Increasingly popular for a variety of uses, African hardwoods are becoming some of our most requested lumber species. Partly as a response to issues with some South American species, many of our customers are seeking alternatives to South American Mahogany; species such as African Mahogany, Utile, and Sapele provide excellent choices. These African hardwood species are widely available in trendy long, wide boards, while offering the important benefits of durability and the ability to hold moulded details. Excellent choices for a variety of uses — including flooring, millwork, windows, and doors — we expect African hardwoods sales to continue to grow.
With easy-to-track certification and verification schemes, tracing these African species back to the stump is both possible and simple. Thanks to well-managed African forestry, both sustainability and legality can be ensured. While the African hardwoods market is indeed strong, it also includes certain unique difficulties. Understanding these bumps in the road will help you efficiently navigate this exciting market.
Difficulty 1: Economic Struggles
Like other aspects of the economy, the lumber market has endured a depression since 2008; for the African lumber market, that means buyers outside the U.S. have dropped off significantly. African saw mills have responded to the decreased demand by scaling back production. As global demand for lumber continues to rise, African saw mills have not been prepared. Because re-establishing lumber production takes time, a bottleneck effect continues to occur. While production continues to rise, the present situation means delayed shipments as well as an attempt to sell off-grade products and odd sizes.
Difficulty 2: Logs Instead of Lumber
Rather than already-sawn lumber, the African lumber industry is more likely to export logs. On much of the continent, skills like efficiently sawing logs into lumber and properly drying boards are simply not known. And the process of harvesting and exporting those logs is difficult, as it is. First, the trees are felled from African forests, far from ports where they can be shipped outside the continent. In order to become available for exporting, those logs must then be either trucked or floated hundreds or even thousands of miles to sawmills. At that point, most logs are exported in log form; some, however, are sawn first. Larger logs net more profit, and those of the highest quality are typically sold to veneer companies.
Because of both Lacey Act legislation and other customs-related regulations, having logs sawn before leaving Africa is preferable. However, already-sawn lumber provides an added bump in the road when it comes to the supply chain, due to the unique situation provided by Africa’s geography. Most African rivers only reach just above port cities, before rapids prohibit floating logs any further. As a result, logs need to be trucked further downstream to a sawmill located in a port city. This trucking occurs on unreliable roads, potentially adding 2 more months of transport time.
Continue reading with Part 2.