that Hou's shop in Windhoek's China Town was just a smokescreen to hide his “real” moneymaking endeavours.



Hou vehemently denied all these allegations and also denied that he was involved in the timber business.



“First things first: we are a logistics company - road transport and farm transport,” Hou said, adding that he had different customers who paid him to transport wood to Walvis Bay.



To the allegation that Chinese people were cutting down trees, Hou responded: “No Chinese people would do this kind of physical work.”



Hou said because he had a transport company he must have a “cutting certificate, a transport certificate and a quality inspection certificate” before transporting the wood.



Hou said all the farms (his customers) had “legal documents to harvest”.



“We take advantage of our machines and equipment to buy their wood. If they think the price is unreasonable, they can find a better buyer,” he said.



“The [Namibian] government has previously granted more than 300 permits to cut down trees. We only help a small percentage of people with transportation,” Hou said.



He also denied allegations that there had been accidents in which trucks had rolled over because of excessive loads.



Questions sent to the ministry of agriculture, water and forestry are yet to be answered.







EXPORT STATISTICS



According to NamPort statistics, 11 660 tonnes of wood originating from Namibia have been exported through Walvis Bay harbour so far this year, most of it (7 502 tonnes) destined for China.



Between 2014 and 2019 timber from Zambia (44 652 tonnes) Angola (2 354 tonnes), the DRC (49 852 tonnes), and 836 from other SADC countries was also shipped via Walvis Bay harbour to among others China, Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Singapore.



Between 2014 and 2018, tree-poor Namibia exported 8 428 tonnes of timber to destinations that are vastly more tree-abundant, such as Chile, China, Germany, Spain, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, USA, Greece, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Angola, Australia, Belgium, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore and St Helena.

CATHERINE SASMAN

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