Sarawak’s tropical log production falls

Posted on April 28, 2011. Filed under: Bio-diversity, Forestry/Wetlands, Water resource |

-The Star-

KUCHING: Sarawak’s tropical log production fell sharply this year, adversely affected by the ongoing flooding, or impoundment, of the Bakun hydroelectric dam in the upper Rejang River Basin in the central region.

Total production in the first quarter (Q1) of 2011 was 1.81 million cu m, down by some 28% from 2.53 million cu m registered in Q1 2010, according to Sarawak Timber Industry Development Authority’s (STIDC) latest figures.

Jaya Tiasa Holdings Bhd managing director Datuk Peter Yong said the Bakun dam’s impoundment had caused flooding of timber roads, thereby hampering the transportation of logs from several concessions in the Bakun area in Kapit Division.

He said major timber companies, like WTK Holdings Bhd and Rimbunan Hijau (RH) Group, were operating several logging licences in the Bakun area. Jaya Tiasa is controlled by the diversified RH Group.

The low log production in the first quarter was also due to the Chinese New Year break, according to Datuk Peter Yong.

The 2,400MW Bakun Dam’s impoundment started in October last year and the area to be flooded covers 690 sq km, which is about the size of Singapore. The dam’s developer, Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd, had earlier predicted that the entire flooding of the dam reservoir could take up to two years.

Sarawak Hidro expects wet testing of the first of the eight turbines to be carried out in the next few weeks when the reservoir’s water level reaches about 190m. The dam is scheduled to commercially produce its first 300MW by July this year.

Yong said that when the dam’s water level reached a certain level, barges could be used to transport the logs out of the Bakun area.

“The low log production in the first quarter this year was also due to the Chinese New Year break and bad weather in March,” he told StarBiz yesterday.

However, he expects log production to slightly improve in the next few months with anticipated better weather conditions that would faciliate timber harvesting activities.

Statistics show that out of the 1.81 million cu m of logs produced in the first three months,1.73 million cu m consists of hill species, with meranti contributing the bulk about 640,000 cu m, followed by kapur (78,570 cu m), keruing (60,800 cu m) and bindang (43,400 cu m).

The Bintulu region is the top log producer, contributing 715,500 cu m, followed by Sibu region (643,800 cu m), Miri region (361,200 cu m) and Kuching region (9,800 cu m).

Out of the 79,700 cu m of swamp species harvested in Q1 2011, more than 59,000 cu m was from Miri region and 10,200 cu m from Kuching region.

Sarawak’s log exports in Q1 2011 plunged to 783,800 cu m (worth RM438.8mil), which was about 27% lower compared to 1.07 million cu m (RM507mil) during the same period last year.

Based on the comparison figures, the average log export prices had jumped by 15% to RM559 per cu m (Q1 2011), from RM475.6 per cu m (Q1 2010).

The low production figure has directly affected export volume as the Sarawak government allows only 40% of total production to be exported. About 60% is reserved for local mills to be processed into plywood and other value-added products.

Yong said the significantly higher log export prices this year were due to tighter supply, coupled with a bigger demand, especially from Japan for the reconstruction of Sendai, a Pacific coastal town destroyed by a recent devastating earthquake and tsunami.

“After the earthquake, orders from Japan had surged,” he added. However, Yong is not sure whether Sarawak timber firms could fulfill these new orders.

Sarawak shipped more than 51,800 cu m of logs worth RM28.7mil to Japan in Q1 2011, down from 81,400 cu m in Q1 2010.

India remains Sarawak’s major logs buyer, absorbing more than 506,000 cu m (nearly 65% of the state’s total exports) valued at RM294mil in Q1 2011.

Taiwan imported more than 103,000 cu m worth RM58.3mil, while China bought 66,900 cu m valued at RM33.3mil from Sarawak in Q1 2011.

Sarawak also exported logs to Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan.

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