Community-Owned Norwood Sawmill Set to Triple Income for Africans in Remote Villages

A Tool for Change

A Norwood LumberPro HD36 portable sawmill has opened up a new and lucrative source of revenue for some of the world’s poorest people. Tanzania’s first Forest Stewardship CouncilTM (FSCTM) deployed their first certified community-owned Norwood sawmill to rural villages in Tanzania.

The sawmill is contributing towards local economic empowerment and creating incentives for forest conservation because, in tandem with responsible forest management, making a portable sawmill available to the communities can triple the income-generating potential of their own natural resources. This, in turn, will help Tanzania to meet its global climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals.

Until recently, barriers such as insufficient startup capital, financial means, equipment, skills and market access have prevented communities from adding value to their local hardwoods through further processing.

“There are very few buyers for logs, but huge demand for sawn timber. This is where the money is,” advised Makala Jasper, CEO of the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI).

MCDI and partners, including World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Tanzania), local government authorities and communities, experimented using different methods of small-scale sawn timber production. They trialled pit-sawing, renting sawmills and locally-made processing facilities with circular saw blades before progressing to a portable commercial-scale sawmill by Norwood Sawmills.

“We trialled different methods of producing sawn timber. These increased local incomes by 18%, but the technology was out-dated, not efficient and lacked safety measures. Now, confident that sawn timber production was the way to go, we sought funding for a modern sawmill,” explained Makala Jasper.

The sawmill, funded by the Addax and Oryx Foundation through MCDI, is entirely owned by communities and will be transported between villages to meet local demand. The Norwood bandmill can process five to six cubic metres of timber daily with exceptionally high recovery of 55.5%, compared to just 30% recovery of log volume with other machines. “We aim to use everything harvested, including branches and off-cuts, so recovery could get as high as 70%,” continued Jasper.

The official handing over and launch took place in Ngea, one of the first villages set to benefit from the sawmill. Hon. Ngubiagai, Kilwa District Commissioner, led the first public demonstration. He presented certificates to 19 trainees, including 10 community members from five villages, who qualified as sawmill operators and saw doctors following two weeks of training by Tanzania Forest Industries Training Institute.

This is a game-changing opportunity, which will secure jobs for those involved in sawn timber production – their incomes will increase by up to 75%. 

And the benefits extend beyond the jobs created. Communities can now sell their hardwood timber directly into national and international markets where they can secure higher prices from buyers who pay a premium for FSC-certified timber. Each village is projected to generate more than TZS 150 Million (USD $68,000) from FSCcertified timber sales in the first year alone. They will, in turn, use the proceeds to fund local development projects that improve access to basic services such as clean water, education and healthcare. “This will improve the wellbeing of Tanzanian people,” concluded Makala.

Responsible communitymanaged forestry represents a key agricultural sub-sector that will set Tanzania on course to achieve economic empowerment. This sawmill, the first of many, signifies a modest yet meaningful step towards achieving the Government of Tanzania’s goal to transition to a more industrial economy that better serves those living below the poverty line.


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