ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
Sustainable Supply Of Timber
One of the challenges to the forestry sector and the wood-based industries of Sarawak is the need to address and overcome declining raw material supplies and to fully utilize available resources.
The timber industrialists in the State are looking for a the long-term supply of raw material for their high capital mills. Much of the demand will be for general utility timber that can be raised cheaply over short to medium term rotations. If the mills are to remain in supply of the raw material, timber alternative sources besides that from the natural forests have to be explored.
Demand for pulp and paper material is growing and Malaysia is importing considerable and increasing amounts of the material. Therefore, this sector of pulpwood production has also been identified as critical. The need for pulpwood plantations is enormous and the government has to assist the private sector in developing this sector of plantation.
Although our natural forests are highly productive in terms of biomass production, commercial timber productivity is very low which is at about 2.0 – 2.5 m³/ha/yr because most of the trees have no commercial timber value and must be reserved for protection functions of the environment.
Forest plantation, on the other hand, can be extremely productive. In Brazil, for instance, forest plantations yield 40 m³/ha/yr and under experimental conditions, yields of 80 m³/ha/yr have been recorded. If we assume a conservative growth rate of 30 m³/ha/yr, the annual production of 30 million m³ from our planted forests may be produced from a plantation area of about 1 million hectares. The current timber production from our natural forests is 12 million m³. In other words, the future supply of timber from our planted forests doubles what we produce currently.
The establishment of planted forests is a long term strategy towards providing an alternative and steady source of woods material for the wood-based industries in Sarawak.
Less Logging Pressure On Natural Forests
Our forests are mostly located in hilly areas and therefore environmentally sensitive, and without strict control and enforcement, logging can lead to soil erosion, pollution of rivers, flash floods and other negative environmental impact.
In order to accord priority protection functions of forests, for examples, water catchment, biodiversity conservation and other environmental values which must be totally protected, there will be substantial decrease in the extent of natural forests for timber production.
Forest plantations will relieve pressure on logging in our natural forests both in term of area and intensity. As forest plantations start yielding timber, logging in areas needed for protection functions will substantially decreases and may be phased out. Also logging in natural forest can be less intensive than the current production of 100 m³/ha which will lead to less negative environmental impact and biodiversity loss.
Sustainability Of Natural Forest
Concern for the sustainability of natural forests has become a major issue of discussion these days. ITTO’s recommendation that the log production from PFE in Sarawak be reduced to 9.2 million m³ to achieve a sustainable level is adopted.
Annual allowable cutting in permanent forests estate (PFE) is limited to 170,000 hectares a year with an average estimated production of 100 m³/hectare. An area of 5 million hectares of PFE has been constituted as a production forests. Out of this, an area of 2 million hectares is allocated to provide for planted forests. Thus, 3 million hectares remains for timber production. Assuming that rotation period is 35 years and a timber production level of 100m³/ha, an annual timber production of 8.5 million m³ per year can be realized from the PFE.
This is not sufficient to supply materials for the forestry sector industrial needs in the future. This would mean that more timber has to be obtained from other sources to supplement timber production. Planted forests with a high productivity would offer a promising long term supplementary source of timber.
Degraded Or Under-utilizedLand
A lot of degraded or under-utilized land is found in the state resulting from shifting cultivation. Lands that underwent shifting cultivation which is a major damage to forest areas in Sarawak increases from 2.25 million ha in the 1960s to 3.33 million ha in 1985.
The State Government of Sarawak is looking at the productivity and economic returns of idle land, including these three million hectares of shifting agriculture land. One attractive solution to this issue is plantation development.
Besides ensuring the lands are well utilized in the country, there is also the added benefit of bringing social development to the rural people. Plantation development is also a labour intensive industry. Currently the work force involved in the forestry and timber sectors is estimated at about 80,000 persons and export earning for timber and timber products in 2008 amounted to RM7.4 billion. Logs, sawn timber and plywood amounted to 6.9 billion. With planted forest development more workers are needed and employment opportunities are created.
Multiple Land Uses
One of the challenges to the planted forest development is the need to address the problem related to multiple usage of land resulting from various priorities of different sectors.
Cases of overlapping of areas issued for LPFs with that issued with provisional lease(PL)happen in some areas. Claims of NCR by the natives in LPF area is common which may result to some areas lagging in the progress of implementation.
The NCR related issue is more challenging and complicated relatively to those area overlapping with issuance of PL.Under rule 10(2) of The Forests Rule no licence shall be issued until such rights by the natives have been settled or extinguished in accordance with the Ordinance or the Land Code. Clause 22(1) as exhibited in the schedule also touch on these rights. The licensee, under the clause 22(2), shall comply with the rule in relation to the establishment of planted forests over land subject to native customary rights claims.
The environment needs to be protected and as we are all aware forests play an important part in this function. The opening of an area of forest will definitely have an impact on an environment. This is a great challenge that needs to be addressed. Some negative impact to the environment cannot be avoided especially at the initial stage when there is clear felling of the area. The intensity of the impact needs to be reduced through strict monitoring.
The Forest Department under its Planted Forest Division would continue to monitor and audit the tree planting activities. In accordance with the Forests (Planted Forests) Rules 1997, potential investors will need to submit their tree planting plan indicating planting schedule in terms of area to be planted annually and the species to be planted before the LPF is issued.
EIA approved NREB is a compulsory requirement that need to be fulfilled before planting of trees is carried out. This requirement is prescribed in the licence condition.
This tree plantation industry involves a long gestation period of not less than 10 years. This does not suit well to the financially institutions. However, currently some banks are starting to do feasibility studies on the potential of the industry. However, generally they still prefer investing in areas which can give revenue in a short period.
Intervention through incentives by both Federal and State government is available. Two initiatives were taken by the State government in this respect. Under clause 26 of schedule exhibited in the Forests(Planted Forests) Rules, 1997 investors are allowed to cultivate 20% of the licence area for a cash crop, namely, oil palm for one cycle of 25 years to allow the investor to reap revenue in a shorter period. The other flexibility given under rule 29(2)of the Forests(Planted Forests) Rules,1997is the exemption of payment of annual land rent for the first six years after issuance of licenses.
The Federal Government initiatives and incentives to assist investors in developing forest plantations are also available through government agency like MTIB by providing loans to concessionaries. Tax incentives are also given by Inland Revenue.
Allowing 20% of LPF area for oil palm would give the investors the opportunity to reap revenue in a shorter period to help them in their cash flow. This revenue would be use for the tree planting program. In some areas, investors may give priority to planting oil palm over tree planting. This is a challenge and demand regular monitoring and auditing by the department.
The Forest Department under its Planted Forest Division would continue to monitor and audit to ensure that the planting of trees for the establishment of planted forest shall be in accordance with the tree planting plan approved by Director of Forests under 11(b) of the Forests (Planted Forest) Rules, 1997.
I. An estimated annual production yield of 30 million m³ timber can be realized by the establishment of I million hectares of planted forest.
II. The successful implementation of the planted forest would lessen harvesting pressure on the natural forests and subsequently would enhanced sustainability of the natural forest and reduce negative environmental effects.
III. To encourage and facilitate development of the plantation forests, assistant in the form of incentives at this initial stage is critical and need to be made available.
IV. The issues resulting from multiple land uses need to be addressed to avoid misunderstanding and lagging in the project implementation.
V. Regular monitoring and auditing need to be carried to ensure that the planting schedule is strictly followed.