By MARK KAPCHANGA
August 16 2010
A chronic timber shortage has hit Kenya forcing the country to turn to expensive imports from neighbouring countries.
Latest statistics indicate that the country spends more than Ksh3 billion ($37.5 million) annually on timber imports compared with Ksh4.9 million ($61,250) in 1999, to meet rising demand that now stands at 38 million cubic metres annually.
Industry players blame the huge cost gap to the increased timber prices — from Ksh8,000 ($1,000) to more than Ksh30,000 ($375).
Since a logging ban was imposed by the government in March 2000, Tanzania has been the chief source of timber for Kenya’s construction industry.
But with the construction boom in Nairobi, the country is now turning to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola’s Cabinda area for more supplies.
“We have exhausted the Tanzanian market. The country is now sourcing its timber from the equatorial rainforest despite being costly to most consumers. The prices have appreciated and in turn this has depressed the construction industry,” the Kenya Forests Working Group national co-ordinator Rudolf Makhanu told The EastAfrican.
Mr Makhanu said prior to the ban, most of the timber in the local market was sourced from gazetted forest plantations.
“There was a shortage of timber after the ban but the supply gradually improved as demand was met from farms and increased importation. Unfortunately, most farmers have already sold their mature trees and are now selling immature trees. Worse is the fact that there is no incentive for farmers engaged in tree farming,” he said.
The once main plantation species such as cypress and pine, which accounted for over 80 per cent of the country’s total plantation area, are now at risk of extinction.
Their prices have also more than quadrupled.
The shortage has resulted in thousands of Kenyans losing jobs, at a time the country is facing massive youth unemployment.
Prices of timber products have also increased with coffins, for example, which used to go for Ksh15,000 ($188) now trading at approximately Ksh60,000 ($750).
There are fears that the recently rejuvenated 87,000-tonne capacity Webuye Paper Mills will run into trouble again due to intermittent supplies.
Sources indicate the former Pan African Paper Mills is desperately entering into partnership with tree farmers in a bid to sustain its operations.
“The company had been protected by high import duties and bureaucratic licensing procedures but still went under last year. What makes us think it will not collapse, again, soon?” A source at the paper manufacturer said.
Efforts by The EastAfrican to get comments from the firm’s acting managing director Alexander Gatimbu failed as calls and text messages went unanswered
Report Courtesy of East African