No raw materials for Kenyan wood
afrol News, 21 June 2003 -
Kenya has lost 75 percent of its international market in wood
carvings due to an increasing lack of raw materials. Hardwood
trees are now so short of supply, due to deforestation, that the
reputed Kenyan carvers have to drop productions.
Heavy pressure on Kenya's rapidly
dwindling forests has caused a shortage of raw material for the
country's carving industry, resulting in the loss of 75 percent of
its international market in the past three years.
- Since 2000, Kenya's carvings are
estimated to have lost up to 75 percent of their share in the
international market, due to unsustainable production services,
several the environmentalist group state.
- Western trends towards green
consumerism as well as poor quality, absence of new designs, and
competition from carvings made in other continents have also
driven down demand for Kenya's carvings in the international
market, the statement added.
The result is a complicated access
to raw materials and a subsequent drop in production and exports.
Carvers even were forced to dig up abandoned tree stumps for
carving raw materials.
The Kenyan wood carving industry
generates estimated export earnings of US$ 20 million from markets
in North America, Asia, and Europe. Kenyan wood carvers over the
decades have gained international reputation, especially since
Kenya is and has been one of Africa's most visited tourist
Earlier estimates held that about
60,000 people were directly engaged in Kenya's wood carving
industry. Given family structures, this means that probably well
over quarter of a million people are economically dependent on the
Traditionally, the industry has
heavily relied on slow growing indigenous trees, especially
mahogany, ebony, brachyleana, prunus, and olive for raw materials,
and its "consumption of hard woods is alarmingly high,"
according to research done by Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI)
and the National Museums of Kenya.
In 1999, Kenya imposed a ban on
harvesting indigenous hardwood trees from public forests in a bid
to curb over-exploitation, but this caused an increase in demand
which spurred very high wood prices, which in turn translated into
massive illegal harvesting.
In 2000, carvers were provided with
alternative sources of raw materials - faster growing planted
trees like neem, jacaranda and grivellia - which could help reduce
pressure on natural forests.
The unsustainable nature of Kenya's
wood carving industry is however nothing new. In the town of
Wamunyu, 100 miles east of Nairobi, where the whole industry began
almost a century ago, supply problems have been a constant threat
Originally, Wamunyu carvers relied
on local supplies of the valuable mpingo (Dalbergia melanoxylon),
which were exhausted by the 1940s. Subsequently, the equally
valuable muhuhu (Brachylaena hutchinsii) was wiped out by 1956.
- By 1974, it had actually become
worthwhile for collectors to return to the sites where muhuhu
trees had once been felled to dig up the roots for sale, according
to a study by Raymond Obunga. By the 1990s, no local supplies
remained, and an estimated 200-300 tons per week were trucked in
from 100 miles away and further.