With the current shortage of Genuine Mahogany and concerns about quality and grading, one positive side effect is the increased availability and popularity of African alternatives — including, but not limited to, African Mahoganies. Other species that produce long, wide, and highly stable boards include Sapele and Utile. Like anything, there are pros and cons; our job is to make sure we communicate clearly with our customers, educating them about the ins and outs of each species.
The Up Side of African Alternatives
When compared to Genuine, or South American, Mahogany, many African hardwoods are actually more durable. Some also take fine moulded details better. In addition, Africa has excellent forestry management systems in place, leading to an excellent supply with no hint of a shortage, as well as certification and verification schemes that allow for easy tracking of the supply chain, all the way back to the stump, providing necessary tools for determining legal and responsible harvesting practices associated with every single stick of lumber that we import. Even with the heightened governmental involvement and tracking, African species definitely face some unusual hurdles.
The Down Sides to African Species
While there is no true shortage of high-quality African hardwoods, the shifting market demands combine with constant political upheavals to create a virtual shortage. The issue is not connected to overharvesting or other problems with availability, but with a limited workforce available to harvest, saw, and season the lumber available. While far from unique within the lumber industry, the particular challenges facing the African market create a greater time lapse between a shift in market demand and the ability to meet the demand. The current “shortage” is due to a previous decrease in demand, causing many mills to stop harvesting African Mahogany altogether. For those who wait out the time lapse between increased demand and African mills’ ability to supply for it, the future will hold a return to a steady influx of quality African Mahogany.
The Role of Preferences for African Species
Among the African hardwood species that provide alternatives to South American Mahogany, various markets have specific preferences. For instance, the European market tends to favor Sapele, while the North American market leans toward African Mahogany. Because all African industry is controlled by the government, the lumber industry sometimes takes a back seat to more lucrative industries, such as oil and gas, depending on the current profit margins. The impact on the African forestry industry has been significant, with widespread shutdowns resulting from limited markets. Currently, Sapele and Utile both have broader markets than African Mahoganies, so they’re being more prolifically harvested and sawn.
As the African lumber industry continues to be in flux, learning to appreciate the pros and cons of various tropical hardwoods will be increasingly key to making informed decisions as a lumber customer.