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Forestry in Borneo since the 1960s

Deconstructing the rainforest issues

Considerable uncertainty remains about the dynamics of the forests themselves, especially after disturbance, fire, and cataclysmic destruction (Whitmore 1984, 1990, 1991; Wirawan 1993). With the new understanding of the role of disturbance in forest ecology that has arisen, especially since the Borneo fires in 1982-1983, it is no longer possible to think of the forests in terms of simple dynamic stability. Woods (1987, 1989) noted that, in 1983 in Sabah, many trees died from drought rather than from fire, and that drought is a frequent hazard, with a return period much shorter than the recovery time of a species-stable climax forest. In nearby Papua New Guinea, Johns (1986, 1989) has suggested that fire, occurring almost only in drought, has been an important factor in the ecology of large areas of the rain forest.

"Management" means different things to different people (Gomez-Pompa and Burley 1991). So does "conservation," be it of an intact and unchanging forest - which is an unattainable goal, since forests are in constant change - or of its rare species rather than the widespread or common species among which they are contained. Good forestry practices might attain the latter while yielding a harvest, though with important changes in species composition through time. The literature betrays a degree of confusion between the policies and practices of forestry, with the former often held up as environmentally sound and sustainable. Burgess (1990) provides a regional summary of both policies and the large deviations from them in practice. In fact, there is really "little knowledge of the extent to which rain forest ecosystems are resilient and recover from logging" (Whitmore 1991, 84). Light-demanding species, including many of the 72 Shorea spp. known in Malay as meranti, certainly grow rapidly in gaps, whether natural or anthropogenic, and can yield a new harvest in only a few decades. The slow-growing species, however, which include some other dipterocarps growing in the shade created by the light-demanding trees, are much more rigorous in the conditions required for regrowth and reestablishment (Woods 1989). Unlike the quickly regenerating nomads, many of them will seed only a short distance from their parent trees.

The literature both minimizes and exaggerates the large deviations in practice from the paper policies, depending on the viewpoints of the different writers. "Selective" systems, now policy in both Indonesia and Malaysia, require that only trees that exceed a certain girth be harvested, so that an immature generation will replace them in as little as 25-35 years (Potter 1990; Salleh 1988). It would always be difficult to ensure that this restriction is observed; often it is not (Burgess 1990; Leslie 1977). Great damage is often done to immature trees in extracting the mature timber, whereas compaction and disturbance of the soil reduce the chances that seedlings will survive. Elsewhere we have summarized the literature on damage caused by logging operations (Brookfield et al. 1990). Some official commentators write as if selective systems were in successful and conservationist operation. Other commentators, including Schmidt (1991), Salleh (1988), and Burgess (1990), describe elements of good management, potentially leading toward a sustainable silviculture based on managed natural regeneration, but a reality that falls short of this ideal.

These considerations have, or should have, a bearing on economic evaluations of present practices and on the development of downstream woodworking industries in both countries, a now-critical issue, as we shall see below. Here, it will be useful to take account of a debate on the employment-generating capacities of a truly sustainable forest industry, in comparison with that of the agriculture that has often replaced the forests. Burbridge, Dixon, and Soewardi (1981) for Indonesia, and Kumar (1986) for Malaysia, have argued that, on a per hectare basis, a forestry industry could support a larger workforce than could a tree-crop agriculture, when account is also taken of jobs in downstream woodworking industries. Kumar supports this claim with a model that incorporates elasticities, capital, labour, and land intensities. His calculations support conclusions in favour of forestry, by showing that, whereas logging alone used three times the area per employee of the rubber and oil-palm industries, the addition of downstream processing brought the area per employee below that for the agricultural industries. For Indonesia, however, an unpublished World Bank study has argued that tree-crop estates are a better employment-generating option than forest plantations (World Bank 1989). In the absence of data, it is simply not possible to choose between these views, and the question of social benefit from different uses of forest land has to remain open. The conservationist literature, we note, virtually ignores this consideration. The question, therefore, falls back on the sustainability of forestry itself, whether on a selective cutting basis, with all its present inefficiencies, or on some other basis. If forestry itself proves to be unsustainable, then the option of wood-based industry becomes unsustainable with it. A second question, that of the sustainability of the new agricultural economies created in place of the forest, then becomes central. These two questions, and others associated with them, are now treated through the empirical evidence of recent development and environmental history. We take up the story in the 1960s, when the modern boom began.

Forestry in Sabah and Sarawak

Though quickly overtaken by Kalimantan, Sabah remained the largest exporter of timber from Borneo until the early 1970s (tables 10.2 and 10.3). Whole areas are cut over, despite the official adoption of a "minimum girth" criterion in 1971 (Aten Suwandi n.d.).

Table 10.2 Tropical timber exports: Kalimantan. Sabah, and Sarawak, (roundwood equivalents), 1965-1988

Year Kalimantan Sabah Sarawak
Total exports ('000 m) Plywood(%) Sawn timber (%) Sawlogs(%) Total exports ('000 m) Plywood(%) Sawn timber (%) Sawlogs(%) Total exports ('000 m) Plywood(%) Sawn timber (%) Sawlogs(%)
1965 143 0.0 0.0 100.0 3,808 0.0 0.3 99.7 1,614 0.0 25.2 74.8
1966 229 0.0 0.0 100.0 5,332 0.1 0.1 99.8 2,531 1.0 10.4 88.6
1967 53 0.0 0.0 100.0 4,863 0.0 0.1 99.9 2,275 0.4 14.6 85.0
1968 651 0.0 0.4 99.6 5,809 0.1 0.1 99.8 3,478 0.7 13.4 85.9
1969 2,413 0.0 0.7 99.3 6,209 0.1 0.2 99.6 3,553 1.0 12.9 86.2
1970 4,865 0.0 1.0 99.0 6,177 0.1 0.3 99.6 3,616 0.4 13.1 86.5
1971 6,877 0.0 0.7 99.3 6,578 0.2 0.1 99.7 2,999 0.9 14.1 85.0
1972 9,424 0.0 1.7 98.3 7,741 0.3 0.2 99.6 2,472 1.1 18.4 80.4
1973 13,042 0.0 3.2 96.8 10,184 0.2 0.2 99.6 2,301 1.5 16.8 81.7
1974 12,060 0.0 3.4 96.6 9,761 0.2 0.1 99.7 2,027 1.2 15.9 82.8
1975 9,351 0.0 5.6 94.4 9,044 0.5 0.1 99.4 1,644 1.7 22.1 76.2
1976 12,161 0.1 6.4 93.5 12,123 0.3 0.2 99.5 3,406 0.9 12.6 86.4
1977 14,464 0.0 4.9 95.1 12,412 0.3 0.4 99.3 3,839 0.8 9.0 90.2
1978 15,804 0.2 5.6 94.3 12,449 0.1 0.4 99.5 4,513 0.7 6.3 92.9
1979 13,812 0.8 9.6 89.7 9,862 0.3 1.2 98.5 6,332 0.5 4.1 95.4
1980 9,722 2.2 12.3 85.6 8,611 0.5 4.1 95.3 6,979 0.4 3.7 95.9
1981 5,893 13.3 20.6 66.1 9,310 0.4 6.2 93.4 7,182 0.2 3.4 96.4
1982 4,552 29.3 25.9 44.8 10,822 0.3 8.9 90.8 9,464 0.1 2.9 97.0
1983 4,707 49.4 5.5 45.2 10,896 0.3 12.9 86.8 9,332 0.2 2.5 97.3
1984 5,526 65.4 17.4 17.2 8,960 0.7 14.3 85.0 9,435 0.3 2.1 97.6
1985 5,808 77.7 21.9 0.4 9,791 0.5 15.1 84.4 8,746 0.3 2.4 97.2
1986 6,177 78.0 22.0 0.0 7,791 1.1 17.7 81.2 10,577 0.3 2.6 97.0
1987 8,227 82.2 17.8 0.0 11,727 2.0 11.6 86.4 12,951 0.3 2.0 97.6
1988 8,957 80.2 19.8 0.0                

Sources: Annual volumes, 1965-1988, of Statistik perdagangan luar negeri Indonesia: Ekspor; Kalimantan Barat dalam angka; Kalimantan Selatan dalam angka; Kalimantan Tengah dalam angka; and Kalimantan Timur dalam angka. See also quarterly issues of Timber Trade Review for the same period.

Table 10.3 Tropical timber exports Peninsular Malaysia, Brunei + Indonesia + Malaysia, and the world (roundwood equivalents), 1965-1987

Year Peninsular Malaysia Brunei + Indonesia + Malaysia World
Total exports ('000 m) Plywood (%) Sawn timber (%) Sawlogs(%) Total exports ('000 m) Plywood(%) Sawn timber (%) Sawlogs (%) Total exports ('000 m) Plywood (%) Sawn timber (%) Sawlogs (%)
1965 1,751 1.2 39.6 59.2 7,336 0.3 15.3 84.4 23,227 3.0 13.6 83.3
1966 2,151 1.4 33.4 65.2 9,593 0.4 11.1 88.5 25,624 2.9 12.2 84.9
1967 2,540 2.4 39.6 57.9 10,946 0.8 11.8 87.4 27,277 3.0 12.3 84.7
1968 3,128 4.3 40.4 55.3 13,771 1.2 12.8 86.0 33,151 3.5 12.2 84.3
1969 4,281 5.3 51.2 43.5 17,757 1.4 15.3 83.3 38,317 3.0 11.0 86.0
1970 3,925 7.8 39.3 52.9 21,621 1.5 9.7 88.7 42,566 3.4 10.7 85.9
1971 3,971 10.1 38.5 51.4 24,495 1.8 8.5 89.7 44,551 3.4 10.4 86.2
1972 4,650 12.4 46.8 40.9 28,380 2.2 9.9 87.9 47,683 4.0 11.6 84.4
1973 4,446 17.1 63.7 19.1 35,932 2.3 10.4 87.3 59,313 4.0 12.6 83.4
1974 3,912 12.0 68.6 19.4 32,971 1.5 10.4 88.1 50,188 2.9 13.5 83.6
1975 3,285 14.1 69.2 16.7 27,101 2.0 11.9 86.1 41,245 3.3 14.5 82.2
1976 5,429 15.9 75.0 9.0 39,660 2.4 13.9 83.7 53,405 3.9 16.0 80.0
1977 5,004 14.6 79.2 6.2 40,900 2.0 13.2 84.7 54,618 3.9 15.6 80.5
1978 4,870 18.4 79.0 2.6 42,328 2.6 12.6 84.8 56,356 4.6 15.2 80.2
1979 6,492 15.6 73.2 11.3 42,682 3.1 16.5 80.3 56,918 5.0 20.1 74.9
1980 5,358 19.0 76.4 4.6 38,200 4.3 17.1 78.6 52,190 6.2 20.4 73.4
1981 4,519 22.6 71.9 5.5 30,718 9.2 19.0 71.8 43,223 10.2 21.3 68.5
1982 4,732 23.5 70.5 6.0 32,560 11.5 19.7 68.8 44,888 11.0 21.6 67.5
1983 4,776 21.9 72.7 5.4 35,532 16.7 21.9 61.3 49,997 19.8 22.8 57.4
1984 3,725 22.2 73.2 4.7 33,091 23.8 22.7 53.6 46,191 20.2 23.6 56.2
1985 6,178 12.2 39.2 48.6 36,695 26.0 20.1 54.0 48,400 22.8 225 54.6
1986 6,153 14.9 46.0 39.1 39,107 29.8 21.6 48.6 49,891 26.2 23.5 50.3
1987 5,522 23.4 76.0 0.6 46,975 30.2 21.2 48.6 58,041 27.2 23.6 49.1

Sources: Annual volumes, 1965-1987, of Yearbook of forest products; and Buku tahunan perangkaan; annual volumes, 1973-1980, of Siaran perangkaun tahunan. See also quarterly issues of Timber Trade Review for the period 1965-1987.

Between 1973 and 1983 the area of undisturbed forest was halved (Collins, Sayer, and Whitmore 1991). Although there were early plans to set up sawmilling, the remoteness, lack of infrastructure, and small population of eastern and central Sabah inhibited processing until about 1980, and the whole timber industry became geared to the export of logs. Log-export royalties represented 32 per cent of the average log price up to the mid-1980s, as against only 11 per cent for Sarawak and 9 per cent for Peninsular Malaysia (Vincent 1990). Together with minor charges on the timber industry, they came to generate at least 50 per cent of state revenue by and right through the 1980s. Sabah has also shifted belatedly to processing and was to phase out log exports altogether within three years from 1993 (New York Times, 18 April 1993).

Once timber extraction from the inland dipterocarp forests of Sarawak began in the early 1960s, use of the rivers was the means by which rapid expansion was possible. Timber concessions were awarded along the rivers, and access roads were constructed up to 100 km into the forests from riverside timber camps, ultimately established up to the highest points seasonally reachable by barges to bring machinery and supplies and carry away the heavy logs that do not float. When Peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia restricted and then banned log exports to create domestic downstream industries, the comparative advantage of Sarawak and Sabah as log exporters was enhanced. Their combined share in the total world export of tropical sawlogs grew from 37 per cent in 1978 to 80 per cent in 1987 (Brookfield and Byron 1990). Sarawak's share, much smaller than that of Sabah in the 1970s, grew rapidly to become the world's largest from 1984 onward (tables 10.2 and 10.3).

Development of timber extraction in Kalimantan

Following the achievement of full Indonesian independence in 1949, the state attempted to develop Kalimantan's forest resource directly, since the left-wing Sukarno government mistrusted involvement of private capitalists. "Production-sharing agreements" between the government instrumentality (Perum Perhutani) and Japanese firms, however, have been notably unsuccessful. The establishment of the "New Order" Suharto regime in 1965 led to a change of strategy, which encouraged private interests, both local and foreign, to take up timber concessions on 20-year leases. An expanded demand for tropical timbers in North-East Asia ensured the success of this approach, with Indonesian timber partly taking the place of already declining Philippine supplies in the Japanese market. Of the 561 concessions in operation in Indonesia in 1992, 298 were in Kalimantan; most of these were issued after 1969 and were due for renewal before 1993.

Toward the end of the 1970s, Indonesia's government began to insist on more local processing. The decision was made to concentrate on plywood, with concessionaires being forced to construct plywood plants and large sawmills, as the export of raw logs was gradually phased out between 1980 and 1985. After a few years of lower production while the new industry became established and markets were aggressively penetrated, Indonesia soon reached a position of world dominance in tropical plywood (tables 10.2 and 10.3). Kalimantan has become a leading supplier of plywood products from 65 mills, 27 of which are in Samarinda alone. Most plywood producers are now members of large cartels, with control over log supplies from several sources. They form a powerful political lobby.


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