Belizean rosewood, Dalbergia stevensonii, is probably the most elite of our precious hard woods. For centuries it has been used to produce the highest quality and most sought-after furniture. In addition to its ability to produce a rich, lustrous finish, its high density (more than twice that of mahogany) gives it a unique resonance when used in musical instruments. The “heaviness” of this wood results in part from its slow growth rate.
Depending on the soil conditions, it may take 80 years or more for a rosewood tree to reach maturity. Even if the logger is conscientious and plants a seedling to replace the felled tree, several generations of people must protect that tree before it will be ready for harvesting. The stump may produce new shoots, but it is unlikely that any will give the quality wood of the original.
At the moment flitches may sell for $4 per board foot and that price appears attractive. But consider this: that board foot of lumber could be sawn into 100 letter openers (thin wooden knives) and each would bring $5 on the tourist market.
So by a simple value-added process requiring only basic tools, that small piece of rosewood can be worth $500! It is comparable to selling a bag of corn for $40 or making it in to tortillas that are worth several hundred dollars.
In addition, the sports industry requires blanks for carving gun stocks, the tableware manufactures need knife handles and the furniture makers and home craftsmen want turning blanks. Producing these items does not require expensive equipment and yet the value of the raw material can be increased many times.
It is also important to recognize the wastage involved in present harvesting practices. Because of size and straightness requirements for exportation, much useable rosewood in the form of crooked and undersized pieces remains in the bush.
Over a period of 25 years, KirbyKraft, our small Toledo business, produced and sold to the tourist industry over 8,000 items and most were made with scraps from rosewood logging operations. We also planted rosewood trees, approximately four times as many as we used.
Adding value to raw materials has the benefit of creating jobs for the community. Someone must gather or grow the material, craftpersons are employed to create the finished product and others are engaged in the marketing. If we maximize our returns from each of our natural resources by adding value to them, we can create employment and use our resources at a slower rate so some will remain for the use of future generations.
Selling our resources in the raw form, where most of the profits are made abroad, is just copying the colonial system that we rejected 32 years ago. The institutions we inherited are based on practices that are inappropriate today and keep the revenue in the hands of only a few.
A modern forestry department need not be dependent on resource extraction for its revenues. Instead it would put its efforts into protecting the diversity of our existing forests and encouraging the re-establishment of forests in logged-out and farmed-out areas. An up-to-date department would look for its revenue from the expanding eco-tourism industry and from the carbon credit market.