photo of forest on Kayu International Resources page for Sustainable Forest Management

The earth is 70% water and 30% land. Tropical rain forest covers 7% of the world’s landmass, representing 1.7% of the earth’s surface. The tropical rain forest contains more than half the flora and fauna in the world and is an important factor in the conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen. But tropical rain forest is not alone in assuring the globe’s environmental balance: boreal and temperate forests are no less important and so are the world’s oceans.

While the tropical rain forest can be found in 85 countries around the world (FAO), 90% of these forests are concentrated in 15 countries, which have more than 10 million hectares each.

According to FAO estimates, the extent of the world’s forest decreased by some 180 million hectares between 1980 and 1985. This represents an annual loss of 12 million hectares. This is due essentially to the growing needs of local inhabitants of food, fuel, industrial and mineral products. The rate of deforestation is indirectly in proportion to the rate of population expansion and the poverty of the country. Of the annual production of timber from tropical forests, 85% is for fuel; 10% is for local timber needs and 5% for export (FAO). The link between the exports of tropical timber and deforestation in the tropics is much less than generally known. Moreover, because of better economic value, tropical forests providing timber for export tend to be better managed.

Shifting cultivation and forest fires are responsible for 60% of tropical deforestation; 30% is conversion to agricultural and/or industrial use as the population expands; while 10% is due to unsustainable forest management practices.

Logging inevitably affects the environment. But with careful planning and sound operational practices, disturbances to the forest can be minimized.

Continuously improved felling techniques, improved overall forest management and innovative harvesting methods, downstream processing coupled with commitment from timber producing countries and sustainable logging can be achieved.

Professor Korsgaad (formerly with the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University of Copenhagen, Denmark) states that “contrary to popular belief the ecosystem of tropical forest is extremely dynamic.” In an extensive study covering forests harvested 9, 14 and 27 years previously in Sarawak he found that the forest was able to return to its former state of Eco balance. This has been further confirmed by Professor Bruenig, who held the Chair of World Forestry at the University of Hamburg, Germany.

Malaysia has a long history of forest management which began with the appointment of the first forest officer in 1901. At present, the total number of full-time foresters and supporting staff in the government sector is approximately 10,000. This number continues to grow even at a time of strong government policy to downsize the staff in the public sector.

The key to responsible forest management in Malaysia has been a policy of ensuring the continuity of product flow while conserving complex ecosystems rich and varied in flora and fauna. The annual felling rates (coupe) defined under the Seventh Malaysian Plan underlies this approach.

Since the 1950’s, it has been mandatory to prepare and implement forest management working plans in the PFE. Recent additional guidelines have been set by the forestry departments to incorporate volume and area control, such that harvesting is based on joint consideration of area, volume and cultural conditions. In this manner, timber volume for a specific area is based on a pre-filling forest inventory offering various cutting options. Actual logging volume is then supervised via forest checking stations which check timber harvested versus specific licenses. To ensure accountability, a tagging system has been implemented.

In the most tropical climate, regeneration after logging occurs quite naturally and even then, this is followed by cultural and enrichment planting where necessary. Natural regeneration is responsible for the majority of the regrowth in Malaysia with the result that more trees grow back than were actually there to begin with and this is due to the highly favorable climate for plant growth.

Once harvested, cultural treatment can be carried out to improve the stocking and growth of preferred trees in the residual stand if this is deemed necessary. In dense stands, liberation thinning is carried out to accelerate the growth of preferred trees. Areas poorly stocked with preferred species after logging can undergo enrichment planting. In all these activities, the heterogeneous character of the forest is maintained.

Malaysia has implemented a selective harvesting system, which is a technique providing openings in forest cover conducive to the natural regeneration of seedlings. In general, once an area is harvested, there will be about 13,000 seedlings per hectare growing in these gaps a year later; four years later, this figure is 20,000.

Under the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) Year 2000 Objective, all member countries will strive to install the process to achieve sustainable forest management. Malaysia as a producing member of ITTO is fully committed to this in the overall context of sustainable development. In this regard, Malaysia has taken action to operationalize the ITTO Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests and its Criteria for the Measurement of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management in managing its natural forest.

By way of illustrating this commitment, Malaysia was the first ITTO member country to permit a constituent state (in Sarawak) to be put under a microscopic examinations by a group of international expert from ITTO. Malaysia has also provided up-to-date reports on progress made and steps taken to strengthen forest management.

A National Committee on Sustainable Forest Management in Malaysia comprising representatives from various agencies in the forestry sector was formed in 1994 to ensure that ITTO’s Criteria and Indicators are fully implemented. After a series of meetings, the committee formulated a total of 92 activities to operate the ITTO criteria at the national level and 84 activities at he forest management unit level. As a matter of fact, the main points in the ITTO’s publication “Criteria and Guidelines for the Sustainable Forest Management of Tropical Forest” are adapted from the Malaysian Forest Management Plan.

While experts worldwide are still debating what sustainable forest management actually means, Malaysia has taken some practical steps of its own.

An important first step was when Sarawak invited an ITTO mission to study its forest management in 1989/90. The mission concluded that there was:

  1. an acute shortage of staff to effectively control, monitor and supervise logging:
  2. inadequate standards for protecting forest catchment areas; and
  3. overcutting in the hill forests.

These issues are now being addressed, together with more general initiatives taken throughout the country. These include:

Reduction of annual logging in Sarawak PFE from 12.5m cubic meters in 1991 to 9.2 m cubic meters by 1994. Log production stabilized at 9.2m cubic meters from 1996 as recommended by the ITTO Mission.

Selective logging in which 7 and 12 mature and over-mature trees are felled per hectare.

Introduction of bar codes, similar to those found in consumer goods which are being used on a trial basis to check timber theft. Codes such as these contain information on tree species, the area of origin and other details have been introduced in a few states. Initial findings show that this method helps in curbing illegal logging.

The various forestry departments have been strengthened with additional staff, with Sarawak alone beefed up with 300 additional sub-professionals and professional foresters.

Amendments to the National Forestry Act 1984 to strengthen forest management. The forestry law has been streamlined and tightened by increasing fines from $4,000 to $200,000 while mandatory prison sentences have been prescribed from 1 to 20 years. The amended Act also allows the use of police and armed forces personnel to assist foresters to curb illegal logging.

Remote sensing via satellite. Regeneration after logging and review of inventories can be monitored through remote sensing. Aerial photography and remote sensing (satellite imagery) are being increasingly used in monitoring the forests of Malaysia.

To prevent malpractice by some timber operating companies, Malaysia is studying the possibility of major logging companies hiring forest rangers and supervisors trained by the government to oversee their daily operations.

Downstream milling, processing and manufacture are being actively encouraged to increase the inherent value of timber and to shift export earnings away from logs and into semi-finished or finished products. This move will help conserve valuable timber reserves at the same time generating export earnings. For instance, the number of sawmills has steadily increased and now totals 711 in Peninsular Malaysia, 212 in Sarawak and 234 in Sabah.

Rubberwood – a renewable medium hardwood cultivated in plantations – is increasingly used for the manufacture of furniture. Research and development projects are also underway to utilize oil palm trunks and fronds in furniture making.

The policy of tendering for a timber concession favors those who have a long-term interest in the timber industry. The policy is designed to encourage those who also handle timber processing and downstream activities. The government is looking into lengthening the duration of concessions as it encourages responsible forest management. This is clearly seen in Sarawak where there are approximately 12 concession holders, with an average concession duration of 25 years. While the concession describes the physical area, its features and boundaries, the license constitutes the right to log the concession. This describes the terms, duration, forestry management techniques to be implemented etc. Licenses are supplied by the relevant state forestry departments.

Timber concessionaires not “playing by the rules” are penalized. In Pahang for example, such concessionaires have not been allowed to apply for new concessions, nor can they log elsewhere in the country.

Malaysian authorities are the first to admit that challenges still remain in meeting the objective of achieving sustainable forest management.

The National Forestry Policy has been formulated to provide a common approach towards forestry management, based on the need to maintain the forest in perpetuity while providing for economic, social and environmental benefits. However, forestry policy is built on political consensus and cannot be dictated centrally. Malaysia is a democratic nation comprised of thirteen states. Land and forests are defined as a state matter under the Malaysian constitution. Although each state can enact laws on forestry and formulate forestry policy independently, there is strong support and cooperation among the states in terms of forestry issues. For this reason, the National Forestry Council was formed in 1971 comprised of the Chief Ministers of the thirteen states and chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Shifting cultivation. Sarawak has been especially affected by this way of life. Landsat pictures from 1985 showed that cumulatively 3.33m ha (28% of the total land area) of forest land had been deforested by shifting cultivation. However, over time the incidence of shifting cultivation has progressively been reduced through the provision of better job opportunities, more settled livelihoods and the availability of better education and amenitites. To further address this problem, shifting cultivators are also being involved in community forest projects. Previously there was no rural employment but now local timber companies provide employment.

Ongoing development of downstream industry continue to effectively manage the shift of earnings away from logs to finished and semi-finished products. Exports of timber products and finished wood products have already exceeded log exports. Downstream processing continues to offer considerable potential in view of strong domestic and international markets for wood moldings, joinery and furniture. The forestry and timber sector provides employment of over 245,000 people and accounts for $5.2 billion in exports. This represents 5% of the GDP of Malaysia and 7% of total export earnings. Careful management, investment and expansion of timber downstream industries will help to strongly secure this impressive industry base.

The role of Research and Development. The Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FIRM) is engaged in improving sound guidelines for forest management including better culture methods, harvesting techniques, end-product quality control and conservation of genetic resources. Successful adaptation and integration of research and development ideas into the good management of Malaysia’s forests will continue to place Malaysia at the forefront of tropical timber producing nations in terms of technical excellence.

The principles agreed at the UNCED Rio meeting in June 1992 set a meaningful international context and frame of reference for the sustainable management and conservation of tropical, boreal and temperate forests. The Forest Principles provide that:

Sustainable forest management and sustainability criteria are made applicable for all types of forests and timbers.

Taking into account the protection of forests and the environment and the need for social economic development, there must be a general acceptance that nations should have the sovereign right to exploit and manage their forestry resources on a sustainable basis.

The responsibility of greening the world should be a shared responsibility. While Malaysia has pledged to keep at least 50% of its landmass under forest cover, Malaysia has suggested that countries with a low forest cover should seek to attain at least a 30% tree cover of their land area by the year 2000.

Tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade forest products must be removed through the promotion of non-discriminatory and multilateral trade agreements.

Developing countries should have access to new and additional resources and environmentally sound technologies to enhance their capacity to sustainably manage, conserve and develop their forests.

To further enhance the sustainable management of the forest resources in Malaysia for the benefit of both the present and future generations, the Government of Malaysia had initiated a number of changes since UNCED which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Some of the changes are as follows:

Inclusion of eight additional provisions in the National Forestry Policy of 1978 such as forest legislation, forest plantation, agricultural forestry, the encouragement of production of non-wood forest products, community forestry for recreational facilities, conservation of biological diversity, setting up specific areas for the purpose of scientific studies and the fostering of international co-operation to achieve better understanding of forest management and development.

The National Forestry Act of 1984 was amended in 1993 to overcome certain deficiencies and weaknesses in past forest management policies. To protect forest reserves and counter forest encroachment and illegal logging, the penalties for forest offences have been increased. For instance, fines have been increased from $4,000 to $200,000 while mandatory prison sentences have been prescribed from 1 to 20 years for illegal logging. Provisions have also been made in the Act to allow police and armed forces personnel to assist the Forestry Department to undertake surveillance of illegal forestry activities. This action, together with stiffer penalties has helped reduced illegal logging and encroachment in Malaysia.

Since forest plantations are capable of yielding higher volume of timber per unit area which will relieve pressure from over harvesting the natural forests and in supplementing the future wood supply of the country, as well as to encourage private sector’s investment in forest plantations development, the government of Malaysia has reviewed the existing fiscal incentives and had granted full tax exemption under the pioneer status for ten years and 100% tax exemption under the Investment Tax Allowance (ITA) for five years.

Malaysia has also spared no efforts in looking for better ways to improve its forest management sustainability. Helicopters have been deployed to assist in surveillance operations to check on illegal logging and for more effective monitoring and surveillance of the country’s forest. To reduce damage to the surrounding environment, helicopter logging is also being experimented. Innovative methods to fell trees and transport logs are being tested in various parts of the country in attempts to reduce environmental damage due to logging. The Continuous Forest Resources Monitoring System has also been developed for Peninsular Malaysia and have been made operational since 1993 for the continuous monitoring of the forest resources using an integrated system of remote sensing, geographical information system and field data.

Formulation of criteria and indicators for the assessment of sustainable management of the tropical forest resource. The Malaysian Criteria and Indicators (MC&I) for Sustainable Forest Management were based on the revised ITTO Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests.

Development of internal assessment procedures for assessing sustainable forest management based on the MC&I.

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