Rwanda Looks to Boost Wood Industry With New Tree Species

The Rwanda Forestry Authority (RFA) has selected five tree species with high economic value to boost the wood industry as the country plans to plant 30 million tree seedlings in the 2022/23 fiscal year.

The wood industry, also known as the lumber industry, comprises economic activities including forestry, timber trade, the production of timber, primary forest products such as furniture and secondary products like wood pulp.

The selected tree species include Pinus spp, Eucalyptus spp, Podocarpus falcatus (Umufu), Cedrela odorata and Entandrophragma excelsum (Umuyove also known as Libuyu). Umuyove, or Libuyu, the forestry authority says, was chosen because it is the only premium timber naturally growing in Rwanda and that is highly valued on the local timber market.

Officials at forestry authority told Doing Business that selecting the most economically suitable tree species also took into consideration the profitability of the species, adaptability and potential productivity, and the value of its wood products, among others.

Forest plantations with some of the selected tree species can produce more than five times their current mean annual increments in Rwandan forests if well managed, experts say. As noted, there are other species such as Markhamia lutea (Umusave) that could also be promoted and availed to land owners interested in growing timber due to their relatively high economic potential.

Species like Cypress, even though dearly sought on the market, are vulnerable to pests and diseases and may not perform well in large plantations, experts said.

Spridio Nshimiyimana, the acting Director General of Rwanda Forestry Authority, said the needed tree species include agro-forestry trees and woodlots.

“The 30 million tree seedlings to be planted include Pinus, Eucalyptus, Podocarpus and Cedrela and others that are highly needed on the market,” he told Doing Business.

Therese Niyonkuru, a carpenter at the Gisozi business centre, in Kigali, told Doing Business that the planks she usually needs to make furniture include Pinus, Eucalyptus, Markhamia lutea (Umusave), and Grevillea, Ficus spp. (umuvumu).

About 95 per cent of the local supply of sawn wood (timber cut from logs into different shapes and sizes) consists of four species – Eucalyptus, Pinus, Grevillea and Cypress.

Imported timber species on the Rwandan market mainly include Libuyu or Mahogany, Muvura or Iroko (Milicia excelsa, or M. regia) and Umusave (Markhamia lutea) imported from DR Congo and Uganda according to a recent study.

“Such tree species should be considered in afforestation because they are highly needed to make furniture. For example, there is usually scarcity of planks from Umusave tree species. Other tree species we need sometimes also become scarce,” Niyonkuru said.

Creating about 100,000 jobs

According to a recent survey, currently, more than 75,000 people, mostly in rural areas, derive their income from the timber business.

According to the survey, the potential of forestry to support the construction and furniture industries still has room for improvement.

It is believed that, if well planned and supported, the wood sector has the potential to generate substantial off-farm jobs and to boost the economy.

An analysis of the contribution of the forestry sector to job creation shows that the largest proportion of employment is generated by charcoal production (61.8 per cent) followed by wood production (19.2 per cent ), while distribution and selling cover six and 12.8 per cent of the generated employment, respectively.

The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) survey of the timber value chain in Rwanda noted that the wood industry is a relatively large pool of jobs.

Upstream of the sector, the number of producers is estimated at about 1,100 individuals and 1,000 traders.

In total, the production segment generates around 6,600 permanent jobs and 10,000 temporary jobs.

Downstream, the sawn wood business creates 1,700 direct jobs and 2,700 temporary jobs.

According to studies, there was a huge employment increase in wood processing and trade alone from 12,000, in 2017, to 23,000 jobs, in 2019.

Reducing wood products imports

The wood processing industry in Rwanda consists of several micro, small and medium scale units scattered in rural and urban areas in the formal and informal sectors.

In general, the wood-based industry has not been growing as required in order to be able to produce high quality products that satisfy the local market and increase exports, the analysis shows.

Rwanda is mainly an importer of premium wood products.

The imports of finished wood products are valued at more than Rwf8 billion while exports are only Rwf80 million, 100 times lower than the value of imports.

The bulk of premium wooden furniture is imported from China – arguably the largest consumer of wood in the world – and neighboring countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

The survey revealed that imports covered about 22 percent of industrial timber consumed in the country consisting of 13 per cent from DR Congo and nine percent from Uganda.

Even most of the imported timbers from Uganda, the study shows, were originally from DR Congo.

Sawn wood production

The study further estimated the national production of sawn wood to be around 275,000 – 300,000 cubic metres per year, roughly equivalent to between Rwf59 and Rwf64 billion per year.

Profit margins generally vary between producers and traders, and species and products. Eucalyptus, which accounts for about 50 per cent of traded volume, generates about 21 per cent profits for producers, 16 per cent for traders and 14 per cent for retailers.

Profits are higher for traders and retailers when they sell Pinus, Cypress or Grevillea, the study shows.

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