Timber worth Sh1b rotting away in yards

An indigenous tree that was cut down buy Charcoal burners and illegal loggers at Kiptunga Forest in Mau. [Photo by Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Timber worth an estimated Sh1 billion is rotting away in sawmill yards in Mt Kenya region as the ban on tree harvesting in Government forests takes its toll.

The three-month ban imposed by the national government has extended to timber in the yards and licensed saw millers now find themselves with stacks of legally acquired timber they cannot sell.

A miller in Nyeri town who sought anonymity said the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) was withholding a movement permit - a necessity if he is to sell the processed timber.

“I paid Sh1.9 million to KFS and was given a receipt for the trees I was to harvest. Unfortunately, I had only harvested trees worth Sh700, 000 before the ban was enforced,” the miller said.

He added that their businesses were now at stake because KFS had blocked transportation of the processed timber to the market yet it had been harvested before the ban was enforced.

This is a problem millers across the region are contending with.

Through the Timber Manufacturers Association, about 900 millers have expressed concern for their businesses.

Speaking after a meeting in Nyeri at the weekend, the millers, who benefit from the Mt Kenya and Aberdare Ecosystems, protested that they had been prevented from trading and processing timber they had legally obtained from the forest.

They described the move as erroneous and retrogressive to the pledge to provide cheap housing.

“We fully support the moratorium but we are protesting the refusal of our product to reach the market,” Chairman Joseph Wachira said.

They said pine and cypress trees they had cut from the forests were soft woods, which deteriorated quickly.

“The trees are rotting and going to waste yet we paid for them using bank loans. We are pleading with the Government to reconsider the ban so we can recover our investments,” he said.

Mr Wachira estimated that the association had a collective investment of Sh1 billion wasting away due to the ban.

Further, the millers said, about 2,000 workers faced the risk of losing their jobs if the ban was upheld.

The multi-billion-shilling industry employs a large number of youths.

“We have employees and they are expecting to be paid at the end of the month yet our mills have halted operations. We cannot pay salaries and people are sitting idle,” Wachira said.

"One of the pillars of the Government is to provide affordable housing but such a ban will have a ripple effect on the cost of housing," he added.