Tetekon is the new Iroko : Lesser-Known Timber Species are the best way to go!

There are over 50,000 species of timber in the world, but only a small fraction is widely used commercially. This, however, does not mean that the rest of the species are unsuitable for avariety of commercial uses. There under-utilised species are known as Lesser-Known and Lesser-Used Timber Species (LKTS) and can often substitute more popular species in terms of performance and aesthetics, and cost-effectiveness. This makes choosing LKTS a good business decision, which also has the potential to improve livelihoods and protect biodiversity.

The harvest and use of LKTS helps to protect biodiversity because it can reduce pressure on the more popular and commercial timber species by avoiding very selective logging practices, contributing to maintaining the natural species composition. Diversity in the timber species harvested also increases the economic viability of sustainable forest management, helping to improve livelihoods. This in turn reduces the risk of forests being cleared and converted to other, more short-term profitable land uses. The over-harvesting of very commercial timber species is not only an environmental problem but a risk for many businesses in the sector.

The worldwide demand for a limitednumber of species may reduce the future availability of these species. Not only in the short term due to the logging of too many trees of the same species but also in the long term because it means fewer mature trees are left in the forest to produce offspring to be harvested in future cutting cycles. Additionally, due to over-harvesting, the most popular species are showing limitations on the quality and size of the logs, as well as on availability. Some industries are already experiencing soaring prices and price premiums on well-known and highly used species.

In the long term, overexploited species may also face future trade restrictions which will inevitably negatively affect businesses. There is no down-side in choosing to diversify in timber supplies. LKTS can have similar and even better performance for some specific end-uses, and they can also have a more distinctive and unique appearance compared to more popular ones. For the furniture and design sector, for example, there are many LKTS available with rich, truly exotic colours and textures that can provide innovative design opportunities. Not only can LKTS substitute more popular species but they are generally more cost-effective in terms of price and volume availability because they are abundant and underutilized. This is also a benefit for companies looking for longer contracts that ensure continuity in the supply.

Some industries are already leading in diversifying their timber species and creating new market opportunities for LKTS. For example, the maritime construction sector is a pioneer in finding alternatives to traditional species such as Azobe or Greenheart. Some government bodies have also committed to diversifying their timber supplies via their procurement policies. An example of this is the UK Environment Agency’s National Framework for the supply of Temperate and Tropical Hardwoods, which aims at diversification of the timber species and to use more LKTS to support sustainable forestry worldwide.

To sum up, LKTS can guarantee performance quality, volume quantity, and supply continuity, as well as price competitiveness and be more sustainable. Therefore, some actors in the sector are already shifting! Timber buyer companies can start exploring to diversify their timber supplies by looking at the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) dedicated website for LKTS that includes a database of cases in which LKTS have been used. For LKTS from Ghana, BVRio recently launched a booklet with a selection of LKTS including all technical properties and end-uses. The Responsible Timber Exchange is also a good source to look for them!