FAO supports training of timber graders

Some of the participants during the training

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), through the SPGS Phase III Project, has supported 30 key players in Uganda’s forestry sector- including timber traders, forest owners, managers, supervisors and trainers- to hone their skills in timber grading, pursuant of the ongoing development of Uganda’s timber grading standard. The training, held in November 2019 at Global Woods AG Limited in Kyankwanzi, also benefited representatives from Nyabyeya Forestry College, National Forestry Authority (NFA), Uganda Timber Growers Association (UTGA), Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and FAO/SPGS project staff. It helped to equip them with skills required to adequately grade timber. “This is the first training of its kind by FAO in Uganda and we believe that it is a first step in contributing to skilling and empowering a cohort of technically component personnel to train others and strengthen commercial forestry in the country through grading of timber”, said Leonidas Hitimana- FAO/SPGS III Project Manager.

For over a decade now, Uganda has invested significantly in developing commercial forestry and timber industry, boosted by funding from the European Union (EU), through the SPGS Project. It is estimated that Uganda has up to 80 000 hectares of high value timber plantations, established mainly by the private sector. With the growth in plantations, wood volume is expected to increase from 200 000 cubic meters per year to 800 000 cubic meters per year by 2023. In the long term, production is expected to grow to a sustainable yield of 1.2 to 1.4 million cubic meters per year.

With such high volumes of wood flow expected, access to both domestic and international markets will be essential to limit over supply within the country and contribute to better livelihoods and national economy through export earnings. However, Uganda has restrictions on timber export; prohibiting export of timber in the absence of an export license issued by a licensing authority. As further stipulated in Article 44 of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act, “…..an export license can only be issued for export of graded timber”. Furthermore, Uganda does not have a set of approved timber grading standards.

But through SPGS III, FAO is supporting the Government of Uganda, through the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) and UNBS to develop a timber grading standard- currently at the last stage of approval by UNBS. This standard will enhance production of and trade in quality timber for both domestic and foreign markets.

Closing the gap of technical skills in timber grading

As the industry prepares for approval of the timber grading standard, the need for skilled timber graders is eminent and so the training was timely. Participants were able to identify major grading requirements for structure and appearance, and assess timber for visual strengths grading. They also learnt about managing safety and hazards when grading timber in the workplace.

According to Peter Mulondo, a Programme Officer at UTGA, the training empowered him to educate and advocate for timber grading among UTGA members, while making a contribution to the timber grading standard that is expected to facilitate members supply of quality timber on the domestic and international markets. “One of the bottlenecks to selling timber outside our borders has been the need to meet standards”, he said. “The training was a start to a potential thriving industry because it will create demand for quality timber, ensuring that the producers and consumers benefit from timber trade”, he added.

Herbert Ndawula, an Assistant Lecturer at Nyabyeya Forestry College said that the training was a good learning opportunity for him. It empowered him with knowledge and skills required to train other staff and groom students at the College into technically competent professionals; specifically in timber grading.

“As a forestry company, our desire is to be able to tap into the export market- and without a grading system and skills for timber grading, it becomes difficult to prove quality of our timber”, said Oscar Odong from Green Resources/ Busoga Forestry Company. “My greatest achievement this week therefore has been to learn how to grade timber into the various grades- based of strength properties of the wood”, he added.

According to David Kayhul from UNBS, timber is a very naturally variable material and when required for structural purposes for instance, should have the required strength properties. Similarly, timber for non-structural uses, such as furniture or flooring, may also be sorted to meet certain appearance grades. Timber grading is therefore critical for appropriate and sustainable use of timber.

Going forward therefore, the trained personnel will be in a better position to transfer skills to other graders and support the process of having high quality timber for sale locally and internationally, resulting in higher revenues, more jobs and improved livelihoods.