Towards an operational service for forensic tracing of tropical timber

Published on
July 10, 2018

The Dutch NWO Domain Applied and Engineering Sciences has granted six projects within the Open Technology Programme. One of these projects is ‘Forensic tracing of tropical timber: delivering an operational service’, from Wageningen University professor Pieter Zuidema, starting at 1 September 2018.

As much as 50-90 percent of the tropical timber is illegally harvested. European legislation to combat illegal timber trade requires independent forensic tools to verify the geographic origin of timber. So far, such forensic tools are not available to potential users such as timber industry, authorities and environmental NGOs. Pieter Zuidema: “In our project we aim to remove barriers that prevent operationalization. Therefor the project is conducted jointly with potential users and will result in an operational timber tracing service.”

Forensic tools for tropical timber tracing are not yet available to potential users because of 4 barriers:

  1. low spatial resolution of chemical tracing techniques,
  2. poor DNA quality in traded timber,
  3. lack of standardization of statistical methods, and
  4. absence of an international reference database.

“In this project we will break down these four barriers and develop an operational forensic timber tracing service,” says Pieter Zuidema. “We do so by technological feasibility studies on chemical and genetic tracing tools in collaboration with the timber industry, environmental NGOs and inspection labs (barriers 1-2), by collaborating with international partners and authorities to standardize statistical methods (barrier 3), and by contributing to centralized international reference databases through a global network of researchers and potential users (barrier 4). In June, for example, we had a meeting of the Global Timber Tracking Network in Wageningen to combine several methods for timber tracing to get better results.”

The final product of the project is an operational, commercial forensic timber tracing service, Timtrace, available to a variety of potential users. Timtrace will be operational in a couple of years for three to eight major imported tropical timbers and encompasses all steps of forensic testing: sample collection, chemical and/or genetic analyses, statistical testing and reporting. Timtrace is uniquely positioned, both in the Netherlands and worldwide.