21 July 2018
Would you think differently if you knew what the life cycle of a product really was?
Trekking through the forests of the Usambara mountains, we came across the scene from which this question stems. Here in front of us was the logging industry of Tanzania. To the left, we could see hundreds of logged trees, ready for transport to the mill nearby. Men worked together to load logs onto the bed of a well-weathered pickup truck, so far down the mountain that I used the telephoto lens to capture the work to reflect later.
To the right, hundreds of acres of newly planted land was being cultivated by a few farmers who were within reach of our greetings. As we began to question the scene, our guide explained that the trees were planted specifically to be logged and that the surrounding village people would then plant potatoes, cassava, and various greens to replenish the earth and fight soil erosion.
“Massive piles of sawdust sit on the side of the road and men lounge in them while taking a morning break.”
Past the fork in the road, we come across the mill. Massive piles of sawdust sit on the side of the road and men lounge in them while taking a morning break. The mill is an open structure with a man operating a circular mill saw blade for ripping the logs into timbers. In total there are five men working this industry. They load newly ripped timbers into a truck for transport and we continue to walk.
Fast forward a few days and, driving through Arusha, I find the timbers being sold in street side markets as a building material as well as being fashioned into furniture. Are those the same timbers? In all likelihood they aren’t, but I found myself wondering from where the timbers originated and what the purpose was as an end result.
Arusha is a city by all definitions of the word but observing the purchasers of the wood, they carry the timbers to their destination or strap them to the back of their motorbikes. They are not purchasing more than what they need nor will the scraps be thrown away. Everything here is used.
And thus this returns us to the initial question. If I knew where my timbers originated from, would I think differently when standing in Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Menards? If I knew the environmental impact that the logging industry was taking on the place of origin, would I measure more carefully so as to not buy that extra 10% “required” to finish projects comfortably? If a Tanzanian’s picture accompanied the the timbers in the lumber section, would I take the time to read it? The answer, at this moment on this trip in the middle of eastern Tanzania, is of course a resounding yes!
But the true measure of he impact this trip has made will come at home when I begin a project…will I remember then?
“If I knew where my timbers originated from, would I think differently when standing in Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Menards?”
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