31 March 2005

Kenyans Wasting Too Much Wood

Nairobi — Because of poor wood sawing technologies, Kenyans are losing a very high portion of the harvested trees.

Kenyans are wasting too much wood during harvesting and sawing, thus unnecessarily cutting down too much forest.

George Muthike, a senior research scientist at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), says 77 per cent of every tree cut down and sawn using a power saw will go to waste. Only a partly 23 per cent of wood is recovered forcing the lumberjack to fell more than three trees in order to do work meant for one.

Muthike says that since the logging ban of 2000, the wood merchants have been forced to seek the product from private farms. Here, they can only saw the wood with a hand held power saw or in rare occasions, a mobile bench saw carried and driven by a tractor. In both cases Muthike cited a massive wastage of 77 per cent for power saw and 73 per cent for mobile saw bench.

He contrasted Kenya to Japan where wood recovery is very efficient ranging between 67 to 80 per cent recovered due to use of conventional sawing methods like the band, gang and circular saws.

He attributed most of the wastage by the power saws to failure by lumberjacks to do maintenance on their machines as a way of cutting down on time and money spent on their work. "They don't sharpen and set the teeth of the saws so as to reduce the diameter of the cut line called kerf in wood science," said Muthike.

In fact, he said, the power saw was made as an item to fell down trees and not to do cross cutting on logs and beams.

A power saw will vibrate a lot while in use forcing the lumberjack to make a wide kerf of 7.5 to 10mm as compared to a Japanese gang saw with an efficient 2.5mm thick kerf.

This is not even to mention all the wastage done during the planing and smoothening of the wood surface later in the workshop. Muthike lamented that some wood merchants were even planing and smoothening traces meant for roofing yet such are not meant to be planed.

KEFRI therefore has set up an ambitious training programme amongst sawers and lumberjacks starting with Meru, Embu and Kirinyaga. In the first phase that took two years until 2003, wood wastage was cut from 76.4 to 69.8 per cent amongst power saw users while mobile bench saw users reduced wastage from 73.7 to 64.95 per cent.

This KEFRI training team was next set for Nandi District in February and later was to visit Kericho, Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega and Elgon for similar programmes. In later stages, the programme will cover parts of Nakuru, Nyahururu and the parts of Laikipia with intensive farm forestry.

Muthike ruled out the Coast for the programme saying that farm forestry in this region was too small to warrant the few resources available to his team. KEFRI is also to start a Training of Trainers programme where the first trained lumberjacks are then obligated to train their colleagues in the forests and farms.

Kenya had 450 saw mills before the logging ban that effectively cut-off tree supply to such industries occasioning their closure. The business activities of towns that heavily depended on lumbering like Elburgon near Nakuru have almost grounded to a halt since the logging ban was imposed.

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