ZIMBABWE could be harvesting timber faster than it is replenishing the plantations, raising fears that the country could soon run out of supply, an industry executive has said.
Rutima Holdings, the parent company of Maswera Timbers, managing director Mr Chester Mhende said it might not be long before the country starts running short of supplies.
“I fear that the industry is under threat, what I see is that we are not growing as many trees as we are felling. My feeling is that we are not very far from a point where we will not be able to harvest.
“This statement is sponsored by the view that the bulk of our timber is being used for construction and construction timber is harvested at around 17 years and above,” Mr Mhende said.
He said, without seeking to cause panic, looking at the current rate of harvesting the timber, it appears “we will run short, I don’t mean to be alarmist, but I do not think that point is very far”.
The Rutima Holdings director said the country could soon be faced with a situation where “we will have to import timber or import timber substitutes such as metal roof trusses”.
Already, the market has started witnessing a surge in imports, with TS5 timber from South Africa one of the most common, retailing at a much lower price of $260 per cubic metre.
On average, local timber retails at about $350 per cubic metre, a situation likely to create stiff competition for local companies, as they may struggle to cut operating costs.
Mr Mhende said apart from the seemingly slower rate of plantation replacement compared to the rate of harvesting, timber prices had fallen sharply, and this also threatens industry.
“It appears one of the militating factors for the prices is the liquidity where the buyers dictate sales regardless of the influencing factors. In the last eight months the price has fallen by 30 percent.”
Such a scenario, he said, was not sustainable in an environment where costs were rising while labour laws where inflexible and too stringent for corporates to rationalise costs.
But I also think that the industry itself is to blame because if industry came together and value their resource or product, we could be able to address the situation,” he said.
He said the other teething issue pushing prices down was lack of credit terms, stressing that in Mbare, where most of the locally produced timber is sold, all sales are in cash.
“If you go to Mbare where 90 percent of the timber in the country is sold, it is sold for cash and I think that is one of the factors that is keeping the prices down,” Mr Mhende said.
In an environment where a good number of people are getting loans from banks to build properties, leaders in the timber industry should find a way of introducing credit terms.
The timber production landscape in Zimbabwe is largely dominated by three major producers namely Allied Timber Zimbabwe, Border Timbers and The Wattle Company.
During the interview, Mr Mhende denied reports he was a director and shareholder of Nyika Enterprises and TS Timbers. “I am not a director or shareholder of those two companies,” he said.
Mr Mhende dismissed as unfortunate media reports linking him to alleged shady dealing at the companies, which allegedly involved TS Timbers, Nyika Enterprises and Allied Timbers. He said his relations with Allied Timbers was through business dealings through Maswera Timbers.
It was alleged TS Timbers, owned by Dr Kanyekanye’s family associates, and TS Timber by Mr Mhende were advanced $200 000 and $120 000 credit facilities respectively which could not be recovered.
“My relationship with Dr Kanyekanye was professional in that he was the chief executive of Allied Timbers at the time my company did business with Allied Timbers.
And I have not had any dealings with him since my company stopped doing business with Allied Timbers, which is about two years ago,” Mr Mhende said.