Zimbabwe is home to several types of wood that can be used for structural purposes in building and construction; treated and untreated poles for transmission lines; hardwood for furniture manufacturing; and industrial wood for packaging, pallets, and cable drums.
In a survey recently conducted with several buyers from the building and construction sector in southern African countries, it is clear Zimbabwean timber is high quality leading to high demand.
Research conducted last year 2020 by Zimtrade, the national trade development and promotion organisation, in countries like Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia have revealed massive potential for Zimbabwean timber that even current producers are failing to meet.
“For local producers who want to venture into the export market, indications are that the work has been cut out for them as current exporters have created a strong perception, which is a reality, that Zimbabwe is a source of quality timber.” Zimtrade reviews
The buyer from Botswana mentioned that 50 percent of the timber and its products coming from Zimbabwe goes into the construction of houses in Botswana and that the market has acquired a good taste for Zimbabwean timber to the extent that they can easily recognize it in a pile of various timber from other countries in the region like Mozambique or Zambia.
“We know what Border Timbers and Wattle timber products look like by merely looking at it,” said the buyer from Botswana, adding that “But where are the doors and other furniture products?”
Apart from regional markets, local producers have an opportunity to supply the international market, whose total import bill of wood (sawn or chipped lengthwise) in 2019/2020 was around US$38 billion according to Trade Map.
The global import bill is much higher if one considers all products that fall under wood and articles of wood where the global import bill totaled around US$136 billion in 2019.
Although the global import bill of wood (sawn or chipped lengthwise) went down to US$38 billion in 2019 /2020 from around US$44 billion recorded in the previous year, local producers can supply some of the top importers, riding on current products performing well these markets.
The top global importers who can provide a potential market for Zimbabwean wood include China, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Netherlands.
The top importer of wood (sawn or chipped lengthwise) in Africa is Egypt with a total import bill of wood in 2019 around US$944 million.
Experts said Local producers can leverage on the favorable trade arrangements created under the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Free Trade Area (FTA) to supply the Egypt market, which currently is sourcing wood mostly from Sweden, Russia, Finland, Croatia and Romania.
The existence of the COMESA FTA means local businesses can enjoy reduced tariffs when exporting timber to Egypt.
To meet current demand, Zimbabwe needs to invest into the timber value chain so that it operates at optimum levels.
With necessary support from Government, development partners and financiers, there is potential to grow current production, contributing to growth of exports from the sector.
Current producers in Manicaland employ internationally recognized forest practices and this has resulted in some of the highest quality sustainably managed plantations in Africa.
Although the conditions favor increased production of timber, Zimbabwe’s exports from the sector have remained subdued.
Besides exporting timber as a product, value addition to produce furniture, boards and doors is required regionally.
Local businesses need to ensure that majority of wood exports are value added products and this can improve product demand in export markets.
Furniture is a general household need and Zimbabwe has manufacturing companies which produce high quality products which can be exported regionally.
Zimbabwe boasts of abundant timber resources with high quality hardwoods such as teak, pine and mukwa.
These are used on most of highly sort-after and luxurious furniture products that fetch higher prices in the export market.
Exporting the timber as value-added products would earn the country the much-needed foreign currency whilst creating jobs.
Local producers could consider producing collapsible modular designs that can be easily assembled at the final market or by the end user at their home.
Here, the cost per unit in production and transportation is cheaper and this can make Zimbabwe-designed wood products highly competitive on the global market.
Currently, there are local producers who have diversified to include treated poles as well as bark extract on their product range.
Bark extract has a ready market in Asian markets for leather tanning.
Some local small businesses are producing for local market and have opportunity to supply regional markets.
To create a strong presence, they need technical and capacity building interventions on areas such as standardization and meeting market requirements.