Commercial Timbers of Kenya

IRG/WP 16-10876

R Venkatasamy

The global timber trade has for years been too familiar with an assortment of available African timbers, reputed for their appearance in terms of colour, grain, pattern and durability. African forests are fast disappearing through over-exploitation as a result of demand for agricultural land. Kenya, the home of some of these valuable hardwoods, has been similarly affected, with its forest land cover declining from high 28% to a low 1.7% within the last 5 decades. Today Kenyan forests consist mainly of exotic fast-growing species (Eucalypts, Cypress and Pines), that supply the local demand for industrial timbers (utility poles, posts, construction timbers, pulp and paper, veneer and board materials). The furniture industry now relies on hardwoods imported from Central and Western Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and S. Africa. The wood carving industry, with some 30,000 wood carvers engaged in the industry, still depends on hardwood species available locally. Being still a heavy consumer of fuelwood and charcoal, with indigenous hardwood species being preferred, it is to be expected that indigenous hardwood forests in Kenya will decline further, with fewer of what used to be a an extensive list of indigenous species that provided the source of commercial timbers of the country. The list of exotic and indigenous species presented in this paper, not exhaustive by any means, comprises mainly the common commercial species, with brief notes on appearance, properties, availability and uses There is a number of the lesser known species, about which little or no information is available, mainly used for artisanal work, fuelwood and charcoal.

Keywords: timbers, Africa, Kenya, forests, industrial timbers, softwoods, hardwoods, furniture, wood carving, species, exotics, indigenous, appearance, properties, uses

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