Attractive propositions from Gabon

The Gabonese Republic is aiming to turn into a world leader in certified tropical timber production through an industrial strategy aimed at sustainably managing timber stocks and by promoting secondary and tertiary processing.

Okoume at solid timber stage shows a durability level of Class 4 in accordance with EN 350-2.

Forestry and timber processing has been one of the driving sectors of the economy of Gabon. Boasting the second highest forestry potential in Africa, Gabon’s forests cover 22.8 million hectares or 88% of the country’s land surface.

The tropical forest offers enormous possibilities with a logging potential of 12.5 million hectares with more than 400 species, including Okoume, Okan, Padouk, Tali and Kevazingo.

Until 2010 ( before ban on export of raw logs) Gabon was the largest exporter of raw wood in the region, and its sales represent 20% of Africa’s raw wood exports. Gabon’s reserves of exploitable timber are estimated at 400 million cubic metres, including 130 million cubic metres of Okoume.

Over the past 10 years, Gabon has gone through a profound process of reforms affecting the forest and environment. A new forest law has come into force that emphasizes sustainable forest management (SFM) as the overall approach in the forestry. Forestry is, and will remain, one of the pillars of Gabon’s economic and social development.

The private sector has become a major driver of industrial forest development and the export of forest products. Gabon has a low deforestation rate, forests rich in valuable timber species, and among the best prospects for a healthy and sustainable forest industry.

The timber industry is already the largest private sector employer, employing 28% of the working population, and represents an extremely significant growth potential.

‘Red gold’

Commercial forest harvesting in Gabon began as early as in 1892, but only in 1913 was Okoume, Gabon’s most valuable wood, introduced to the international market. Gabon supplies 90% of the world’s Okoume, known worldwide for the production of plywood.

Aucoumea Klaineana (Angouma, Gaboon or Okoume) is a tree in the family Burseraceae, found in equatorial West Africa in Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, and Rio Muni. Okoume is a medium-sized hardwood tree growing to 30-40 metres tall with a trunk diameter of up to 2.5 metres.

Its attractive appearance means that it is often used decoratively as the top surface veneer in paneling and furniture or, in solid form in luxury items such as boxes for cigars or other high value items such as audio equipment.

Widely recognised as one of the world’s best materials for rotary cut veneers, Okoume timber is easy to work and is as suitable for the manufacturing of furniture as for interior joinery. Moreover, it is a species of a very even colour, good bonding performances and good compatibility with finished products. Okoume as a wood species is homogenous and, therefore, does not require synthetic repairs.

The log quality of Okoume in Gabon is very high. The first grade is normally used for veneer and the second grade for sawn wood, which still is an excellent quality for the production of sawn timber. Okoume at solid timber stage shows a durability level of Class 4 in accordance with EN 350-2.

Okoume plywood

It is a single species with uniform colour and density, and is easily workable on account of absence of coarse grains. It is durable and resistant to dry wood borers, so does not require any preservative treatment. It is suitable for staining and polishing without much variations across the grain and so gives a better finish.

It has a reliable and sustainable production with assured availability in quality and quantity. Since the sawn timber has very little defects there is less wastage in end usage.

Face veneers peeled from Okoume are in high demand in Europe, China and the USA. Its demand is gradually picking up in India as well. Plywood entirely made from Okoume is in most cases used in exterior conditions because of its high resistance to impact and weather.

It is particularly adapted to the most severe conditions when being used in the construction, boat building, vehicle building industries and as internal or external joinery fitting. Its mechanical properties remain very close to those of solid wood, but offer more regularity and better stability.

Since Okoume faces can easily receive all types of finishing systems, plywood constitutes an ideal substrate for painting or vanishing finishing systems. Okoume also has a high strength-to-weight ratio, which is why it is the plywood of choice for racing boats and applications where weight is important.

Okoume marine grade plywood is lightest in weight among all available marine plywood products. It can be used for hull and deck components, structural bulkheads and latches.

Far from being an endangered wood species, Okoume is an endless source of supply as long as sustainable management rules are applied. Okoume grows rapidly and regenerates well in clearings which makes it a very renewable.

Sawn timber

Okoume is a perfect wood species for the air-dried and kiln-dried international lumber market. It is quite similar to Meranti from Malaysia in terms of appearance, colour and other characteristics, and can serve as an alternative to Malaysian Meranti. Like Meranti, the end-use markets are doors and widow frame makers.

Also usable for interior furniture, Okoume has the advantage to be easy to process, polish and varnish even with different coloration. If you saw in quarter cut or flat, its regular structure allows different woodworking with a high quality finishing level.

Okoume is a very popular species in West Asia, Europe, China and North Africa for sawn timber. Mainly available in 50 mm thickness, Okoume demands are strongly increasing in Vietnam, Philippine and China. The European demand is steady and growing.

With the transformation capacity available at Gabon SEZ  (Nkok), Gabon is able to offer sustainable and uninterrupted supply of sawn Okoume. They are available in stock all year in thicknesses from 27-80 mm, widths of 100 mm or more, and lengths of 2,150 mm or more. Part of the product range is FSC certified, and the other part of the range has guarantees of legality in accordance with international practices.

The Gabonese Republic has embarked on a journey to provide amenable ecosystem and infrastructure to facilitate the processing of timber within Gabon. In this pursuit it has partnered with Olam International Ltd. of Singapore to develop a Special Economic Zone, spread over 1,126 hectares at Nkok, 20 km from the capital city of Libreville. (www.gsez.com).

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