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Forests that are potentially available for the production of timber in Mozambique cover 25% of the land surface. Low increment and reduced commercial timber stocks in repeatedly exploited areas restrict sustainable logging potential to 500,000 m3 of commercial timber per year. Since current harvesting practices concentrate on few species covering just 20% of the productive forest area, timber volumes extracted tend to be close to, and in some cases are beyond, their sustainable harvest potential.

Forest industry in Mozambique, mostly composed of small-scale enterprises with production capacities below 2,500 m3 per year, is considered to be a driving force for industrialization in rural areas. However, specific data verifying its performance are scant.

In order to establish information on the efficiency of commercial forest harvesting, the present study analyses five enterprises in northern, central, and southern Mozambique. Efficiency is evaluated by means of operational, organisational, energy, and financial indicators. Operational data were collected through time studies with continuous timing. Costs per machine-hour were calculated with the “Production and Cost Evaluation Programme – PACE” (FAO 1992). Intermediate results on output (log volume, travel distance) were then related to those on input (work-cycle time, tree volume, logged area, workforce, equipment, fuel consumption, costs per machine-hour), yielding indicators for operational efficiency (productivity, recovery rate, extraction intensity), organisational efficiency (labour productivity, utilisation rate, capital intensity), as well as for energy and for financial efficiency (unit costs, break-even point).

Logging operations, although well synchronised and productive within work cycles, occurred in a scattered and unsystematic scheme. Lack of harvest preparation, low recovery rates, and improper working techniques in felling and crosscutting resulted in low extraction intensity. Transport was the main bottleneck in operational efficiency. Poor road conditions and low load capacities of vehicles used in first (short-distance) transport and second (long-haul) transport prevented a consistent flow of raw materials and consequently held annual production volumes well below technological capacities.

As to organisational efficiency, only one enterprise showed favourable results in utilisation rate as well as in labour productivity and capital intensity. The other enterprises in the study, because of hampered raw-material flows, excessive numbers of personnel, and low timber potential in the logging areas, scored poor rates between timber output and input of equipment and workforce.

Indicators for energy efficiency in logging and first transport displayed favourable ratios between calorific values of produced timber and those of consumed energy. However, high fuel consumption and low productivity in second transport and processing precluded efficient energy use for the operations as a whole.

Financial efficiency varied depending on production volume, the degree of conversion of the final products, and the distance between the logging area and sawmill or sale site. Second transport and processing incurred the largest share of production costs per unit. In most cases low annual production volume and low productivity in transport and processing boosted unit costs and created pronounced deficits. Only one company managed to limit unit costs and create profit by efficiently employing machinery and workforce, producing on a comparably high volumetric level and externalising second-transport and processing costs to the buyer. Break-even points were in most cases beyond actual production volumes but still within limits of technological capacity. Due to higher prices obtained for finished products and lower transport costs, enterprises processing timber near the logging areas would have attained break-even point at a lower production level than those selling logs far from their origin.

As a consequence of operational and organisational impediments, production was extensive in terms of extraction volume and intensive as to workforce, energy, and capital. Results suggest that the efficiency of commercial timber harvesting, as it was practised under the conditions observed during this study, generates little or no benefit and hardly justifies extracting resources which should be considered precious and polyvalent assets for rural communities, the national economy, and the global biosphere. Recommendations from the study focus on raising extraction intensity through harvest preparation and optimised use of all available commercial species, and on reducing production costs by restricting transport distances and allocating processing units as close as possible to logging areas.

In order to guarantee operational, organisational, energy and financial efficiency, commercial timber harvesting should be confined to areas rich in commercially valuable tree species, and conducted by means of systematically structured and operationally optimised procedures. Further studies are required to verify whether more efficient logging practices would comply with standards on reduced environmental impacts and socio-economic performance.

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