Wood-Mizer Sawmills Help Cultivating Growth and Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan

By Rafaela Laurentino, Wood-Mizer

Wood-Mizer Sawmills Help Cultivating Growth and Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan


Ciqam Green Solutions Private Limited, also known as Ciqam, operates in the far north of Pakistan, near China, specifically in the Hunza Valley. This region is renowned for its mountains and villages, approximately 2500 meters above sea level. Once ruled by princes, the Hunza Valley is rich in heritage sites. 

"Ciqam" translates to "green" in Burushaski, symbolizing growth and prosperity. Ciqam is committed to empowering women, promoting gender equality, and fostering sustainability. We had the opportunity to speak with Aqeela Bano, the CEO of Ciqam, to gain insight into how the company is helping women in Pakistan overcome social and cultural obstacles to achieve economic empowerment. 


Ciqam Green Solutions Private Limited

"We used to collaborate with an agency of the Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan (AKCSP) that focuses on preserving and promoting cultural heritage sites," says Aqeela. "The project's goal was to create opportunities for young women from poor households in heritage development projects for AKCSP. The women would work in jobs such as carpentry, plumbing, and masonry, largely considered men's jobs in Pakistan, challenging the traditional view of femininity." 
Aqeela joined AKSCP as a trainee at a young age when the organization was renovating an 1100-year-old Altit Fort, one of the oldest monuments of Gilgit-Baltistan, that overlooked the Silk Road trading route between China and Europe. She learned much from foreign consultants with expertise in renovating and reconstructing heritage sites, gaining diverse skills such as topographic and architectural surveying and drafting. In 2008, the Norwegian embassy, a major supporter of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, visited Gilgit-Baltistan and was very impressed by the unique woodworking skills demonstrated by the young women in the Hunza Valley.  


1100-year-old Altit Fort

Sponsored by the Norwegian embassy, the group had the opportunity to visit Norway for two weeks to learn from woodworkers and gain insights from their practices.   
“During this visit we first saw a Wood-Mizer machine and were impressed by its capabilities.” Shares Aqeela. “Upon returning to Pakistan, we were grateful to learn that the Norwegian Embassy had decided to donate a machine to us, and we were hopeful that it would be a Wood-Mizer.”  
The embassy supported Ciqam in their journey, providing financial assistance from 2008 to 2016, just enough time to establish themselves as an independent business. 
“Today, we proudly say we are running our own business as independent women. This aligns with one of the central goals of our project - empowering women to take charge of their lives and contribute to the economy.” 


The Wood-Mizer Technology

"In Pakistan, it is common to find old and outdated machinery in sawmills and wood shops. The type of technology Wood-Mizer offers is unique and unheard of in Pakistan," shares Aqeela. "The new Wood-Mizer sawmills replaced our old bandsaw machine, which had exposed blades and was unsafe to use. Not only was it not very efficient, but it also required more labor to operate." 
The Wood-Mizer LT70 sawmill uses narrow-band blade-cutting technology. This blade produces thin-kerf in wood no more than 2 mm thick. As a result, more boards can be made from each log, and less wood goes into sawdust. After the LT70 sawmill, the boards pass through a Wood-Mizer EG300 edger, which removes the edges and cuts the boards to the required size. Using these two Wood-Mizer machines in tandem significantly increases productivity and makes work easier. 

The transition to Wood-Mizer improved safety and increased efficiency, allowing them to extract more from each log and reduce production times. “I am eager to bring in more machines and technology from Wood-Mizer as we continue to collaborate and grow.” 
Ciqam specializes in three different product lines: 

  • Furniture: They offer a range of well-crafted furniture including chairs, tables, and cabinets. 
  • Construction and Restoration: Their expertise in windows, doors, flooring, wooden wall paneling, and roofing. Their expertise includes heritage sites, ensuring their preservation and historical integrity. 
  • Sustainable Crafts: They creatively repurpose leftover wood to craft tableware, utensils, toys, and musical instruments for their music school. They prioritize the efficient use of resources and ensure that nothing goes to waste. Recovery and repurposing are vital principles for them.   


Commitment to Environmental Sustainability 

Aqeela advocates for environmental sustainability and expresses concerns over climate change. Living amidst the Karakoram mountain range and glaciers, the topography in Gilgit-Baltistan features a narrow green belt atop the mountains, covering only 2% of the total 72,000 square kilometers.  
"We face significant risks of landslides. To mitigate it, we plant trees in areas prone to sliding, creating green belts that help prevent erosion and reverse carbon emissions. In the last three years alone, we have planted approximately 13,000 trees." 


Hunza Valley

"We primarily work with what we call 'green timber,' distinct from forest timber. In our region, forests offer wood such as juniper and deodar, while locally grown timber—like poplar, mulberry, walnut, and Russian olive—is termed green timber. Harvesting forest trees requires significant time, as some are over a century old, whereas green timber typically matures in 15 to 20 years and can easily be replanted." 
Education is a crucial aspect of Ciqam's mission. Through workshops and awareness campaigns, they aim to educate carvers, carpenters, and wood suppliers about the benefits of using locally sourced "green timber" instead of cutting down forest trees. 


Gender Equality and Economic Empowerment  

Back in 2008, Ciqam initiated a project aimed at providing young women from poor households opportunities with jobs such as carpentry, plumbing, and masonry. With the support of the AKCSP, Ciqam successfully trained numerous women through an NGO before integrating the initiative into its business plan. 
"I believe in empowering women. Coming from a marginalized, low-income family, I know many other girls in a similar situation who want to provide for their families," says Aqeela. "Especially here in this area, we face a very male-dominated society with discriminatory barriers dictating which jobs are for men and which are for women. Many jobs are segregated by gender, and we want to overcome this so that we are all equal as human beings with the same opportunities. We want to ensure you can pursue whatever path you choose, whether you're born a girl or a boy." 

Together, they challenge traditional gender norms and open doors for women to new non-traditional professions. 


Elders bestow blessings upon Wood-Mizer sawmills for prosperity
“I am honored to see the difference Ciqam has made,” says Christoff du Plessis, Wood-Mizer Technical Sales Representative. “Among the 100,000+ sawmills Wood-Mizer has produced over its 40-year history, many are operated by female operators and entrepreneurs. It’s amazing to have a business like Ciqam contributing to the local economy in Pakistan, and to see the community supporting women-owned businesses as elders and locals bless our machines to prosper.” 



Subscribe to Receive Email Updates
Be the first to hear about new products, promotions, customer projects, and more with our free Wood-Mizer Newsletter. Sign up today!