Agri Minister refutes claims of underproduction, “poor quality” lumber

Construction industry claims that the lumber sector is failing to satisfy local demand for high-quality products are being disputed by Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud.

Last week, Chief Executive Officer of Bulkan Timber Works Howard Bulkan told Stabroek Business that the industry continues to experience a significant shortfall in the amount of lumber produced locally, a circumstance which he said was attributable to the closure of some of the country’s major sawmills. Bulkan also told this newspaper that there is no uniformity in the quality of the lumber being produced by local sawmills. “There is no consistency in the physical characteristics of the lumber being produced,” he said.

However, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud, in an invited comment has challenged the claim, asserting that the quality guidelines that have been put in place by the  Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) require local lumber yards to meet certain minimum quality standards. “It is false to purport that the quality of lumber available on the local market is poor,” Persaud told Stabroek Business. He said that the statement had failed to take account of either “the economics of market conditions in the lumber re-sale industry” or the ‘discretionary choice decision that consumers can take in their purchase.”

Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud

But Bulkan, whose company produces pre-fabricated houses from local lumber primarily for the export market and who also has interests in the local logging industry says that the lumber industry is facing serious quality problems. “The quality is just not there. Things like the thickness and width of the boards are not consistent,” he added.

The businessman estimates that over the past five years Guyana has produced around 20 million board feet of lumber below its expected annual target, a shortfall which he said was due to the fact that higher production costs had forced some sawmills out of the industry.

Stabroek Business has spoken to other independent operators in the building industry who have said that the closure of major lumber-producing operations like Willems Timbers and the shift by others like Mazaharally Sawmills to logging has coincided with a decline in the quality of lumber being produced locally.

Based on the recommendation of a local contractor Stabroek Business spoke randomly with three sawmills requesting quotations and delivery times for 10,000 bm. of one inch x 6 inch greenheart floorboards. The first dealer, Jettoo’s Lumber Yard quoted a price of $3 million but said that it did not currently have the raw material in stock to fill the order and could not say how long it would take to deliver. The second dealer, Mazaharally Sawmills told Stabroek Business that it was no longer in the business of supplying lumber while Basdeo Sawmills, the third entity contacted said that they had no greenheart in stock but could fill the order with an alternative hardwood at a cost of around $175.00 per board foot.

In his statement Persaud noted that the GFC’s evaluation of the industry indicated that the better prices which higher grades of lumber attract on the export market may, in cases, lead to a temporary reduction in local supplies and that such situations may present some measure of inconvenience to local consumers who may be interested in selecting a large quantity of a particular species of lumber. However, according to the Minister, supplies are quickly replenished by the large number of sawmills operating in Guyana.

According to the Minister, adhering to international trade practice, the GFC does not attempt to place controls on price levels, He said that the rapid expansion of the national housing programme in recent years has resulted in a significant increase in local demand “when compared to the increases in supply that is being made available on the local market.”  This, according to him has also resulted in “cases of limited supply which may impact on price levels” though this situation is not one that prevails permanently and predominantly prevails in the lumber resale sub-sector. “In the majority of operations there is available high quality species that are appropriately priced,” Persaud added.

And in making a case for the performance of the local lumber industry Persaud told Stabroek Business that the management and monitoring of lumber yards in relation to the quality of the product that they produce is a major part of the ‘execution and regulatory function” of the GFC. He said that the Commission had successfully developed and implemented programmes “aimed at ensuring that there is a maintained high level of compliance with required standards,” adding that over the past two years the entity had trained more than 100 persons as timber graders.

Current debate over the state of the lumber industry has coincided with the increasing demand for lumber in both the housing and commercial construction sectors and Bulkan told Stabroek Business that he believed that poor quality lumber is associated with the fact that improperly trained chainsaw operators have become more prominent in the industry in the face of the closure of some local lumber yards.

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