Genographic Maps for Africa – ITTO (PD 620/11)

The International Timber Trade Organisation has approved and funded project PD 620/11 Rev. 1 (M)

This project will create large scale ‘genographic’ maps (used to map out variation in the genetic make-up of trees in different areas) of several commonly traded tree species in seven African countries and implement DNA based Chain-of-Custody systems in these countries. The project will facilitate access to premium European and United States markets both of which have legislation requiring proof of legality, and therefore traceability.

As the first large scale genographic map purpose built to support and improve governance practices in major producer countries it will not only facilitate further adoption of the latest in applied genetics for forest conservation and sustainable trade, but also create the largest market so far for DNA services against publicly available genetic data.


The Executive Agency is the Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute (vTI) Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and Fisheries and is led by Dr Bernd Degen. The total funding contribution is USD 2.3 million, the majority committed by the German Government (US$1.7) with additional pledges from the Governments of the United States and Australia.

Our role

DoubleHelix will design and implement DNA Chain-of-Custody systems for several supply chains. To achieve this we are actively working with government partners, concession owners/managers and community groups.


The project will create DNA barcodes for twenty important African timber species and will generate a map of genetic variation across the different participating countries for three commercial tree species: Ayou (Triplochiton scleroxylon), Iroko (Milicia sp.) and Sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum).

By the end of the project, the trade and Governments will have the ability to verify the species and origin of harvest of these timber species. It will provide a scientific, cost-effective method to verify claims and other supply chain documentation, enforce legislation and exclude illegally harvested timber from being laundered through legitimate supply chains.

The genetic reference databases will be held by Bioversity International in Malaysia, the international coordination office for tree identification and origin assignment.

Capacity building

The project also involves technology transfer with three reference labs in West-Africa (Kumasi, Ghana), Central-Africa (Libreville, Gabon) and East-Africa (Nairobi, Kenya). The staff of these labs and other African groups will be trained to apply DNA and wood anatomy techniques to identify tree species and to perform simple DNA tests to check the origin.

Capacity building is an important step to grow demand for these services and the ability to deliver locally, at low cost.