I hate Food Science. But I’m fond of food. I hate Food Science because every time I mention the course I took in campus, whoever I am talking to goes, ‘Er, Food Science? Nice course’. Well, maybe. I wouldn’t know. I studied Wood Science. Exactly! Now you understand.
We went through college trying to make the course look cool and shed off the tag of sophisticated carpenters. I want to believe that, in the Great Lakes Region, Wood Science is only offered at Chepkoilel University College (formerly a campus of Moi University) on the outskirts of Eldoret town – if it has hasn’t been scrapped yet.
They’ve been several attempts to modernize the course, to make it more attractive, to respond to the market needs. But what is this market that needs Wood Science? I’m sure experienced carpenters know more about wood machination than all my classmates combined!
Gladly, Wood Science is not as limited in scope. Wood Science is generally about wood utilization, broadly about environmental conservation. The first thing you learn in Wood Science is that wood is a scarce resource. A very scarce and valuable resource. That’s probably why the second thing you learn is how to generate wood. How to grow and take care of trees and forests. And why you should use wood only when it’s absolutely necessary.
Many efforts to curb global warming in the world have focused on reversing deforestation. Prof. Wangari Maathai owes her Nobel Prize to such efforts.
Many forests are depleted to satisfy wood lumber demands for various products. Here is where Wood Science comes in! Wood scientists role should be to ask and advice end users on the choice of raw materials for their products. You want a wooden ceiling board? Why not use the bagasse-cement composite and save a forest? It looks pretty beautiful too! Just look at the ceiling of most banks (Standard Chartered Bank was fond of it).
An ingenious way of reducing the pressure on our forests and curbing global warming is by focusing on wood utilization. Spread the message of alternatives. Most ‘wooden’ products we have must not be manufactured from virgin wood. Whenever we insist on using virgin wood, every piece must be traceable to its forest of origin and like every luxury item, the end user must pay a premium price.
We can manufacture furniture from the easier to replenish bamboo, paper from bagasse, fittings from wood composites, tissue from waste paper. The most important step in environmental conservation would be taking this message to the end user. Campaigning against this obsession with ‘hard wood’ products and preaching the benefits of alternatives. Of course this is not easy but embedding traceability as criteria for wooden products purchase would be a start. Enlisting the advice of a wood scientist would add tremendous value to such a campaign. Not a sketchy one like me! I can point you to my better versed former classmates. They are easy to find, half of them are tellers in your bank!
Mr Ogombe, a BSc (Wood Science & Technology) graduate, is a marketing consultant.