Africa struggles to increase timber processing

26 October 2000, Yokohama, Japan

A new ITTO report has found major differences in the current capacity of tropical countries to add value to their tropical timber products.

According to the 'Review of the status of further processing of tropical timber in producing countries', which was financed by ITTO and conducted by the International Trade Centre, ITTO producer countries exported US$3.47 billion worth of further processed timber products - furniture and parts, builders' joinery and profiled wood - in 1998.

Of this, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 83% and Latin America and the Caribbean for most of the balance (16%). Africa's share amounted to only 1 percent of the total.

The study found that the leading producers of further processed products - Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand - have already established their presence in export markets and have well-developed domestic markets.

In contrast, many African countries are struggling to strengthen their under-capitalised primary processing sectors and to develop the necessary infrastructure. They have therefore lagged behind in their development of downstream processing facilities.

According to ITTO's Executive Director, Dr Manoel Sobral Filho, further processing in the country of origin is a key element of sustainable forest management.

"Investment in further processing both demonstrates and requires a commitment to sustainable forest management. Nobody is going to invest in processing facilities if the forest will be gone in a few years," he said.

"In addition, the extra revenues and employment generated by downstream processing will strengthen the case for maintaining forests. But, of course, forest use must be extremely well planned and executed if it is going to support both an industrial sector and all the other values that people place on forests."

Dr Sobral said that the discrepancies between Africa and the other tropical regions, and between countries within regions, offer an opportunity for a coordinated international response. As a first step, ITTO is financing an international conference to promote further processing in Africa, to be held in Gabon next year. This conference is expected to discuss some of the wide-ranging recommendations made in the report to increase further processing in Africa.

For more information contact: Mr. Emmanuel Ze Meka, Assistant Director, Division of Forest Industry,