Ethiopia – An unlikely timber destination
Despite its 4000-year old history, famine and drought have clouded opinion on Ethiopia, its timber processing heritage another obscure fact. Wood-Mizer Africa’s Robert Moxham uncovers a bustling Ethiopia where timber is a key trading commodity.
Ulrich Pasch’s import export agency – IPC Ethiopia, is one of a number of similar outfits that keeps Ethiopia's small but bustling economy going.
Based in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, Pasch teams up with business partner Elias Kassahan to source goods from across the globe, his longstanding agreement with Wood-Mizer and the mills sourced from Poland an important adjunct of his total portfolio.
Neighbouring Djibouti serves as Ethiopia’s link to the rest of the world, the Gulf of Aden that it borders onto allowing for the bulk of the goods that reach Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s on-going trade deficit’s is grim testimony of its limited internal manufacturing capacity, imports remaining the mainstay of its local economy.
Pasch’s enterprise finds rewarding opportunities in this convoluted trading landscape, his association with Wood-Mizer Poland and now also with Wood-Mizer Africa seeing him sourcing regular container loads of portable sawmills from Wood-Mizer’s manufacturing and administrative base in Kolo, Poland. These mills together with a smattering of other mill brands brought into Ethiopia, provide for the bulk of the planked timber produced there.
IPC’s relationship with Wood-Mizer Africa has grown consistently over time, this increased confidence in Wood-Mizer Africa’s ability to service IPC’s needs seeing the invitation extended to Rob Moxham to run the blade seminar reported on here.
The seminar also represented a coo of sorts as Ethiopian sawmillers are legendary for their secrecy.
The seminar saw them dropping their guard slightly to not only inform counterparts on trade secrets but to also receive instruction on modern, best practice saw blade maintenance principles which will add to their general competencies and strengthen the decades-old colloquial knowledge on blade maintenance passed from one generation to the next.
A key adjunct of IPC’s endeavours in Ethiopia via the Wood-Mizer range stocked has also been the impact that the introduction of the tech there has had on the lives of individuals willing to invest in the new technology.
This is a recurring theme in Africa where the high costs of setting up sawmills together with low levels of tech savvy has seen Africa increasingly having to depend on imports of beneficiated timber products, this against the backdrop of massive log exports from the continent to offshore destinations where beneficiation can happen.
The increasing availability of the sawmilling tech such as Wood-Mizer and the after-sale service now matching this, has announced a distinctive break with this notion. A new breed of sawmillers from Africa is now embracing the tech and beneficiating locally to not only benefit the continent but ultimately their own families.
The thin kerf technology that underpins Wood-Mizer’s range also holds the promise of available log resources now being used much better than in the past when circular capacity dominated and recovery rates of 25% was considered par for the course and the rest ended up in waste heaps.
The trip to Ethiopia by Wood-Mizer Africa’s Robert Moxham served a threefold purpose.
The first was to coach local sawmillers on the intricacies of saw sharpening, a small local conference facility serving as the venue for a one-day training session where 20 of Pasch’s customers attended a workshop, Rob Moxham using the opportunity to explain the techniques around blade maintenance to the millers on the day.
The visit also allowed Rob to attend to individual sawmillers requests, the millers present at the saw sharpening open day owning mills in the area and Rob using the time to discuss their individual requirements, queries on blade alignment, fine tuning of machines as well as advice on blade maintenance constituting the bulk of the questions asked during these visits.
The third objective was to strengthen Wood-Mizer Africa’s ties with Paasch& Co., the visit to them confirming Wood-Mizer Africa’s commitment to support and equip regional dealers and agents in their endeavours to broaden the scope and extent of their after-sale service available to millers across the continent.
"The training session at Paasch and Co focused on blade maintenance," Robert Moxham said. "Because sharpening and setting of band saw blades is the life line to a successful sawmill I set up a sharpener and setting device and spent a full day talking about the theory behind blades as well as showing them how to actually sharpen and set blades.
"I stressed all sorts of issues that form part of the subject, blade breakages and sawing quality being part of that. Very few of them understand why a blade is made the way it is, other than that it cuts wood. I think a lot of knowledge was imparted and that the message was well received," Rob continued.
"The most surprising part of the visit to Ethiopia was the important role that timber plays in the local economy," Rob elaborated. "I expected an arid landscape and the opposite was actually true, this explaining the relative abundance of logs available for processing, volumes sourced from Austria and probably also Russia adding to the volumes required for Ethiopia’s internal needs.
The predominantly tropical monsoon climate type gives Ethiopia exceptional timber cultivation possibilities, the topographically-induced variation in climate especially in the east reducing this potential slightly.
Despite these prospects, Ethiopia timber resources are under huge pressure.
According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), only 11, 2% or about 12,296,000 ha of Ethiopia’s total land area, which comprises 110,430,000 ha, is forested, this number declining rapidly however. Ethiopia between 1990 and 2010 lost an average of 140,900 ha or 0, 93% of its forests per year. In total, between 1990 and 2010, Ethiopia lost 18,6% or 2,818,000 ha of its forest cover.
Key reasons for this is rapid population growth, extensive forest clearing for cultivation, overgrazing, movement of political centres, and exploitation of forests for fuel wood and construction materials without replanting.
Some efforts are underway to reverse this, rural afforestation projects and conservation programmes on farms in part assisting with this, these efforts however only holding promise if they happen in tandem with efforts to reverse the initial drivers of deforestation.
Although the sale of Wood-Mizer mills into this market is closely interlinked with efforts to retain the timber growing potential of the country, efforts such as the initiative spear headed by IPC Ethiopia hints well at Ethiopia re-appreciating the value that timber holds for the economy, the renewed interest in thin-kerf saw capacity an indication of attempts to optimise the resource further.
Author: Etienne Nagel
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