End of Kenya log ban triggers growth for Wood-Mizer in East Africa

Small sawmills can transform the way timber is grown, harvested and processed in Africa by minimising waste, reducing power consumption, and empowering local businesses.

Press Office: Wood-Mizer

A 2018 log ban imposed in Kenya to boost its forest cover by 10% and improve the country’s sustainability credentials was set to be lifted by July 2023.

The end of the ban will bring significant relief to the timber sector in Kenya and sawmillers specifically. “While numbers had dropped off severely, lifting the ban will bring respite for timber producers and sawmilling equipment suppliers like Wood-Mizer,” says the company’s Africa Lead, Mark Thompson.

Before the ban, Thompson says, Kenya was Wood-Mizer’s second largest market in Africa, outside Ghana.

“After a challenging period during the last six years, we’ve been flooded with enquiries. While the ban has served an essential environmental purpose, the stakeholders need to balance sustainability and economic growth with the timber sector, promising important momentum for the Kenyan economy. With forests still recovering, it’s crucial to ensure timber is harvested and processed sustainably across the region. We look forward to helping customers find the right solutions.”

A revitalised sawmilling sector is crucial to the Kenyan government’s triple-line recovery programme for its timber economy.

An expanded and well-managed forestry sector is the first step. The next aim is to add an efficient and modern sawmilling industry that can break logs down into sawn timber at the lowest rate with the least waste. Adding downstream beneficiation in the shape of factories and timber businesses is the final step to produce finished goods that earn maximum profits, create jobs and add momentum to replant more trees. The result is sustainability across all fronts.

Thompson says environmental and sustainability challenges have long plagued the timber sector in Africa. “An alarming statistic highlights that the bulk of timber harvested in Africa goes into charcoal production with only a fraction beneficiated beyond energy. Hopefully, a Wood-Mizer sawmill will produce sawn timber for downstream processing. We must use the right equipment to best sustain the forests and process these resources effectively.”

According to Thompson, Wood-Mizer sawmills provide an alternative approach to conventional, energy-intensive circular blade sawmill technology. The company’s thin-kerf sawmilling technology significantly reduces waste and power consumption compared to traditional circular blade sawmills, making it a more environmentally friendly option. “The thin-kerf sawmilling approach allows for a smaller kerf, or cut, in the wood, with less waste and more saleable timber resulting from the milling process. Less waste and better use of valuable timber resources lead to reduced energy consumption as less power is required to make the narrower cuts.”

Husky Outdoor Equipment has represented Wood-Mizer in Kenya, Uganda and Eastern DRC for nearly three years, and Uganda has become the leading market in the region. “While Kenya has been challenging, Uganda has become a crucial market for Wood-Mizer, thanks to Husky’s efforts,” says Thompson.

Alister Ryan, a former Wood-Mizer employee, joined the Husky team to look after Kenya, Uganda and Eastern DRC business. Ryan brings in-depth knowledge of Wood-Mizer products gained over eight years of working for the company in South Africa, Thailand and the USA. He was instrumental in establishing Wood-Mizer’s sales and service network in South Africa’s most productive forestry region, the Lowveld, before being seconded abroad to assist with Wood-Mizer’s international expansion.

Alister brings vested technical capabilities and has played a crucial role in technical support, installations, and training for Wood-Mizer before joining Husky Outdoor Equipment. “I am in a strong position to support the East African markets from a technical and a sales perspective,” says Ryan. “We’re pleased that the business in the region, specifically Uganda, is growing well and see huge potential in Kenya and the Eastern DRC.”

Ryan says the Uganda market is quite different from Kenya. “There are large companies with ownership from outside of Africa, including Green Resources and New Forest Company. They follow European and American principles when it comes to sustainability and operations. Both have much larger industrial-scale equipment than the average sawmiller would purchase from Wood-Mizer,” says Ryan. “Our industrial customers are leading the way in redefining sawmill profitability for the next generation.”

Ryan explains that sawmilling products sold there also differ. “Uganda is a petrol and diesel market, as the electricity supply is limited, while Kenya has reliable electricity with the focus, therefore, more on electric motors and petrol engines.”

Uganda also receives considerable support from NGOs such as the UN and WWF. “We’ve had machines donated to schools and churches and machines purchased and gifted to sawmills. It is then important to train the operators well and ensure that replacement parts and supplies are accessible.”

In addition to their environmental benefits, Wood-Mizer sawmills add a further tier of benefits.

Their affordability removes the barriers formerly preventing sawmillers from participating in the sector. This affordability makes it easy for small, locally-owned businesses to invest in sawmilling technology to assist communities in tapping into regionally sourced timber. When forests improve lives, people will also protect and regrow forests with long-term sustainability the end result.

Wood-Mizer’s range is also modular, enabling sawmillers to grow their sawmilling businesses over time when funds are available. The modularity of the range also makes it easy to slot new equipment into existing sawmilling lines with minimal disruption and at the lowest cost.

Thompson says that by adopting Wood-Mizer sawmills, the timber landscape in Africa can be transformed. African logging businesses can contribute to a sustainable future for the continent’s forests and ecosystems. “Small sawmills can transform the way timber is grown, harvested and processed in Africa by minimising waste, reducing power consumption, and empowering local businesses.”

Wood-Mizer – from forest to final form