Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Gifex '85 opens on Easter

By Poku Adaa

From April 6-15, the Ghana International Furniture and Woodworking Exhibition, logoed GIFEX '85 opens at the Trade Fair site in Accra. This week our correspondent POKU ADAA provides a background report

Towards the Fair

GIFEX '85 is the first exhibition of its type to be held in tropical Africa and the Trade Fair site in Accra which, until a couple of months ago was turning into a wilderness is alive again with constructional works, erection of pavilions and general facelifting going on, all in readiness for the opening of the Fair on Easter Saturday 6th April 1985.

Significantly all the major sectors of the Wood Industry have come together to stage the fair, ie, The Ghana Timber Association (GTA), the Ghana Timber Millers Organisation (GTMO) and the Ghana Furniture Producers Association (GFPA), with additional support from the African Timber Organisation (ATO) and the Ghana Export Promotion Council (GEPC).

These bodies see the exhibition as a means of selling Ghana's timber potential on the international market. Said an official of the Planning Committee of the Fair, "the main theme of GIFEX '85 is to create an awareness in those who are engaged in the wood industry to establish more processing plants because this exhibition will certainly provide avenues for establishing guaranteed markets at home and abroad". The purpose of the Fair, according to Mr J. A. Adjetey, Chief Executive of Modern Furniture Company Ltd and President of GFPA, "is to expose the industry to modern furniture and woodworking machinery and to efficient production techniques, but above all to stimulate overseas investments in the industry and to promote exports".

At a luncheon with members of the Planning Committee of GIFEX '85, the PNDC Secretary for Lands & Mineral Resources, Mr J. G. A. (Kwesi) Renner outlined the current government policy on the wood industry. He announced that the government has been encouraging the local processing of timber logs into finished and semi-finished products before export.

He said, "This government is determined to halt the export of raw timber logs and has sought actively to encourage the industry to export more furniture components and joinery products". He warned that the keen competition in the international market demand from Ghanaian suppliers assurances of ability to meet supply dates and reasonable quality, maintenance of recognised standards, satisfactory arrangements for packaging and shipping.

Mr Renner stressed that the ban on a number of selected timber species from being exported in the unprocessed state will not be lifted despite intense lobbying for the ban to be lifted by opponents of the policy. "They should stop concentrating on lobbying for the ban to be lifted and direct their aggressiveness to develop sound marketing policies", he was reported to have said in an interview.

Kwesi Renner, Secretary for Lands and Mineral Resources.

In January 1979, the then Ghana Timber Marketing Board decided to ban exports of specific species of timber including Sapele, mahogany, utile, kokrodua, makore, mansonia, edinam, avodire, candollei, nianson, black hyedua, odum, walnut and teak. The GTMB was convinced that the ban was necessary because, "the nation has the capacity to increase ten-fold her earnings from the timber industry if emphasis was put on the export of finished and semi-finished products and not on the export of raw logs only".

This policy was publicly supported by ex-President Limann in 1979 soon after assuming office and Mr Kwesi Renner is maintaining that policy in the face of stiff opposition from many timber producers and exporters. There is no doubt that if processed wood products instead of logs predominate in Ghana’s exports the timber industry stands to increase her earnings and by encouraging producers to seek for and utilise markets for lesser known species of timber numbering well over 300, it would save the primary species from fast dwindling since afforestation is yet to make any guarantee of future supplies.

Opponents of the GTMB policy argue that the wood processing sector, especially the mills have little capacity to absorb the volume of logs available as a result of the ban which may be partly true due to the low levels of production of most mills. On the shortage of machinery and vehicles which cause the low production levels, the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources Officials hope that GIFEX '85 will assist in creating avenues for supply of machinery and equipment and suitable vehicles for the industry.

The supply and standardisation of hardware for the industry may be the reason why the Under-Secretary for the Ministry led an eight man delegation to visit timber processing and logging equipment and machinery in Canada with the aim of introducing some into Ghana. "I think most of the stuff will be super for Ghana; they can withstand Ghana's conditions", he was reported to have said at a press conference in Toronto. It never mattered to him to think for a minute whether the stuff, as he says, could work pines, firs, birch, oak or wawa, odum or krokodua!

The Ghana Export Promotion Council has also been sounding the same message time and time again of the need to increase the volume of export of wood products and hope that the Fair will be a great opportunity to promote marketing of indigenous wood products with the support of the International Trade centre of UNCTAD. The Council is geared to continue the promotion programme since it believes that local processing has a greater contribution to create employment and ginger commercial activity in many sectors of the economy.

Thus the preparations for the Fair, GIFEX '85 are going on and the signs are that it is going to 'lift everyone's spirit up', to rekindle memories of the grandeur of the first international Trade fair in Ghana not so many years ago. Import licences said to be worth $500,000 have been allocated to the Furniture Producers Association (GFPA) to procure materials and equipment such as upholstery, fabrics, leather, lacquers, foam chemicals, fittings, abrasives, etc, which they need to produce their exhibits. Reports indicate that participation is exceeding the pavilion space available.

In fact, one Polish company, Polimer Cekop of Warsaw has taken the largest space so far on record, 600 square meters to be able to display gigantic machinery and heavy logging equipment. Already, French, West German, Brazilian, Italian, British and American companies are participating. Local companies are refusing to be outdone in publicity and generosity towards preparation of the Fair site which is said to be costing the organisers something in the order of C13 million.

A. E. Saoud & Sons Ltd of Kumasi has donated C0.5 million worth of wood products made of plywood, wawa boards, and assortment of components. The Henry Hage Ltd of Akim Oda has donated C20,000 worth of wood products while a food processing company, Suleman Enterprises has donated a cash contribution of €50,000. A timber merchant group, Sabary Enterprise has also pledged C20,000 toward preparation of the Fair grounds.

Meanwhile, a brochure containing all the information about the Fair such as regulations on registration to exhibit or participate, and the objectives of the fair and several other bits of information, has been published. Lik all well-meaning Ghanaian enterprises the TALKING DRUMS wish the organisers and all their patrons and all Ghanaians a successful event.


The Wood Industry, today and tomorrow

The Wood Industry in Ghana is mainly controlled by private enterprise. There are trade associations formed to protect their interests in the industry. The Ghana Timber Millers Organisation (GTMO) is made up of the producers of the wood components and the processors of the raw logs. They own the saw mills and seventy per cent are Lebanese-owned and concentrated in Ashanti and in the Eastern Region.

The Ghana Furniture Producers Association consists of the factories who consume the processed wood for manufacturing of household and industrial furniture. As originators of the GIFEX idea, they are a powerful trade group with connections in the corridors of power. Most of their factories depend on high input of imported accessories. The Ghana Timber Association (GTA) is the Contractors group, the land concession holders, the group who actually fell the logs from the forest and cart them to the mills.

They have never forgiven the erstwhile Ghana Timber Marketing Board for maintaining a ban on selected logs for export. They are the forest destroyers with no sense of conservation, often notorious for laying waste large tracts of farmlands especially in Brong Ahafo and Asante regions.

The government watchdog charged with the onerous responsibility of confronting the three wealthy and powerful timber trade associations is the Timber Export Development Board, formerly the Ghana Timber Marketing Board. It has, among other aspects, the responsibility of regulating the production and export of wood and wood products. Within the state sector, there are some major wood producing and processing companies like the Mim Timber Company Ltd, the African Timber & Plywood Company and the Bibiani Complex ltd, to mention a few.

The research side of the industry ought to be the responsibility of the Forest Products Research Institute although typical of Ghana's industrial situation, little collaboration and co- operation exists between research and industry. Thus even though the basic infrastructure for the organisation of an integrated, properly co-ordinated industry exists, the ground situation is different.

The future of the industry can move in two directions, that is in the utilisation of timber for building purposes and for local production of paper and paper products, which two areas of application of timber are at an infant stage of development in Ghana at the moment

It is hoped that GIFEX '85 will offer the first ever opportunity for all sectors of the industry to get together to forge a common front to contribute their quota to the economic recovery programme. The question of setting and maintaining standards and quality in the industry is of crucial importance. There appears to be a need for a set of rules of standards to quantify and grade the quality of logs and sawn far back timber and the various units and components in the business which will help to dictate and regulate domestic and international pricing policy for the products of the industry.

To this end, the African Timber Organisation (ATO), at the end of a recent Ministerial meeting in the Ivory Coast, announced the formation of am Institute of Forestry in Cameroon to train personnel from member countries in the grading and assessment of forest products so that a common criterion of assessment of quality of exportable timber can be maintained to protect the marketing of timber products.

The future of the industry can move in two directions, that is in the utilisation of timber for building purposes and for local production of paper and paper products, which two areas of application of timber are at an infant stage of development in Ghana at the moment. GIFEX '85 hopefully will create national and international awareness of the need to utilise wood for building purposes instead of cement and for the urgency to plan and develop a viable paper-making plant in this country. The FPRI has been in the forefront single-handedly in the campaign to urge Ghanaians to "place more emphasis on wood in the building sector".

The Institute recently organised a course with the theme: Use of timber in building construction' in Kumasi. According to the Director of the Institute, Dr Addo Ashong, wood shingles, wooden louvres, floor boards, panels, and partitionings can be fashioned beautifully out of durable wood species and urged the building contractors in the country and individuals to take up the challenge. Promotion of the use of wood in building is expected at the trade fair.

Paper making has always been in the pipeline; there have been plans and promises galore, but even now the road to Ghana's local production of paper appears to be a long way off. As as 1079 National 50,000 ton paper mill to produce printing and writing paper and industrial packages. Feasibility studies were conducted by a company from Finland, FinnoConsult Oy covering forest resources, wood supply, logging, transport, paper consumption patterns, etc. The studies evaluated eight local tree species and located kaolin deposits which together could have brought about the needed take- off of the project. Nevertheless, for some unexplained reason, the plans did not come off and the papers have gone back to the usual place - the shelves. There are lesser known areas of utilisation of wood, i.e. in boat building as telegraphic poles, for boxing and packaging and so on and hopefully they may come as exhibits at GIFEX '85.


"Thou shalt reap only that which thou hath sown"

The forthcoming Ghana International Furniture and Woodworking Exhibition, GIFEX '85, is certainly going to focus attention on the industrial uses of timber and following from this will be the obvious question: where is all the timber required for future industrial uses going to come from? There is no doubt that the demand for timber for industrial applications is likely to increase in the future not only for Ghana but throughout the world.

The natural forests which have supplied our timber needs for decades are gradually being depleted faster than the rate at which re-forestation programmes are being developed. In Ghana, for instance, logs have been extracted from the forests since the 19th century without a comparable volume of replacement. By 1977, Ghana was earning over $57 million from export of raw logs alone, quite a substantial rate of de-forestation, to put it mildly.

The other day in Berekum, the Secretary for Brong-Ahafo Region, Mr Asare Sawiri called on the PNDC government to enact a law which can compel every timber merchant and producer to plant two trees for every single one cut down. Simply a case of sowing what you have reaped! That call definitely re-echoes the oft-written problem about pressing need for tropical countries to take measures to guarantee future supplies of wood. And this kind of guarantee can only come from a deliberate and planned establishment of new plantations, or man-made forests, which should be purpose-created to meet the future demand for industrial timber.

Like all agro-industrial ventures the establishment of forestry plantations may entail some constraints. First of all, not much technical ie agronomical and silvicultural knowledge are known about trees which are 'native' to our geographic region

With proper management, forest plantations ought to be a long term investment since home-grown timber will ultimately become the only source of industrial timber. Existing forest resources remain our most valuable asset and by establishing forest plantations, it will help to reduce the destructive effect of logging on the natural forests and thereby protect them from extinction and degradation. It is for this reason that third world countries like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, forest Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are implementing practical programmes to curb the ruthless exploitation of forest resources. It is imperative that Organisers, participants and patrons of an international event like GIFEX '85 heed the urgent call: NOW IS THE TIME TO PLANT.

Like all agro-industrial ventures the establishment of forestry plantations may entail some constraints. First of all, not much technical ie agronomical and silvicultural knowledge are known about trees which are 'native' to our geographic region and more importantly whether they can be made to reproduce freely and grow at a relatively faster rate.

Therefore for a plantation venture, it may become albeit, compulsory to grow either pine, fir, eucalyptus, or birch! This is a technical reality that may have to be faced the ultimate inevitable paradox of Africa's development. It is happening in Nigeria where the Indian tree, Gmelina and Australian Eucalyptus grown 20-30 years ago, are the source of lush vegetation around the cities of Ibadan and Jos.

It is a formidable challenge to our research scientists and institutes, especially the Forest Products Research Institute to try to find ways and means of commercially growing our own 'native' trees, and regenerate them at a faster rate. With the advent of 'Gibberelins', growth promoting chemicals around the world, the challenge no longer becomes impossible. In Nigeria again, the Forest Research Institute at Ibadan in co-operation with the University of Edinburgh is still continuing research to try and grow the 'Obechi', one of Nigeria's most valuable trees.

The second problem about deliberate forest plantations is the attitude - ignorance - of land owners. To many people in Ghana, forest reserves are mere waste of land, totally unprofitable. Obtaining land for just growing trees might seem preposterous, to say the last. However with central government intervention, this problem can be overcome by persuasion and education, for after all, one major mining company in Ghana, for instance, has over 100 square km of purpose-built forestry plantation which regularly supplies it with its timber and fuelwood requirements.

in the Ivory Coast, the African Timber Organisation (ATO) urged its members "to promote as a matter of urgency, the planting of trees on a massive scale in their various countries". The ATO is made up of African countries with forest resources and it has the objective to adopt a common strategy for the proper utilisation of forest resources. The Organisation has also called for a major development in all its member countries of industrial and fuelwood plantations of mixed and indigenous fast frowing species as the only way to ensure future supplies of industrial timber.

Workers in the wood industry have also added their voice to the call for a national action on forest conservation.

The Timber & Woodworkers Union of the Ghana Trades Union Congress have recently called for strong governmental action to ensure that timber producers plant trees as a future source of raw materials for the At it recent ministerial meeting held industry. At a press conference a couple of weeks ago, the Union issued a call to the Ministry of Lands & Minerals Resources that: Timber men who fell trees without genuine efforts to replant them should be made to forfeit their concessions.

The ATO also has a functioning database system which supplies technical information useful for the formulation of policies in forestry especially in the planning and implementation of any forestry plantation scheme. Thus the way forward is clear and that is to look for information and technical assistance in the field of silviculture as a basis for any long term plan. Future fairs like GIFEX '85 will depend on the availability of more timber.


Even at its most tattered, the African Timber & Plywood Company Ltd at Samreboi in the western region of Ghana, is one of the largest wood processing companies in West Africa. With a well organised division specialising in timber housing and wood preservation, it is a sad situation to learn that the A. T. & P. Company is up for sale. The Ministry of Lands & Mineral Resources has been courting overseas buyers of all hues to bid for this prestigious, once. the-envy-of-all, creative company. The Ministry labels it a rehabilitation exercise' and it has received responses from 14 overseas companies, five of whom have made formal bids to buy the A. T. & P. Co. These five are Cementation International, Mark-Trace Ltd of the UK, UAC International, Lonhro International, and an unnamed French Company. Meanwhile a standby credit of $5 million from the Arab Bank for Development has been negotiated by the Ghana government to assist in the process.

Board abandons Bibiani Complex

The Timber Export Development Board has decided to sell her 60% shares in the Bibiani Complex Ltd on the open market. According to the Chairman of the Interim Management Committee of the Company, the C2.1 million required to rehabilitate the Company cannot be found and it is only by inviting public participation can the company be put back on a sound footing. The Company which is an amalgamation of the former Bibiani Wood Complex and the Bibiani Metals Ltd supplies metal fittings and accessories to the timber industry currently produces below its capacity of 80,000 tonnes of product units per annum. The Management hopes to attract firms and individuals in the industry to buy and run the company. The Company has been in the news recently in connection with the Okoe Commission of inquiry and the alleged bribe of 35,000 pounds sterling paid into the Swiss bank account of the former managing director by a British company.

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