Experts have urged Ugandans to consider thinking of mass timber construction as an alternative to concrete in Uganda's building industry but also as one of the ways to reduce country's construction emissions.
Speaking during the launch of the Timber Innovation Centre at Crown House in Kampala, Patience Naamara, the Country Director for Fairventures Worldwide, a non-profit organization it is high time Ugandans thought of mass timber construction as one of the ways to save the environment.
"Timber as a byproduct of the trees should not only be seen as timber for furniture or the basic stuff we know, but it can be engineered and used for bigger things,"Naamara said.
The case for timber
Whereas wood has for many years been used as a building material, the use of iron, glass, steel and, later, cement continue to dominate as would is seen as being more vulnerable to water, fire and insects.
Only a small percentage of the population prefer using timber for construction of public ,commercial, industrial and office structures.
According to Simon Bosch, the project manager for Fairventures Worldwide, as the need to reduce carbon emissions increases every day, using timber for construction would help serve this purpose.
"Almost 40% of the of the carbon emissions we have globally are coming from the building and construction sector, which is very big amount of the global emissions. And when we look at materials, we see that cement production which is used for making concrete mixing with sand is said to contribute 6 to 8% of the global emissions. These can be reduced with the use of timber for construction," Bosch said.
"When cut the tree and you burn the timber, all the carbon which is stored in the timber is released to the atmosphere but when we put it into buildings, it's stored in the building, at least for the time the building is in existence."
He noted that timber can be used to address the housing gap that Uganda faces.
" In Uganda, we have a big population growth being at 3.3% as of 2021 and a very high urbanization rate. That means that a lot of people are moving to the cities like Kampala which means they are growing very fast which presents a challenge to have the infrastructure to match the growing number of population," Bosch said.
"In Uganda alone, we have a housing shortage of around 2.4 million units which are needed currently. Here, I see that timber can really play an important role because cities are growing and we have to expand the existing buildings."
The experts said that with favourable conditions for tree growth, Uganda can become the hub for timber used in the region by growing trees and timber cut out of them for export.
"With Uganda's geographical advantage in the region, Uganda can produce timber products and export to the neighbouring countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, DRC, Burundi and South Sudan. Ugandans can economically earn more out of timber."
According to James Thembo, the head of operations at Fairventures Worldwide said timber is easy to work with, compared to concrete, especially during construction.
"You can easily bend it, easily cut it, remove a piece and replace it unlike concrete. Wood is also readily available on the market but also cheap centrally to steel which is hard to work with," Thembo said.
Commenting about the cost, the head of operations at Fairventures Worldwide said a wood house is cheaper than concrete and steel.
He however noted that there is need for government to put in place standards for building using timber to guide builders but urged that emphasis should be put on teaching carpentry in education institutions.
According to Patience Naamara, the Country Director for Fairventures Worldwide, the non-profit organization has set up a timber innovation centre in Kampala that will provide a platform for all concerned and willing to discuss action points and the way forward in the use of timber.
"We shall have different workshops, seminars and other forms of discussions to bring these events to life at the timber innovation centre. The purpose of this center is to provide space for people in the timber and forestry sector to share ideas, experiences, and exchange knowledge and expertise on forestry management and timber value addition,"Naamara said.
She noted that to this end, Fairventures Worldwide has planted 1580 hectares of trees countrywide from which timber can be cut for use.
Speaking at the function, the Germany Ambassador to Uganda, Matthias Schauer said the initiative will help create jobs for Ugandans.
"Timber construction is now a 9 billion euros industry in Germany employing more than 70,000 people and that does not even account for the people in the forestry sector. When it comes to buildings here in Uganda, you use bricks quite a lot. They lack stability. Then you have cement, as we heard, it produces an enormous amount of carbon It's extraction and a lot of energy input that you need. So if you need if you use timber, it's sustainable. It's environmentally friendly, and it stores the carbon that has it has absorbed while it was growing. It's really hard to beat as a building material," Schauer said.
He said the supply of timber would require a steady supply in form of trees.
"Growing trees to supply this growing demand from the construction sector will also provide income revenue for existing timber plantation owners and workers and encourage additional tree planting. This means that timber construction is a great economic opportunity. It's not just for idealists, but for people who are interested in making good money. It contributes all at the same time significantly to reducing climate change."