Promising timber activities
A major proportion of all of Africa’s forest produce is shipped via west coast gateways, which expect volumes to increase further. In East Africa, in contrast, great hopes are being pinned on bamboo exports.
Africa’s timber industry is on course, with no end to demand currently in sight. Local and regional logistics service providers are thus engaged in the continuous process of improving the transport solutions required. Major timber production takes place in the continent’s central regions, for example in the Central Africa Republic, from where the timber is transported to the west coast by roads, rivers and railways. A large proportion of it is hauled to the Cameroonian port of Douala, which has invested strongly in its timber infrastructure over the last few years.
The Société d’exploitation des parcs à bois du Cameroun (SEPBC) is the company in charge of logistical processing in Douala. The Bolloré subsidiary handled approximately 1.2 million cbm in 2016. The timber originates mostly from Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Whilst logs are exported almost exclusively to China and Vietnam, timber is largely dispatched to Europe and Senegal.
Besides Douala the new port of Kribi, at the mouth of the river Kienké on the Gulf of Guinea in the south of Cameroon (see also page 24 of ITJ 31-31 / 2017), also handles substantial timber volumes. Kribi sports a depth of water alongside of 16 m. Links to and from the hinterland require some expansion, however. The ports of Pointe Noire (Republic of the Congo, CGO) and Bata (Equatorial Guinea) are other gateways that are equipped to handle timber, but they too require more investment in their infrastructure.
Gabon also banking on timber processing
Gabon is already one step ahead. Since the price of oil started to decline the country has been attempting to diversify its economy more. One focus is on the timber industry and the concomitant logistics needs. 80% of the country is covered by woods, so it is rather a promising strategy. The government has set up a special economic zone, partially dedicated to the timber industry, outside the capital Libreville. The zone has good links to the country’s motorways and railways, as well as to the port of Owendo. In 2010 Gabon banned raw timber exports, in a move designed to keep timber profits in the country. The zone is thus also home to companies that produce furniture from African wood.
Forest products play an important role a little further north too, in Ghana. But the woods is over-utilised there, which puts pressure on the industry. Thus the country is now planning to cooperate with Liberia, whose timber could help the domestic industry return to full capacity, and later also be exported. Around half of Liberia is covered by forests, including mahogany trees.
Processing and exporting forest produce has a great potential on the other side of the continent too. In Ethiopia the government has pinned high hopes on bamboo activities. China in particular is very interested in East Africa’s extensive reservoirs. There are approximately 3 million ha of bamboo forests south of the Sahara, accounting for 4% of Africa’s forests. The global market for bamboo is growing strongly and is estimated to be worth approximately USD 60 billion.