By Gerald Tenywa
Timber prices have doubled in the last two years, following increasing demand in the construction industry. Construction is growing at a rate of 10% every year.
According to Paul Lunakwita, an official of the National Forestry Authority (NFA), prices of valuable hard wood tree species, such as mahogany, have shot up.
“A panel of mahogany which used to go for sh40,000 two years ago, is now at sh70,000 or sh80,000,” he said.
Mahogany is widely preferred in the making of furniture and fittings in the house.
Lunakwita also said Kirundu, a ficus species, which used to go for sh2,000, now doubled, and in some cases, it goes for sh6,000. Ficus, he says, is used during construction. “It takes several panels to hold concrete during the construction of buildings,” Lunakwita points out.
As much as there is timber coming from DR Congo, Lunakwita says traders in the region prefer timber from Ugandan forests because it has a beautiful colour. “Buyers will only go for DR Congo timber when the Ugandan mahogany has run out,” he said.
This means the demand puts more pressure on protected areas, such as Budongo and Bugoma and on the few remaining mahogany trees.
At a recent workshop at Colline Hotel, Mukono, Bob Kazungu, a forest officer in the water and environment ministry, noted that forestry contributes to the booming construction industry, but is one of the sectors which receive little funding from the Government.
He also pointed out that forestry contributes to the catchment of water bodies such as rivers, which are being harnessed for hydro-electric power.
The workshop, organised by the Ministry of Water and Environment, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, also observed that enforcement by the Government was weak.
According to Kazungu, illegal timber, including that from the DR Congo, is flooding the market, causing distortion in prices. The unregulated timber trade is making it hard for traders with timber from authentic sources to stay in business.
As a result, he noted, most traders go underground in order to survive, hence less revenue collected by the Government.
E.A. countries losing huge forest cover
East African states have put in place policies which send a signal that there is a problem of timber scarcity.
However, they have not worked together to promote sustainable use of the resource. For instance, Kenya, in 1986, imposed a ban on felling trees in its natural forests. As a result, it had to rely on resources from her neighbours as its plantations recover.
In 1989, Uganda imposed a ban on timber exports, but has still lost her forest cover faster than any other country in the region.
The loss is currently estimated at 92,000 hectares per annum. Because of inadequate enforcement, timber and charcoal from Uganda are exported to Kenya, South Sudan and Rwanda. Uganda’s construction industry, growing at 10% annually, consequently creates a high demand for timber.
It is turning to her western neighbour DR Congo to supply the raw materials. Every year, DR Congo loses about 400,000 hectares of forest.
A recent report by the World Resources Institute indicates that DR Congo has 156 million hectares of forest and the loss of forest cover between 2005 and 2010 was about two million hectares.
Uganda is losing more forest cover than it is gaining, meaning it is not growing enough to provide for future needs and it is going to remain dependent on its neighbours for timber. This will put a strain on the economy since timber is likely to become expensive with a peaceful DR Congo.
Kenya is currently the largest importer of mahogany from DR Congo, estimated at 32,100 cubic metres, followed by South Sudan at 10,750 cubic metres.
Uganda imports 8,320 cubic metres, Rwanda’s is 7,000 cubic metres, while Burundi trails with 1,100.
This is sending a signal that timber trade in East Africa is no longer sustainable and all this pressure is piling on the Albertine grabben, a globally rich ecological system.
Hungry neighbours want a share of Congo's timber