PNG: Timber

Alan Bradley abradley1 at
Thu Feb 28 17:58:58 MST 2002

>From the Post-Courier ( ):

 Weekend Edition Fri-Sun 01st-03rd, March, 2002

Importance of our forest industry

In February the ADB held a regional conference to discuss a regional
strategy for the Forestry industry and this month PNG will host a conference
on PNG Forestry - Challenges and Opportunities. Both of these are timely
because the forest industry is one of the four most important hopes for the
future of PNG. Over the last two articles we have looked at the frightening
prospect of a PNG without 27 per cent of its current GDP (income) which
comes from the mining and petroleum industries by the year 2011.
The prospect is only frightening if we sit back and allow the worst case to
happen. Basically this is to continue to allow resources to be channeled
into useless roads in Port Moresby while the highways and feeder roads in
the rest of the country which generate all of the nation's wealth are
allowed to collapse. The emphasis of the new government to be elected in
June of this year has to be to do everything possible to encourage growth in
sustainable industries like agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism.
Ban on new forestry activity
Since 1999 there has been a moratorium (ban on new activity) on the issuing
of new timber leases which resulted in a report by the World Bank and
investigation of the industry. This was made necessary by the wholesale rape
of the forests in the 1980s which was so ably reported by the Barnett
enquiry in 1987-9.
Officially the moratorium ended in November 2001 following receipt of a
report which reviewed proposed new projects. This review recommended that
four out of 32 new projects be allowed to proceed and that more work be done
on some of them whilst others were found to be unsuitable for the granting
of a licence.
This report, which was commissioned by the World Bank, was actually funded
by AusAID. Both the National Forest Authority (NFA) and the Forest
Industries Association (FIA) are keen to get some new projects going and the
four recommended projects are having some reassessment carried out before
the licenses are issued. There is agreement within the industry that any new
projects have to be carried out on a genuinely sustainable basis. This means
that the forest has to be harvested in such a way that the logger can come
back in about 30 years and find the same amount of mature trees that were
there when he first logged the area.
Report on revenue
There is another report which is due in PNG and which looks at the revenue
side of the industry. More specifically it is supposed to report on whether
the industry is earning as much as it can and whether some companies are not
disclosing the full value of their exports. A third report is to be
commissioned to look at the existing projects and report on forest
The NGO community are more divided about the future of the industry. Some
argue that there should be no logging or harvesting of trees at all. Of
these, some are merely aping the calls of NGOs overseas and others are
genuinely concerned by the fact that logging of any kind will have some
impact on the environment and the eco-systems of the forests.
The eco-system is the way in which all the birds, animals, insects, trees
and shrubs and other vegetation interact with each other. Any artificial
change to the forest has to have an impact on the eco-system. Carried to its
logical extension this viewpoint would prevent villagers from clearing land
for gardens or firewood and is clearly impossible in modern day PNG with its
2.7 per cent population growth and need for cash to maintain services and
allow the standard of living to improve.
There are some NGOs such as Conservation Melanesia and the Research and
Conservation who are trying to provide alternatives to logging for local
people. They are trying to get landowners involved in such ventures such as
tapa cloth production and marketing, butterfly farming and eco-tourism. They
want to preserve areas of natural forest which will become more and more
valuable as tourist destinations as the amount of natural forest in the
world decreases.
It is worth noting that despite the damage done to the forests in the past
there has never been a prosecution by the Office or Department of
Environment. This is despite the fact that rivers and streams have been
polluted, roads have been built that have created massive erosion and severe
damage has been done to the environment.
Good logging practice
The second group of NGOs are concerned that logging should be purely a
community activity and that large logging firms should not be allowed to
bring in heavy equipment and foreign labour to work in the industry. They
want to see the maximum benefits go to landowners. Most of the mainstream
NGOs agree that that there should be logging but they want to see it carried
out on a genuinely sustainable basis and to be sure that the industry is
properly policed to prevent unscrupulous loggers from continuing the bad
practices of old.
On the basis of sustainable logging practices the industry should be able to
expand from the current low level of exports of around 1.3 cubic metres to
between 3 and 4 million cubic metres. This would earn another K400 million
in value to the country and provide another K160 million in export tax to
the government at current rates. If the industry is to be believed, the
level of export tax is too high and it needs to be reduced or at least
expressed in $US instead of kina because the weight of the tax has become
significantly heavier as the kina has devalued.
PNG's remaining forests
The picture is not as clear as that because everyone agrees that the total
available sustainable harvest in PNG is around 3.5-4 million cubic metres.
However, it is not spread uniformly around the country and there are some
areas of forest where this average can not be maintained and others where it
could be expanded.
PNG is extremely lucky to have such a large area of natural forest remaining
and it has been stated that it has the second largest natural tropical
hardwood forest remaining in the world. The ADB conference in Manila heard
about many countries in the region that are not as lucky as PNG, where their
forests have been either completely removed or so exploited that they
actually have to import timber. The Philippines is one such country in our
region. These countries have not been careful in harvesting their forests
and now they are paying a heavy price for it. PNG must learn from their
mistakes and make sure that the forest is used carefully and with the
minimum damage.
In many countries there is not even enough forest left to provide firewood
for ordinary village folk. They are involved in reforestation programmes for
soil conservation and to provide timber for building and firewood. China has
placed a complete ban on export of timber and has almost stopped all
harvesting of timber in the country.
PNG has had a reforestation levy for many years and the FIA has been in the
forefront of efforts to encourage the planting of trees in plantations.
Despite the levy and some notable areas such as Stettin Bay and Open Bay the
efforts at reforestation or planting of plantation timber has been very
small and it should be encouraged as a national priority.
PNG is lucky to have a large and valuable forest. It needs to be able to
exploit the forest whether it is an eco-tourist resort and destination or as
a sustainable logging operation. There needs to be more emphasis on
downstream processing as tropical hardwoods become scarce and therefore more

Copyright, 2001, Post-Courier Online.

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