NAIROBI, July 5 (Xinhua) -- The urgency to revive the timber industry in Africa amid growing local demand and competition from imports was reinforced by policymakers, forestry experts and industry leaders attending a continental forum held Wednesday in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
The status of the timber industry in Africa was one of the key themes discussed by more than 70 delegates from 26 African countries attending a week-long conference ending Friday.
Home to 16 percent of the world's forests, translating into more than 636,000 million hectares, Africa has the potential to become a global leader in wood processing to help meet the growing demand for furniture, pulp, paper and construction materials, said the experts attending the forum organized by Nairobi-based African Forest Forum (AFF).
Suzana Augustino, a Tanzanian forestry and climate change expert, stressed that Africa's timber industry can regain the vitality of yesteryears, subject to policy reforms and investments in new sawmilling technologies. Augustino said that strengthening institutional capacity, empowering artisanal saw millers and investing in value addition will boost the competitiveness of Africa's timber in the international market.
Godwin Kowero, the AFF executive secretary, observed that with a high concentration of tropical forests and woodlands, the continent has the potential to become a timber processing and trading hub. "We need to build local capacity for wood processing, invest in plantations and reclamation of degraded forests in order to boost supply of industrial timber in the domestic and foreign markets."
Kowero added that the revival of the timber industry in Africa will be dependent on improved forest management, harmonizing policies to spur cross-border trade in processed wood and sustained action on illegal logging.
Joshua Cheboiwo, director of Kenya Forestry Research Institute, noted that the intra-African trade in timber at present accounts for 5 percent to 8 percent of the global volume. According to Cheboiwo, African countries must invest in modern equipment for sawmilling and value addition of timber, cut down on import bills for furniture, pulp, paper, textile and packaging materials.
Cheboiwo observed that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will open new markets for processed wood, unlocking revenue streams for forest-dependent communities.
Darlington Duwa, chief executive officer of Zimbabwe Timber Producers Federation, said many African countries are grappling with a deficit of processed wood, worsened by manufacturing and technical hiccups, and part of the solution lies in the integration of artisanal merchants in the timber value chains.
Duwa stressed that for Africa's timber industry to acquire new vitality, governments should roll out policy and regulatory incentives to ensure local saw millers have access to capital, training and markets.
Cliff Dlamini, executive director of the Center for Coordination of Agriculture Development for Southern Africa, said that incentivizing local forest-based enterprises will be key to increasing the volumes of processed wood for domestic consumption and export. Dlamini said that public-private partnerships coupled with empowering local communities to grow trees and process timber will tackle the deficit for the commodity, and boost rural growth and job creation.
Nadege Sol, deputy director for the department of promotion and processing non-timber forest products in Cameroon's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, said that sustaining the growth of the timber industry in Africa will be hinged on reskilling artisanal saw millers and sharing best practices on value addition. ■