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Timber operations in West Africa


Manager, Information Department, United Africa Company, London

It is probable that among the many problems which timber companies throughout the world have to face, nowhere are they more arduous than those encountered by the companies operating in the tropical rain forests of West Africa. The film "The Twilight Forest", produced by Unilever, tells part of the story of the operations of its subsidiary. The United Africa Company (Timber) Limited, and associated companies, African Timber and Plywood (Nigeria) Limited and African Timber and Plywood (Ghana) Limited, in these forests. In this article the forestry operations outlined in the film are elaborated and the processes of converting the timber into a marketable form are described.

The West African forest belt extends over an area of 150,000 square miles, (388,600 square kilometers), varying in depth from 50 to 150 miles (80 to 240 kilometers) from the coast.

In Nigeria, of its total area of 373,000 square miles (966,000 square kilometers), about 139,000 square miles (360,000 square kilometers) are forest lands. However, it is the Western Region which contains the important timber bearing areas of Nigeria: there is no extraction for export in the Northern and little in the Eastern Provinces of Nigeria. The total area of the Western Provinces is 44,000 square miles (114,000 square kilometers), of which 18,529 square miles (48,000 square kilometers), or 42 percent is forest land, over one half of this area - 10,571 square miles (27,400 square kilometers) - is closed forest, which means the trees grow so close together, there is a continuous closed canopy of foliage. Forest reserves account for 3,863 square miles (10,000 square kilometers) of this area, while 6,708 square miles (17,375 square kilometers) are unreserved.

The reserved forest does not consist of a single block of land, but of a large number of isolated irregularly shaped islands of reserve scattered over the whole closed forest area.

In Ghana, 30,000 square miles (77,700 square kilometers), or one third of the country, comprise the closed forest zone. One half of this area has been converted to farm land and of the 17,000 square miles (44,000 square kilometers) of forest remaining, about 6,000 square miles (15,500 square kilometers) have been declared reserve forest, the remaining 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers), being unreserved. This latter area will eventually be converted to farm land, while the remaining 6,000 square miles (15,500 square kilometers) will be conserved in perpetuity.

In the forests of West Africa many different species grow side by side. Nowhere can the operator be certain that one area will produce a good stand of timber and that another can be ignored completely as unproductive, either in quantity or in the quality of wood available.

Of the three types of forest in West Africa - swamp, savanna and closed - only in the latter does the stand of timber repay commercial extraction on a large scale. Here, the West African timber trees acquire their valuable characteristic - long, clean boles, the first branches being often over 100 feet (30 meters) from the ground. In the main, where there are two annual peaks of rainfall, the forest is evergreen. Where there is a single pronounced annual peak followed by a relatively dry season (i.e., in the monsoon climate) the forest is deciduous and loses its leaves in the summer.

The forests of West Africa are not so difficult to penetrate as the jungles of Malaya, and in some districts it is possible to walk through the forest with comparative ease. There is, however, a great diversity of forest trees and secondary growth of varying ages, and giant trees rarely occur as clumps or groups of a single type. The timber man has, therefore, to search carefully for trees of the right species and maturity.

Nearly half the forest leased to the United Africa Company is open forest where Africans settle and farm. The traditional way of clearing the land is by burning, and much valuable timber is constantly lost in this way. If, in the opinion of the Forestry Department, it is fairly certain that the timber trees in any particular area will be destroyed in the near future, whether for farming operations, urban expansion or road development, then the Forestry Department may designate the area for salvage felling, and the concessionaires may exploit the area fully, i.e., they may extract all the timber without restriction and without regard for the regeneration of the forest. This is a true salvage operation, and but for it timber in such areas would be burned or felled and allowed to rot.

The rest of the Company's forest areas are reserve forest where fellings are carried out in accordance with the plans of the Forestry Department. These plans treat timber as a crop and are expressly designed not only to avoid denuding the forest - but also, indeed, to preserve it for ever. An area once worked is closed until the forest has again grown, which may take as long as a hundred years. Meanwhile, the Forestry Department select and protect young seedlings, poison useless trees, keep weeds down and do everything possible to stimulate the regeneration. In due course the area should be even more abundant than it was at the time of the original felling.

Each concession is divided into mile squares, and the Company has to nominate the squares that it will go into and work over a five-year period. Once that has been done others may not be entered nor may they be reentered once the time for completion of extraction as laid down by the local authority has elapsed.

Historic background

The tradition of felling timber in West Africa has been inherited by the present companies. Up to the late nineteenth century no export timber industry existed in Nigeria and the great natural forest resources remained untapped.

About 1890, enterprising pioneers such as Crauston, McNeil and Mathieson began operating in the Benin Province, making Sapele the first port to export timber from Nigeria. The firms first in the field were McIvers, McNeill Scott, and Miller Brothers. The last named, a famous West African trading firm, began their timber enterprise at Koko on the Benin river in 1917.

In these early days the sole export was logs of which only a few species were shipped, such as Sapele wood, Lagos wood (Lagos mahogany), side wood (African walnut) and iroko.

With the formation of the United Africa Company in 1929 by the amalgamation of the Niger Company and the African and Eastern Trade Corporation the timber interests came under unified management, which is today the United Africa Company (Timber) Limited.


The most popular timbers extracted today are: walnut, mahogany, obeche, agba, niangon, iroko, sapele, guarea, opepe, makore, edinam and idigbo. Although the Timber Development Association Limited have published a booklet, Timbers of West Africa, which gives full details of the characteristics and uses of 72 different species of West African timber, all of which are of some commercial value, the Company today extracts in all only 20 species.

During the war years and after, an opportunity was given of popularizing a greater number of intrinsically valuable West African timbers, and at one time the United Africa Company was extracting 40 different merchantable species. Constant and persistent efforts are continually made to investigate and introduce a greater variety of species into the commercial list, as only by this means can the true wealth of these forests he utilized.

Establishment of timber operations

First considerations

The problems encountered in the setting-up of timber operations in West Africa are complex in that not only have the vagaries of climate, terrain, soil conditions, etc., to be considered, but also the varying traditions and usages of the people on whose lands operations will be conducted.

There is much to do before a timber industry can be founded in a primitive environment. Someone must explore the forest and decide whether there are sufficient merchantable trees, and whether the costly process of opening it up for logging operations would be repaid by the timber obtained.

The first step before exploration is to acquire from the owners an option to inspect and survey the forest and to apply for a concession. This secures for the Company the right of first refusal from the owners of the land.

The trees in the forests of Nigeria and Ghana are the property of the African communities who own the land on which they stand. Procedures for obtaining concessions vary from territory to territory, but in three important respects they are similar: the procedure is laid down by law. The interests of the lessor, who in some cases may be illiterate, are fully protected; the lessee obtains some assurance that the concessionary rights are valid in law for the full period named in the concession.

Sample enumerator

When an option has been obtained, a sample appraisal of the timber in the area is undertaken.

A series of strip enumerations is taken at regular intervals throughout the forest; the area of the strips usually totaling 1.25 percent or one eightieth part of the forest area. In the course of this survey every tree of marketable size within the strips is recorded, by species and by size groups, with special attention to topographical features which may affect extraction and transport.

This gives a rough idea of the commercial possibilities of the area and it is on this that the Company decides whether or not to apply for a concession.

Once the Company has decided that a certain area of forest presents good commercial opportunities it will apply for a concession which, if the area is large, will usually be a long-term one.


It is appreciated that security of raw materials over a considerable period is an essential prerequisite before the heavy costs of investment in modern plant and buildings can be incurred without undue risk. There are three interested parties involved in the concession; the owners of the land, the Forestry Department, and the Company. Once these parties have come to terms the lease is signed and passes on, according to the regulations in force in the area, to receive legal or official recognition.

FIGURE 3. - The photograph shows log being loaded on to large diesel lorries capable of carrying loads of up to 25 tone.

The concessions are usually for 25 or 50 years. They are drawn up on the basis of an agreed sum being paid to the owners for each tree felled, or for each cubic foot of logs extracted. Sometimes, these "royalties" or "felling fees" are combined with a ground rent for the concession, or a guarantee of a minimum annual payment per acre or square mile.

Complete enumeration

The next step to be taken before the commencement of logging operations is the full enumeration of those sectors of the Company's concessions in which extraction will begin. This involves taking a census of the entire population of merchantable trees and many likely secondary species as well. The selected area is, as already mentioned, subdivided into one-mile squares, the boundaries of which are marked by cutting walkable traces. These squares are further divided by walkable traces into eight equal rectangular divisions.

A team of 25 men, led by an experienced forest surveyor, then advances along the length of each division, each man being approximately 20 yards (18 meters) from his neighbor. On spotting a tree of a selected species he calls out, the line stops, the tree is measured and classified by the enumeration clerks, and if its girth is over a certain minimum it is recorded in the field books. Each tree is also marked with a number for subsequent identification. At the same time topographical readings are taken enabling a contoured map to be produced later. Two such teams generally progress at a rate of at least 30 square miles (77 square kilometers) each year.

This painstaking technique enables the forest manager to keep accurate records and to arrange his extraction program to conform with fluctuations in market demand.

The results obtained from the survey are continuously compared with the exploitation results forecast by the planning and progress departments at headquarters in order to correct and improve upon the production estimates by applying more accurate trees/volume of logs conversion rates. This action is taken because of the necessity for accuracy in the forward estimates.

Administration of forest areas

Each of the main concession areas is independently managed and self-sufficient, while working to the forest extraction program directed from headquarters. The head of the concession operating is the forest manager who is in charge of planning and administration. On his staff he has a production supervisor and a forest assistant and they share the duties on the ground - which include preparing the loading sites, planning ahead, making roads, supervising the felling gangs, haulage, loading at the sites and despatch to the mills; two plant supervisors share the duties of repairs and overhauls of all vehicles and forest plant.

Each concession is linked by radio with headquarters three times a day for progress reports and planning arrangements.

Method of felling

Most of the West African species with the root structure forming buttresses above ground level. These buttresses are often of gigantic dimensions and the usefulness of the tree begins above the buttress. This characteristic necessitates felling at 10 or 15 feet (3 or 4.5 meters) above ground level, for which reason and because many of the trees are of enormous girth, mechanical sawing is impracticable and all trees are felled by axe. Fantastic though the method may appear in this age of mechanization, the skill and speed of felling by experienced African axemen, balanced on a flimsy structure of saplings built round the buttresses, has proved to be the best method.

Mechanized extraction operations

Before extraction can begin, roads must be built so that, when felling is started, it is properly co-ordinated with transport to evacuate the timber. The keynote of extraction is smooth and economic operation of transport in which connection crawler tractors and graders, diesel-engined loading winches and lorries have wholly replaced manual labor formerly engaged in huge teams to do this heavy work. One important consequence of the remarkable increase in mechanization is the way in which the entire operation of timber extraction has been accelerated, with the result that there is little time for the wood to deteriorate, or suffer damage from insect attack or fungus, as often happened in the past, and considerable economies are effected.

When a tree has been felled, the branches and leaves are removed at the stump, and the trunk is dragged along the forest "traces" to the loading point on the nearest extraction road. For this operation a crawler tractor is employed in conjunction with a "logging arch" which enables the leading end of the log to be carried clear of the ground with only the heel dragging on the ground. When the log reaches the vehicle loading point the bark is removed and the tree is cut into lengths, suitable for loading on a road vehicle, by powerful electric chain saws which save time, labor and money, and receives its initial treatment by being sprayed with powerful insecticides and fungicides.

At the loading point, the logging assistant makes the first definite classification of the logs. He divides them into the logs required for the plywood mill, for the sawmill and for export. Each log is then given an identification number - a number which accompanies it until final utilization. The numbers are scored on the sides and ends of the logs. The standard method of lifting logs, which may weigh 10 tons or more, onto vehicles is to make a temporary clearing in the forest adjacent to a standing tree selected for its suitability as a mast. An African, possessing the natural skill of climbing tall trees with the aid of a hoop of vine and climbing irons, ascends the tree to fix a wire rope block 100 feet (30 meters) or more above the ground through which a heavy wire rope is passed. In principle, one end of the rope is attached to a log awaiting transport and the other end to a powerful diesel engined winch. With this simple tackle individual logs can readily be swung high over the top of other logs and be gently placed on a waiting vehicle.

Various types of logging vehicles are used according to the nature and length of the roads to be traversed and the load to be carried. In Nigeria, long distance log transport takes place by water. The logs are taken by the Company's large diesel lorries, capable of carrying loads up to 25 tons, to the nearest waterside installation and there off-loaded from the vehicles by crane. When sufficient are collected in the water, a raft is made, of floating pieces. The rafts used to drift on the current down to the Company's mills at Sapele, taking up to five weeks. Now they are towed by 150 h.p. diesel-engined tugs and rarely take longer than one week. This not only saves time but also avoids the loss of logs on the journey. As each raft arrives at Sapele its contents are checked and the logs are divided according to the upcountry classification and towed to different storage pens in the waterways. Species heavier than water are generally carried by strings of barges and have, of necessity, to be stored on land. The best logs are generally destined as such for export and the remainder are segregated partly for the plymill and partly for the sawmill.

Logs for export may be round as grown, or "squared" by sawing, according to the requirements of the buyet. Most species are treated chemically to guard against insect damage. All log exports are made up into shipments in fulfilment of firm orders to definite specifications. These logs are loaded into ocean-going ships which come up the river to Sapele, 70 miles (112 kilometers) inland from the coast.

The loading operation is a complex one and the ships which can anchor alongside the Sapele mill are worked by experienced Kroo boys under the charge of a Nigerian foreman, supervised by a European officer. Once firmly stowed away, these logs are on the first lap of their voyage to the United Kingdom or elsewhere, as part of Nigeria's timber exports.

In Ghana there are no rivers which can be used for the transport of logs down to the mills and to the port. Consequently, haulage in the forest from tree stumps to mill over hilly broken ground is very different from that around Sapele. The entire haulage, from the mill to the port, of logs and lumber is done by road and rail.

Maintenance of forest plant and equipment

A workshop and a spare parts store are provided for maintenance in each forest concession, but for highly specialized work the plant or vehicle is taken to the main workshops or the Company's headquarters.

This system of forest workshops has the following advantages: it encourages the individual forest manager to take full responsibility; it gives him all the means for effecting running repairs and in some instances complete overhaul of the plant equipment under his control; it facilitates team work in the forest; and it obviates the unnecessary movement of the vehicles and heavy plant.

The vast network of roads, with associated culverts and bridges, which have to be constructed by the Company through the jungle have, of necessity, an earth surface. The rainfall may average 100 inches (2,540 millimeters) per year which, together with tropical sunshine, often results in operations being carried out either in deep mud and water, or in thick abrasive dust. These appalling conditions treat the vehicles and plant in a most brutal manner and, in consequence, maintenance of the capital assets is heavy and their life short. It is greatly to the credit of all who work in the forest areas that they achieve so much under such adverse conditions.

Mill operations

Siting of the mills

The problems of tropical timber extraction throughout the world follow a pattern. It is one of bringing valuable hardwoods to the city dwellers who prize them most. Consequently, it is primarily an export industry using ships. Bringing logs to the ships led to sawmills being sited at the ports in order to process export lumber from the lower grades of logs, the higher grades being exported as round (or squared) logs.

The siting of the industrial installations of the Nigerian Company at Sapele followed precisely this tradition. Because of the early work with the old sawmill at Koko - mentioned earlier in this article - there were grounds for hope that Nigerian sawn timber would find a ready market; and it was decided in 1936 to erect a sawmill at Sapele.

Sapele is at the confluence of three rivers - the Benin, the Jameson, and the Ethiope - actually on the latter river 70 miles (112 kilometers) up from the sea, at the highest point that ocean-going ships can reach. It has long been a timber port by virtue of its access through a network of waterways to the best forests of the country.

In 1948-50, the sawmill was rebuilt and re-equipped with modern machinery and mechanical handling devices. At the same time, a large plywood factory, the first in West Africa, was added.

The full importance of Sapele's position on the river is realized when it comes to the transport of logs from the outlying forest areas to the sawmill; sometimes the logs have to be brought a distance of 100 miles (160 kilometers) and more by river.

Before that there is a road haul, again for distances as great as 70 miles (112 kilometers). Normally, heavy diesel driven logging vehicles deliver the logs to waterside loading points, equipped with cranes, on the creeks or rivers of Southern Nigeria. A network of hundreds of miles of roads has been built throughout the forest areas by the Company, for there were few other roads through the forest. (In other lands the problem is not so acute for roads do exist through the forests between towns and cities, but in West Africa spur roads, secondary access roads and main extraction roads all had to be constructed; where streams could not be forded, bridges had to be built, and all roads lead to the great natural highway of the river).

In the forests surrounding Sapele there are three main areas of concessions. One is in the Ife-Ondo region - 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Sapele by waterway. Most of the logs are floated to Sapele from here by rafts.

Another area is at Nikrowa, 50 miles (80 kilometers) by road from Sapele across two ferries and then 60 miles (96 kilometers) by waterway.

The third forest area, at Sapoba, is only 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Sapele by road or by waterway.

These three areas are, for the most part, situated in "reserved forests" intended to form the country's permanent forest area.

On the other hand, the siting of the sawmill at Samreboi in Ghana in the middle of the forest and 150 miles (240 kilometers) inland, represents a logical departure from tradition. Takoradi, the nearest port of evacuation, is only accessible by rail or road, and the decision was made solely to save transport charges, which are minimised by carrying processed products instead of raw materials. This point is better appreciated when it is realized that about half the bole of a tree is wasted in cutting it into lumber.

The town of Samreboi was built entirely by the Company on a mile square cleared of dense jungle. The site was chosen in 1947 to enable the headquarters to be established roughly in the center of the concession and although there is a nearby river, the Tano, this is subject to seasonal fluctuations in level and renders it useless for log storage. Therefore, an artificial log pond has been created to provide log storage while logs are awaiting export or conversion in the mill. There were no public roads in the logging areas around Samreboi and the Company, therefore, had to build its own roads, not only in the forest areas but to and from the areas and to the railhead at Prestea, 43 miles (69 kilometers) to the south, which links with the ocean port of Takoradi.

When the sawmill, power house, workshops and European and African houses were first being built, all the construction material had to be sent from Takoradi to Insu by rail, then by the Enchi road - a public road - to a point north of Samreboi. From this point an "access" road, 14 miles (22 kilometers) long, had to be built to reach Samreboi, a distance of more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) in all from the port.

The original task of building these roads was carried out by members of the Company who walked the forest, often following hunters' tracks and forest paths from one village to another, and sometimes cutting paths through the bush where no man had been before. Many difficulties were encountered and overcome in the postwar days when bulldozers and other road construction equipment were in short supply and labor was not plentiful. It is difficult to make roads on soft soils which have little or no rock or stone base and at the best are composed of laterite or at the worst cleared tracks through swamps and clay.

FIGURE 4. - The logs are carried into the sawmill from the river by a double-gantry. The squared logs in the picture are awaiting export.

To keep such roads open to regular heavy traffic through the seasons requires experience and judgment, and today they are given constant maintenance by teams equipped with their own plant, huge bulldozers, tippers, roadrollers and ditch-diggers.

Capacity of the mills

The capacities of the mills in Nigeria and Ghana were based, fundamentally, on the expected annual yield of raw material from the concessions and together can handle over 9,000,000 cubic feet (255,000 cubic meters) per annum which by any standard is a large volume of timber. The undertakings are the largest industrial unit of any type in either country, being of capacities far greater than any other mills on the African continent and comparable only with mills in America.

Sawmilling processes

The timber enters the sawmill from the riverside or log pond and is carried by electrically operated traveling cranes to the headrigs.

Mechanical handling has been introduced in both mills, while forklift trucks and straddle carriers are used to move sawn timber and plywood to and from the storing sheds.

Inside the sawmill the logs pass through a number of different sawing stages, depending upon their quality, shape and size. This work calls for quick and sound judgment in deciding how the logs are to be sawn, and a high measure of skill in controlling the machines.

The ultimate aim of the sawmill operation is to obtain the longest possible pieces of high grade sawn wood from each individual log which enters the mill.

It is particularly noteworthy that all the operations and the complete handling in both mills are mechanical. Movement from one process to the next is accomplished on electrically driven rollers or by chain conveyers.

The headrig operation is the first stage of the conversion from the log into sawn timber. Two vertical log bandsaws having flexible saws of up to 14 inches (35.5 centimeters) wide and travelling at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) per minute are operated in this part of the mill. The headrig sawyer is a highly skilled African.

To obtain the greatest benefit from the operations the headrig must be operated at speed - no small task when the carriage, together with large log, may weigh over 10 tons and travel at speeds of up to 500 feet (152 meters) a minute in either direction on its track past the bandsaw. A small mistake or minor error of judgment may ruin the log being sawn, or even wreck or damage the saw.

Once the headrig operation has been completed, large planks of roughly sawn timber are then mechanically carried forward to the next operation. Here a band "re-saw", which is also a vertical bandsaw, takes some of the thicker material from the headrig and saws it into two, three and sometimes four thinner boards of the thickness required by the trade.

It is interesting to note that the use of this "re-saw" enables the final job of cutting comparatively thin planks to be done away from the headrig operation which, being of greater size, precludes fine sawing work. Consequently, a greater throughput is obtained at the headrigs.

Complementary to these machines is the frame or gang saw. This consists of a vertical reciprocating frame carrying a number of straight saws evenly spaced to produce the desired board thickness. "Flitches" up to 14 inches (35.5 centimeters) in depth and 40 inches (1 meter) wide, cut from the log of the headrig, are fed into one side of the gang saw by power rollers. Often as many as 32 boards at a time may be produced. It is interesting to note that the gang saw makes 240 strokes a minute and the saws make a cut of 0.5 inch (13 millimeters) at each stroke; it thus takes about one minute to produce 32 boards 14 inches (36 centimeters) wide and 10 feet (3 meters) long.

A fourth type of saw used in the sawmill is the circular saw, which is used for ripping - that is, sawing along the length of the timber - or for cross cutting - that is, sawing at right angles to the length. Ripping saws are used to square off the edges of boards and to remove knots and other defects by cutting along the side of them; while the crosscut saws trim the ends of boards and scantlings, or remove defects.

Endless belts and pneumatic conveyors carry away sawdust and waste pieces of timber direct to the fuel bins of the power house, which generates steam and electricity for the whole of the enterprise.

In this business of obtaining the greatest possible wood yield from the sawn trunk and getting the highest returns, knowledge of the comparative values of long, narrow and short but broad material is called for in the edging and crosscutting of timber passing through the mill.

The woods of Africa demand their own special treatment. The methods adopted vary widely and are dependent on the species, size, shape and quality of the log and on the "end-use" of the timber; for example, sawing a large Douglas softwood into the many sizes and grades of lumber used in the United States markets is very different from the conversion of a large African mahogany log into sawn timber of the sizes and qualities required by furniture makers or shipbuilders in the United Kingdom. The finished lumber does, in fact, find its destination in almost all countries of the world where it is used in an infinite number of ways.

The plymill

The Company decided that it could utilize its timber resources even more fully by constructing at Sapele a plywood factory. This was completed in 1950. Today, with floor space of 150,000 square feet (13,935 square meters), it is the largest building of its kind in West Africa. The aim was to set up a plywood mill which would produce a hardwood plywood of the highest quality by world standards.

This aim has been achieved, and the "Cresta" plywood produced is rotary-cut; that is to say, the log is rotated in a huge lathe when the log is peeled into a continuous length of veneer up to 9 feet (2.74 meters) wide, later to be made up into exterior-weatherproof, hardwood plywood, which is generally faced with mahogany, or Sapele wood, and is always made from an uneven number of plies. Though sometimes used in furniture manufacture in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, it is not regarded primarily as a decorative plywood, although by virtue of its character and quality it is so used on occasion. Its high exterior quality is much in demand for constructional purposes. It might be interesting to note that the adhesive used fulfils the most recent rigid requirements of the British Standards Institute, known as the 'WBP test' (weather and boil-proof bonded). The failing-load, i.e., the measure of strength of the glue, must not be, on the average, less than 200 pounds (91 kilograms).

It is not appropriate in an article of this kind to go into the details of plywood manufacture, which are complex and exacting, but it must be emphasized that in the African forest the variety of processes, from felling timber, choosing appropriate types of log, conditioning with steam, peeling the veneer, drying and cutting the sheets, coating with glue, and pressing and producing the final high quality plywood is all achieved by African skilled labor many thousands of miles away from the world's markets and industrial centers.

Management and maintenance of the mills

Apart from normal management skills required for the successful running of the commercial and technical sides of these large undertakings, wide knowledge of the African mentality, of wood technology and of the specialized processes and plant is required. Moreover, the vast distance of the operations from industrially fully-developed countries requires continuous planning of staff matters, the acquisition and stocking of thousands of tons of stores items ranging from complex technical parts to the more humble but equally important household requisites and food, much of which is deep frozen and requires modern refrigeration for safe keeping. Processes and equipment have to be maintained and kept up-to-date. All of this calls for clear thinking months ahead of requirement.

The mills each have a full engineering set-up comprising both European engineers and African tradesmen with fully-equipped workshops, so that as much as possible of the maintenance and construction of plant can be done locally. Of particular interest is the exceptionally high degree of accuracy required in the guiding of veneer peeling knives and the highly specialized skill required in the manufacture of the enormous band saws and other types of saws, possessed by the staff of saw "doctors". The quality of the end product depends to a large extent on all the above mentioned special skills and on the enthusiasm and ability of the combined teams of Europeans and Africans, from the general managers downwards to the most humble laborer, all working in difficult tropical conditions.

Sources of energy

The sawmills and the plymill absorb tremendous quantities of energy in the form of steam, electricity and compressed air. To meet these requirements in the remote areas where no public authority supply is yet available, large power stations have been built, fired by the wood waste from the associated manufacturing processes. These power stations have modern boilers equipped with special firing devices for wood waste and large turbo alternators generate electricity which, in the case of the Sapele mill also meets the electricity requirements of the African township of Sapele.


There is a pilot plant and research laboratory at Sapele with one European and one African specialist and a staff of 14 people. Among the important tasks carried out by this unit is the application of research to future projects utilizing wood; testing raw materials and products under tropical conditions; trouble shooting on factory quality/condition problems - i.e., investigating any trouble that may concern the wood during the factory operation, its reaction to humidity, stains, seasoning, the effectiveness of the glue bonds; and the control of organic deterioration of wood - testing antidotes to insects and wood destroying fungi.

FIGURE 5. - Ancient and modern methods of water travel typify the great timber undertaking of African Timber and Plywood (Nigeria) Limited by the waterside at Sapele.


Throughout these operations, plant and vehicles are all operated by Africans who have developed a high degree of skill in the work. Africans trained in the arts of management and in the highly skilled techniques required to organize and supervise the maintenance of modern plant and machinery are, however, lacking in sufficient numbers fully to meet the growing needs of rapidly developing countries in West Africa. To help meet this situation, the United Africa Company throughout Nigeria and Ghana has organized its own network of technical training schools, whose work is complementary to that of the government training centers, university colleges and technical institutes. The timber companies have long conducted training courses for selected Africans in forest operations and management, sawmilling techniques and accountancy, under which most of the present African managers have graduated. Much time, attention and money continues to be devoted to the expansion and improvement of these training programs.

Health and safety

In both operations up-to-date clinics or hospitals have been built and equipped, staffed by European doctors and nursing sisters, to provide free medical attention for the employees. All new employees are medically examined before acceptance. One of the doctors tours the concession areas, visiting each unit at least once a month, giving medical treatment to the sick and supervising the work of the African dispensers or dressers who are permanently employed in each area. Water supplies have been laid on and sanitation of a high standard provided, even in the remote forest areas.

Logging and timber working are dangerous operations and, although the African operators are naturally cautious and the accident rate by world standards is very low, accidents do happen. Safety committees, to which both Europeans and Africans belong, are in being, whose work is to examine the causes of all accidents and recommend steps to be taken to minimize the risks of re-occurrence. These committees work in close consultation with the labor/staff or personnel managers.

Staff and administration

The broad lines of policy are laid down by the parent Company in London. The general management in all respects of the two operating companies, some of whose activities in the task of extracting and disposing of more than 1,000 tons of logs per day are described in the preceding pages, is vested in the boards of directors of the two companies domiciled in Nigeria and Ghana.

Between them they employ 5,500 Africans and 180 managers and top grade technical men. Eleven of these managers are at present Africans, mostly engaged in positions of responsibility in production jobs;

The African staff, all of whom are in regular direct employment by the companies, are graded for pay purposes according to the value of their jobs in terms of skill and relative working conditions. Fixed establishments, only alterable at the discretion of management to meet changing needs, are used to control employment throughout the operations. All African staff, including those in the remote forests, enjoy prescribed conditions of employment, available in booklet form. Amenities, such as housing, clubs and sports facilities are provided where these are not already available locally.

Contributory pension schemes are run for the benefit of both Africans and expatriates.

Systems of joint consultation exist throughout the operations, whereby committees including employers and employed sit together to work out improvements in working methods and conditions for the common advantage of all.

It will thus be appreciated that the constant aim has been to bring the most modern techniques to fruition in all aspects of running these very large enterprises which can be said to have pioneered the road for the more widespread industrialization which figures so largely in the thoughts and policies of the governments of the territories, as with independence they strive for the attainment of higher and higher standards of living for their peoples.

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