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High timber prices push up cost of local furniture items in Kenya


by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- While moving out of his parent’s home three weeks ago into his own flat, Nairobi resident Kevin Onyango had a perfect plan.

Using his savings, he paid rent, bought utensils, curtains and a bed to enable him to begin a new life.

He had also planned to buy a five-seater sofa set for his one- bedroom house. But almost a month since he moved out, Onyango has not achieved this dream because of the high cost of furniture.

"My budget was 455 U.S. dollars.

"I have walked in several furniture shops in Nairobi but I cannot get a nice seat worth that much," recounted Onyango on Monday.

The accountant, who is three months into his new job, is almost losing hope of ever buying furniture.

He has gone to furniture shops in Gikomba, Mutindwa and Embakasi where he lives, but he cannot get nice seats fitting his budget.

"In all the workshops I have visited, they are selling the seats at between 568 dollars and 795 dollars.

"This is way above my budget. I cannot afford the cost because I have other things to take care of."

The 27-year-old is among the Nairobi residents who have been hit hard by high price of furniture.

The cost of the products has doubled in the last two years despite rise in competition.

The furniture include beds, sofa sets, TV stands, cabinets, tables and wall units.

A standard 6 by 4 feet bed made of softwood is now going for at least 80 dollars, up from about half the price two years ago.

A double-decker bed, on the other hand, is being sold from 114 dollar to 227 dollars in many middle income estates.

Anyone wishing to buy a table and four stools must part with 114 dollars to 341 dollars. For TV stands, one pays from between 96 dollars and 205 dollars.

Prices of the furniture triples in established shops in the city, where a bed goes for up to 1,136 dollars.

The cost has shot up despite the explosion of furniture shops in every suburb across the city.

Tens of furniture shops have sprung up in many city estates, as property developers construct dozens of houses, and many people move into them.

"The cost of furniture has gone up because of high price of raw materials, in particular timber.

Timber has become hard to come by, because the government banned logging in forests.

A sizeable chunk of timber we use here is imported," said David Ekonye, who runs Classic Furniture Makers workshop in Umoja on the east of Nairobi.

Ekonye said they buy a foot of timber from merchants at 0.50 dollars, up from 0.35 two years ago.

Latest statistics from Forest Department in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources show that Kenya spends up to 40 million dollars annually on timber imports, mainly from Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo to meet rising demand that stands at more than 40 million cubic meters annually.

Initially, people in search of bargains preferred to visit workshops and fit furniture than buy from showrooms.

However, there is now little difference between fitting the furniture in workshops and buying from showrooms.

"I sell five-seater couch made of pine at 681 dollars. We increased prices to compete with showroom owners, some who were buying from us and selling at higher prices raking in huge profits at our expenses," says Ekonye.

Ekonye does not see the cost of furniture coming down any time soon in the East African nation as timber prices continue to increase.



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