vlcsnap-2013-05-02-21h49m56s158Rosewood  is a highly prized and a much sought after timber. In Belize, the timber is found primarily in the Toledo district in low-lying coastal areas. The District, which once boasted over 85% forest coverage, has been losing some 5000 acres of forest each year.  Rosewood was being extracted from 2008 and it was not until the end of 2011 that  public discussion started about the unsustainable extraction of the hardwood. By this time much of it had been depleted. Now in 2013, after numerous cache bust, a wood burning incident by Minister Lisel Alamilla and an amnesty period; Belize’s rosewood has been listed on CITES as an endangered species. With these new restrictions on Rosewood, it begs the question of which of Belize’s Natural Resource will be targeted  next? That is exactly what Agronomist and Former CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture Mr. Hugh O’Brien spoke about on Rise and Shine this morning.

Hugh O’Brien – Agronomist:
vlcsnap-2013-05-08-20h08m41s42With the clamping down on Rosewood, and the fact that Rosewood is now going to be listed on Appendix 2, it means that the international community will help us to restrict the trade of Rosewood, and we’ll have to put in place sustainable management harvesting practices, and we’ll have to put in place a regime and get that approved by CITES.  It doesn’t mean that we can stop trading, but we’ll have to put in place a mechanism that we can manage and monitor, and that the international community would help us with.  As it happens there are many other valuable woods in Belize, and one of them that I can tell you without a shadow of doubt right now, that is heading in the exact same way as Rosewood, is a tree called Cabbage Bark.

Mr O’Brien even went further by saying that information reaching him is that the timber is already being exported to Taiwan.

Hugh O’Brien – Agronomist:
Cabbage bark treeI will go as far as to say that the Cabbage Bark is being shipped to Taiwan.  It’s being bought from a number of the sawmills as raw lumber.  Now Taiwan is very close to China. the same people, and it’s only a matter of time.   It might be that it’s actually going to China and not Taiwan, but just that the persons who gave me the information see them as looking like Taiwanese, but didn’t quite know who they were.

Andira inermis or cabbage bark as it’s widely known in Belize, has a brown to dark reddish-brown heartwood. This  heartwood often produces an attractive variegated striped figure, which would typically fetch premium prices in first world countries after a value added product has been produced. O’Brien explained the cycle of how it works and why he believes Cabbage bark is next.

Hugh O’Brien – Agronomist:
What’s the price for Mahogany right now, raw wood foot?  What’s the price for Mahogany? Somewhere between five and seven dollars Belize, I’m not too sure the exact price of Rosewood right now, but I know it’s in excess of ten Belize per wood foot, raw lumber, even fitch.  Cabbage Bark as raw sawn lumber is now selling for four dollars fifty cents Belize per board foot.  This is last week’s price.  It might be at $4.75 per board foot. Now I’m not talking about planing the lumber.  I’m not talking about flooring. So three years ago, as you go to places like Banana Bank, you go to resorts in Cayo, people who Cabbage Bark floorhave built their homes out of lumber, many people have opted to use Cabbage Bark because it’s a hard wood, it’s a beautiful wood, a nice shine when you put the oil on. It’s also very tolerant to the various insects, termites and so on.  I mean they still attack it, but because it’s so dense it has a large degree of tolerance to insect damage.  You could have bought Cabbage Bark flooring, as recent as two years ago, for the regular price of other flooring, $2.50, $2.75.
Demand was obviously growing.  The supply is still out there to a fair extent.  The demand initially was locally.  If you look at the Rosewood cycle 15 years ago, the Cabbage Bark cycle will get shorter.  It’s the nature of Human Beings.  You learn something, and then the next time around the cycle gets shorter.

Belize can capitalize on the fact that these timbers are highly coveted; as it’s not the harvesting of the timber that’s the problem. Rather it’s the unsustainable extraction and the symptomatic politically motivated actions which affect the country from profiting from the international exports of these hardwoods. O’Brien offered a practical plan which could help curb such a situation.

Hugh O’Brien – Agronomist:
If you were to take any of those species, let’s take Mahogany, let’s take Teak, let’s take Rosewood, Cabbage Bark, or any of these woods, Purple Heart, that we you in our country.  Now some people say, the first thing they discourage you from planting it. They say, “Oh it’s a hundred years.”  But we have planted Mahogany in Belize in fertile soils. After ten years you already have a nice looking Mahogany Tree. 
TeakTeak, obviously, has been proven, because teak is grown in other countries, and there are people who have experience, and even in Central America.  Some of these hard woods because of their hard nature, they are very tolerant, resistant to insects, so they can grow in pure stands. I can’t say that with a research background, but I know that based on just analyzing their physiology that they can grow.  Mahogany is a softer wood, and Cedar is softer, so they are more amenable to insects coming in and damaging them.  But if you are to plant you can easily hold 400 or more trees in an acre.  So let us say, how much can you get for a standing tree? 200 bucks?  Let’s use a low figure.  I’m sure you can get about 500, but say 200 bucks. It would take 25 years to harvest a tree.  In the case of a Teak it’s 15 years.  So if you have 200 bucks and you have 400 trees per acre, what’s the figure there?

Hugh O’Brien now works as a private consultant and according to him, he believes Black Poison Wood or Che-chem will be the next highly sought after untenable wood.