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    In Mozambique, Communities Use Wood, Save Trees


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2006 

    © ITC/M. Stefanovic
    Chic wooden bracelets made by the Mozambican cooperative.

    Mozambique has been losing its forests to poor people who scrape a living from this valuable natural resource. Today, some are producing chic wooden bracelets for the world market while conserving precious woodlands.

    In the struggle for daily survival, people often ignore the importance of environmental sustainability in creating future economic growth. This was the case in Mozambique's Sofala Province, part of a woodland mosaic stretching across 12 countries from Angola to southern Tanzania, Mozambique and northern South Africa. It is home to some of the most beautiful and rare hardwoods in the world.

    More than 200,000 Mozambicans depend on the revenues generated from the forest sector, a number that increases substantially if those dependent on charcoal and firewood are included. However, according to research by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2004 the country lost 16,724 cubic metres of wood to fuel alone.

    At the root of this problem are people deskilled by civil war and, as a result, trapped in a perilous downward poverty spiral.

    In the town of Dondo, members of a small wood-turners' cooperative were making products that were not up to market standards. At the same time, they were targeting a tourism market that didn't exist any more and a local market that was as poor as they were.

    But, fortunately, they live in a dry, tropical woodland system where trees grow slowly, making for a unique wood quality. Because it is tropical, the range of trees is diverse and the timber from these trees is more decorative, more stable and more durable. The intense, rich colours range from deep burgundy to ebony.

    Seedlings at the nursery help to replace trees that are cut for wood.
    © V. Gallante

    From penury to Paris fashions

    Today, this cooperative and others are turning out high-quality, crafted bracelets that are making a splash at the high end of the fashion accessories market. Their design features bold architectural forms that are flashy enough for the catwalk, stylish enough for magazines and sensible enough to wear.

    An ITC-supported pilot project to boost exports in the wood sector helped bring about this change. ITC launched the project in 2004, building on the work of consultant and designer Allan Schwarz. This social entrepreneur was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000 for his work with forest communities to help them earn more from their environment, while preserving it for future generations. Mr Schwarz set up the Sofala Initiative, an alliance between a private company based at the Mezimbite Forest Centre producing top-of-the-range furniture and accessories, a woodcraft cooperative in Dondo, north of Beira, and the n'Hatanga community.

    "We had started manufacturing bracelets and other wooden products before ITC's involvement, but we did not have much production or marketing capacity," Mr Schwarz explains. ITC provided technical assistance in practical areas such as product adaptation for various markets, quality assurance, marketing and distribution.

    "With ITC's support, we have trained a lot of people in production, as well as in safeguarding the resource base," he says.

    The bracelets' beauty, as well as their sustainable and ethical qualities, has opened doors in mainstream as well as "green" and ethical markets. They were a hit at the 2005 Ethical Fashion Show during Paris Fashion Week and are already exported to South Africa through a wholesale agent and small retail network. A European marketing agent distributes to Belgium, France, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom. Distributors are busy in the French Caribbean and the United States. Interest is particularly keen in New York.

    A new fashion season is approaching and sales are expected to grow substantially. Already, new clients in New York are expected to purchase more than 1,000 pieces per month.

    A buffer stock of about 2,000 bracelets fills orders as they come in. Sales are seasonal, but are averaging 300 pieces a month, which is the breakeven number. The sustainable level of production - about 3,000 to 4,000 bracelets a month - is limited by the growth rate and inventory of the trees.


    Allan Schwarz discusses new
    techniques with a worker.
    © V. Gallante


    "Give back what you take out . . ."

    As a social entrepreneur, Mr Schwarz has long believed that environmentalism and sustainable economic development are "the same thing in different clothes". His ethic is: "give back what you take out" and everybody wins.

    The project trained a small group of men to identify and measure what trees and other plants were in the forest and where they were. From this, they drew up a standing inventory and calculated the sustainable yield of each species.

    A plan was developed with the community to cut below the amount allowed by nature for a single year, and then to replant. This meant developing another programme, building and equipping a nursery, training nursery workers and getting the local people involved in collecting seeds.

    About 180 trees need to be cut each year, but the nursery capacity has gradually grown and is currently germinating more than 2,500 seedlings. The excess capacity of the nursery grows fruit trees and vegetables and runs a permaculture demonstration plot, which feeds all of the project participants. Permaculture, or permanent agriculture, strives to create permanent, appropriate crops.

    Upgraded skills

    About 80% of the project's wood harvesters and blanks makers were previously charcoal makers, a harmful activity that contributes to chronic diseases, pumps tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere and ravages woodlands. Today, they work as lumberjacks and nurserymen.

    To improve the income of harvesters and reduce the volume of raw material transported, the project trained and equipped the lumberjacks to prepare the raw timber into machine-ready blanks, which meant the turners could concentrate on their craft. This made the production chain more effective and improved lumberjacks' income by more than a third. The skills of 19 existing craftspersons were upgraded and another 12 woodturners were trained. The best turners were also trained as quality controllers.

    Incomes today are averaging just over $100 per month, with the best turner earning about $300. On average, workers' wages in the Sofala Initiative have increased 14 times, compared with the rest of the country's population, who barely subsist on an average income of just $250 per year.

    Following the success of the pilot, the scope of the project has been extended to include six additional community groups, generating more jobs and increasing the number of direct beneficiaries from 25 to over 50 people, as production facilities have expanded to another urban cooperative, Kanimambo in Manga and another forest community in Mosca do Sonho. In the cooperatives, business skills have been consolidated and stock control has been rationalized.

    Training in agricultural forestry is also generating employment and income for the forest communities. As the pilot winds down, an estimated 500 people are benefiting indirectly from the jobs and income generated. The effects are already visible.

    "There is now a give-and-take cultural relationship with the forest. The numbers speak for themselves, but also malnutrition is no longer evident and reports of illness - with the exception of HIV/AIDS - are decreasing," Mr Schwarz reports.

    Patricia Sennequier, ITC Country Manager for Mozambique, points out, "The pilot programme was successful in adding value to the wood. It showed the Mozambicans that when they do this, they can create new opportunities for their families and communities."

    Holistic approach is key

    In 2002 with a grant from Ireland, ITC worked with the Government of Mozambique through its Institute for Export Promotion (IPEX) in order to build IPEX's capacity to devise a sector strategy and to contribute to increased export of processed wood products. The Government, which had made the wood sector a priority, endorsed the strategy, which was accompanied by an ITC-funded Environmental Impact Analysis.

    A two-year pilot project followed in 2004, where adding value to wood exports was the linchpin of the strategy. ITC and the partners of the existing Sofala Initiative implemented the project on the ground.

    The lack of business skills was not the only obstacle the partners faced in getting exports off the ground. The Sofala Initiative has lost 11 of 56 trained people to HIV/AIDS. To address this, the project collaborated with a non-profit organization, International Training for Orphans and their Survival, to run a survival skills training course for the community to learn about HIV/AIDS transmission, prevention, treatment and home-based care. The project also supplies workers with an immune system-boosting dietary supplement and condoms.

    Ms Sennequier says this holistic approach is essential to supporting more independent communities. "Of course it is important to address trade issues, but other issues are just as necessary if you are to succeed," she says. She points to the conservation element of the project as well as the services being delivered, and maintains that this is fundamental to building healthier, wealthier communities because it lays the foundation for sustainability.

    "The project has lit a small spark in the heart of Mozambican communities to lead them up the path of self-sufficiency," Ms Sennequier concludes. "ITC played the role of a bridge to link the public and private sectors to communities, engaging in effective dialogue. It also created links between Mozambique and important export markets."

    Scaling up to other communities

    This project shows that sustainable wealth can be unlocked for poor communities when activities to transform valuable raw materials into finished, exportable products take place locally. The project has extensive future scope. The development of a successful export strategy and model for the wood sector is encouraging and could be further scaled up to involve other communities and associations.

    About 40 community groups from Zambezia Province and more than 50 from Cabo Delgado are interested in joining the Sofala Initiative. A survey of resource bases for timber in Mozambique confirms that the project could be implemented successfully for 200 additional community groups.

    "The project is a model that could be replicated in other priority sectors. The idea to involve poor communities in increasing the export value chain is a strategy that works," Ms Sennequier says. "Now, these activities are flowing from the pilot and feeding into a comprehensive regional support programme for the wood sector."

    The Government has created a group - GES Madeira - to oversee the wood strategy and is looking for partners to help implement the regional support programme. ITC is developing other wood projects in the region, together with international partners, including Canada through its Programme for Building African Capacity for Trade.

    Trust - a valuable economic asset

    A critical success factor for ITC's wood sector pilot project was the opportunity to work with consultant and project manager Allan Schwarz, who had already gained the trust of the local people through his drive and commitment. A social entrepreneur with a long history in the area, he was able to maximize the impact of ITC's support.

    ITC helped to strengthen the link between Mr Schwarz and the community by helping them to organize themselves. This on-the-ground reinforcement included funding for equipment, training and bringing in marketing expertise.

    Trust is one of the most valuable economic assets. It is hard to create and easy to destroy, but it is a crucial ingredient of social capital. The level of trust in this public-private partnership was a driving force in the project. By involving other partners, including non-governmental organizations and the Government, the project is succeeding. It can now be used as a blueprint for replication in other communities.

    For more information, contact Patricia Sennequier, ITC Trade Promotion Officer, at sennequier@intracen.org 

    Dianna Rienstra,Trade Forumcontributing editor, wrote this article with contributions from Monica Yesudian, Patricia Sennequier, Natalie Domeisen and Prema de Sousa, ITC.