Harare — Zimbabwe earned US$17,4 million from 136 150 cubic metres of surplus sawn timber exported between March 31, 2003 and March 2004, an official from the Timber Producers' Federation (TPF) has said.
Federation chairperson Joseph Kanyekanye told New Ziana that the exports were a marginal improvement from 125 254 cubic metres of sawn timber worth US$12 988 517 exported during the 2002/3 period.
He said US$5,7 million was also earned from about 20 000 cubic metres in house processed timber between March 31, 2003 and the same period in 2004, up from US$4,6 million earned from 12 066 cubic metres during 2002/3 period.
The year 2004 was characterised by weak local market demand for timber that resulted in increased timber exports, with over 110 000 cubic metres being consigned to neighbouring South Africa.
Mr Kanyekanye also said sawn timber production in 2004 was the lowest since 1993.
"Output was restricted by shortages of mature logs, weak market demand, industrial action, forest fires, electricity cuts and reduced small-scale sawmilling activities," he said.
In spite of depressed production last year, the industry's production capacity still exceeded the demand for sawn timber in the country.
"Production capacity greatly exceeds the demand of sawn timber in Zimbabwe. Since the early 1990s the industry has harvested the trees as they mature and exported the surplus production," he said.
"Although seldom profitable, exporting enabled the industry to grow while ensuring a consistent supply of timber to local consumers."
Mr Kanyekanye said financial controls introduced in January last year forced the construction industry into recession and impacted on the viability of many value-adding operations.
This, he said, saw local demand for timber shrinking significantly, forcing producers to increase exports although it was marginal in some instances.
However, Mr Kanyekanye said between February and March this year the industry recorded a significant increase in demand for timber from furniture manufacturers.
He, meanwhile, called on relevant authorities to offer incentives to the timber industry for it to be buoyant.
"We recommend that the forex retention scheme, which still exists in foreign-owned Export Processing Zones (EPZs), should be restored in local EPZs.
"This will reduce downtime in spares procurement, which appears to be one major reason for low production in the industry," Mr Kanyekanye said.
TPF is a voluntary association of local plantation timber growers and saw millers and comprises 21 members who own or manage 85 percent of Zimbabwe's plantations and produce 90 percent of its sawn timber.