Timber shortage in Kenya forces merchants to import commodity

20:02, November 18, 2010      

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A chronic timber shortage has hit Kenya forcing the country to turn to expensive imports from neighboring countries.

Latest statistics indicate that the country spends more than 37. 5 million U.S. dollars annually on timber imports compared with 62, 000 dollars in 1999, to meet rising demand that now stands at 38 million cubic meters annually.

For the past 10 years, Tanzania has been the major supplier for Kenya's construction industry as the government banned logging in 2000.

Shortage of timber in the market has led to over-cutting of private forests and wood-lots, trees that are meant for soil and water conservation on farm lands.

Given the high demand of housing in Nairobi and other towns in its environs that has led to the increase of the construction industry in the past three years; the country is now turning to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola's Cabinda area for more supplies.

According to Nelson Omollo, a carpenter in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, it looks like the country has exhausted the Tanzanian market as the price of acquiring timber from suppliers has increased tremendously.

He attributes the shortage to the logging ban that was imposed by the government in the year 2000 that has led to the importation of timber from the equatorial rainforest and that has increased timber costs locally.

Omollo says that prior to the logging 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," he adds.

He says that the situation has forced most carpenters in Nairobi and other urban towns to increase the price of their furniture with exception of those in rural areas who rely on local timber from the villages.

Besides the carbon trading business that is yet to pick up with tree farmers in most parts of the country, there is no incentive for farmers engaged in tree farming to date.

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