By Tina S. Mehnpaine
Plank sellers at the Pipeline Plank Field located around the Red-light market, one of Liberia’s largest commercial centers have informed the Daily Observer that there is an acute shortage of planks on the local market.
According to the plank sellers, the outbreak of COVID-19 in early March has contributed in no small way to this situation ever since the Government of Liberia introduced stringent measures to curb the spread of the virus which makes movement difficult for plank producers.
And even after the national state of emergency has been lifted, there is a rather sluggish return to the normal pace of business. This is due largely to the fact that, due to travel restrictions around the country during the state of emergency, people operating at different levels of the commodity value chain saw their meagre financial and other resources depleted during the lockdown, without any real turnover in the timber sector.
According to the plank dealers, the cost of transportation increased due to COVID-19 restrictions and many truck drivers stayed home throughout the pandemic.
During the early stage of the virus outbreak in the country, restrictions were placed on non-food items, including timber and other items.
“The Government only allowed food items to pass through the restricted areas, leading to the timber shortage on the market,” they said.
Additionally, county to county movement was also limited, which halted the activities of plank producers to get timber from rural areas to transport to urban markets like Monrovia.
“People in various bushes (rural areas) are afraid to cut trees and those who will muster the courage to go and cut down trees will sell it very expensively,” says Moses Lorpu Johnson, a timber dealer.
Johnson, who has been selling planks for more than seven years, says before the outbreak, he would spend less than L$20,000 to transport one truckload of planks to Monrovia. Now he spends nearly twice that amount of money to transport the same ‘one truckload’.
“Because of the slow-down in logging activities in rural areas, planks in Montserrado have become very expensive,” he explains.
Now, according to him, the doubling of the transport costs are now reflected in the retail cost of the planks.
“Before the biggest plank (wawa) was sold for L$400 apiece but now it has increased to L$800. This is as well due to the expenses made to transport the materials,” Johnson says.
Martha Sackie, another plank dealer, says before the outbreak, there was a regular turnover in the sale of planks. Now, she says, the commodity has become [scarce] like ‘gold dust’, which is negatively affecting her profits.
“Because the price of plank has increased, customers are no longer pouring into the market. Everybody is complaining and we are also complaining,” Martha sadly said.
She said there is a need for people to continue to complain for the high increase of plank price on the market because the sellers are spending a lot to get the materials.
“We cannot be blamed for increasing the prices of plank, knowing that we are spending so much to get the timber to town.
She added that the situation has also affected furniture makers who depend solely on planks to make furniture for the local market.
Lawrence Thompson, aged 32, carpenter who started his own furniture shop just two years ago, is now struggling to keep his business afloat.
“The shortage of plank has affected us greatly as we now buy plank for a very high price and at end of day we risk getting our money back”.
Unlike the timber sellers whose job it is to simply sell the planks, carpenters have to buy the wood and transform it into beautiful furniture, which customers are expected to come and buy.
“Our clients are complaining about the increase in the prices of wood. Consequently, we make very little samples which people view many times and fail to purchase,” Thompson said.