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African Hardwood
A significant part
of global timber

Challenges of Tropical Timber

In 1990 several environmental organizations have proposed to boycott all tropical timber in order to save the forests. Remove the international demand for tropical timber and you will remove the cause of deforestation, they said.

Since then, multiple studies have proved that stopping buying tropical timber would work against the forces that reduce deforestation pressures, namely sustainable forest management, an increased living standard for local communities and indigenous conservation movements. Why is boycott not a solution? To begin with, it implies that most timber extracted from tropical forests is exported, when in fact, over a half of all timber produced is consumed domestically. Secondly, there is the implication that harvesting causes deforestation, which literally means conversion of forest to other uses. Conversion results not from demand for trees, but from demand for land (for fields, farms and plantations).

According to the map below, a little less than half of ALL the world’s forest coverage is represented by tropical forests – 1,08 billion hectares. Since 1990s, the global average tropical deforestation rate has been 0.5% per year. This forest loss has mainly been caused by expansion of agricultural land and urban areas[1]. The deforestation rate, however, differs between continents and countries.

The negative perception still exists

Being in this business for 15 years now, we share the opinion that the general perception of tropical timber is a major challenge for the entire sector. Global Timber wants to support honest and smaller producers to continue doing business and create positive change in their countries. They take care of the forest, manage it sustainably, create jobs and advance local rural communities.

In a study conducted by Global Timber Forum in 2019, small and medium wood businesses across Latin America indicated the reputation of the sector as a major impediment for export. This makes it increasingly difficult for less resourceful local producers to sell their products on the external global market. This is done in the detriment of timber and in favor of less sustainable materials, such as plastic or concrete.

The solution

In the tropics, as elsewhere, forests must outcompete other land uses to remain wooded. A boycott would reduce demand and depress forest product prices. This would reduce net returns for forestry investments and make sustained timber management, a prerequisite for stabilization of forest areas in the tropics, less feasible. Forest certifications are now recognized by many stakeholders as a tool for economic, social and cultural development for the preservation of biodiversity and for the fight against deforestation. Other initiatives implemented in this regard are national sustainable development policies, public procurement policies and the European Timber Regulation.

Effective forest management protects wildlife, biodiversity and prevents loss of habitat for large mammals. For example, we can take the Africa Western Lowland Gorilla at the Batéké Plateau National Park (see the picture above). This region of Central Africa supports the largest concentration of gorillas in the world–approximately 70,000.

 

Introduction to the Congo Basin

It was in 1950 that Association Technique Internationale Des Bois Tropicaux (ATIBT) came up with internationally recognized trade names for African timber which is widely used today. Previously, each land or region would use trade names that was locally originated and confusing to the international trade business. The Central African forests are home to the second largest tropical rainforest in the world, covering nearly 2 mil square km, also called the Congo Basin. This represents about 10% of world biodiversity of wood species, with Gabon as the largest exporter with about 20% of Africa’s raw wood exports, they also supply 90% of the worlds Okoume wood.

Personal Experience Sharing

When I first started in the furniture industry in Denmark as an apprentice, I quickly learned that Ebony was a very rare, expensive and highly sought-after African hardwood. We used it for inlay on tables and chairs in veneer format. That was until one day I asked my veneer tutor what Macassar mean; he did not know but it was a place somewhere in Africa. Well, Makassar turned out to be a town in South Sulawesi in Indonesia. Later I learn that Ebony is native to both Indonesia, Sri Lanka region and western Africa. That was a fantastic eye opener into the world of wood species. Learning what they are and where they originate from. Little did I know I would be involved with one of the most professional timber companies in the world later at Global Timber. To my tutor defense shall be said that Africa got their Ebony but call it Gabon Ebony and is among the most expensive of all available species. One of the most beautiful species around when used properly and very decorative.

How can Global Timber help you source African Timber?

At Global Timber, we supply substantial amounts of African sawn timber and logs to Asia yearly. Sapelli is the dominating specie, but we have also good volume of Ayous, Doussie, Pachyloba. On regular basis we supply other species like Afrormosia, Dibetou, Iroko, Okoume, Anegre, Bilinga, Okan, Tali, Wenge and Zebrano. Principally we can offer any common species from Central African countries. Trees are much bigger in these Tropical areas than we know from Europe or North America and got a lot less knots and defects. Qualities we offer are always First and Second grade or FAS in short form, with a high percents of First quality.

Supply situation in many African countries is often difficult because of the poor infrastructure and far distance to shipping ports. It is therefore crucial that we have our own people in Cameroon to control quality and taking care of shipments. We only work with good and trustful sawmills. All timber and logs are naturally 100% legal and in compliance with EUTR requirements. Most of our mills in Cameroon are OLB certified and our suppliers in Congo Republic are mainly FSC certified.

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