By Shamiso Masoka
Zimbabwe is well known as home to commercial plantations of pine timber and hardwood 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.
Zimbabwe commercial timber industry is concentrated in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe in Manicaland, which is the Province with favourable climatic and environmental conditions for the fasting growing exotic species.
Manicaland is home to several types of wood that can be used, for example 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.
Current producers in Manicaland employ internationally recognized forest practices and this has resulted in some of the highest quality sustainably managed plantations in Africa.
The timber plantations are grown mostly for the production of timber, wooden planks, pulpwood, sawlogs, and veneer logs.
The hardwood plantations are of eucalyptus species and black wattle and the main hardwood products are poles, pulpwood, charcoal and wattle extract.
With excellent soils and climate, Manicaland province has produced timber that is highly sought after in regional markets.
This is because local producers in Zimbabwe employ internationally recognized forest practices, and this has resulted in some of the highest quality and sustainably managed plantations in Africa.
Because of the high-quality Zimbabwean companies keeps winning tenders to supply timber and poles in the region.
Zimbabwean companies recently won tenders to supply timber in to Zambia and Malawi.
The potential market for Zimbabwe is much bigger.
The country has advantage to supply competitively priced timber without much hinderance in Southern Africa, riding on proximity to lucrative markets in the region and utilizing the trade agreements such SADC and COMESA.
With the introduction of the AfCFTA agreement more benefits will be enjoyed.
Additionally, Zimbabwe has distance advantage to most of the countries in the region for example distance from Mutare to Beira is only 307 kms by road making Mozambique a lucrative market that timber producers can tap into while enjoying less transport costs.
Value-add to earn more
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 commodity 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.
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.
Zimbabwe’s proximity to most countries in Southern Africa creates advantages given the lower transport cost that can contribute to the competitiveness of locally produced timber.
Thus, local producers who want to tap into the emerging export markets for timber are encouraged to utilize the services offered by ZimTrade, a national trade development and promotions agency, particularly on market linkages and capacity development.