This article has been published in Asia Times Pulse on 2nd July 2022
KOTA KINABALU: Industrial Tree Plantation (ITP) continues to cement its position as a key driver in Sabah’s development roadmap that will secure the state’s socio-economic future.
Currently, it is notably a strategic partner of the government in rural development where its presence and operations in the interior areas have significantly contributed to job creations and livelihood support for rural communities.
Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor had described the industry as the game changer for Sabah, acknowledging its contributions so far to state and people and future socio-economic benefits it stands to offer.
He later in March announced an Action Plan On Forest Plantation Development 2022 – 2036 by the Sabah Forestry Department to guide the transformation of forest plantations in the state, a positive move in recognition of the ITP’s importance to Sabah’s economic growth, albeit a sustainable one.
The 15-year action plan would provide a strategic action towards achieving sustainable land use to strengthen timber crops in Sabah as outlined in the Sabah Maju Jaya development plan and Sabah Forest Policy 2018.
The target is that by 2035, 400,000 hectares of forest plantations and production capacity of at least 6 million cubic metres annually will have been achieved.
While planted forests have so far been creating jobs, supporting local livelihoods and rural development, the industry expansion will increase its need of manpower supply, new technologies and relevant skills. It was previously reported that the demand for skilled jobs in ITP companies will be in the range of 30,000 and 50,000 contractual and seasonal employments for Sabahans.
However, the ITP in Sabah has to stay resilient to continue to deliver the socio-economic benefits to the state and communities. One of the challenges faced by the industry has to do with forestry pests and diseases. A symposium, to be organized by the Borneo Forestry Cooperative (BFC), will be held on July 7 here in Kota Kinabalu to discuss the matter in-depth.
The BFC was founded in 2009 by Sabah Softwoods Bhd and Asian Forestry Company (Sabah) Sdn Bhd. Its mission, among others, is to develop high quality, productive germplasm for use in commercial planting programs of member companies and develop knowledgeable, competent foresters within its companies that will form the foundation of the plantation industries future.
The future outlook of the ITP is quite promising. It is projected to be able to produce eight million cubic metres of sustainable output of homogenous wood supply in perpetuity.
Sustainably produced from a fully planted net area of 400,000ha within a 10-year rotation, this would equate 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Its production value in Sabah, both from full upstream and downstream activities, is estimated to be RM11.5 billion.
Having such a critical mass would enable Sabah to develop a fully performing wood-based industry, one that would create an economic value chain that is fully captured in Sabah through various activities from upstream, primary and secondary processing down to the finished products.
According to studies, ever since the decline of wood production from the natural forests in the late 80s, planted forests have become increasingly important for the global supply of timber. The overall trend is for the expansion of planted forests in the future.
Gone are the days when supply of timber had to be sourced from the natural forests. In 1997, Sabah restructured its forest policy to emphasise on forest management. The policy includes provisions for sustainable forest management (SFM).
The Sustainable Forest Management License Agreement (SFMLA) was then introduced after the state government phased out short-term logging licenses.
Several companies including the Yayasan Sabah were awarded with the SFMLA covering a vast hectarage of land most which had been logged over. The idea was to sustainably manage these degraded areas and turn them into productive use to benefit the state.
Under the SFMLA, the total hectarage is 1.6 million ha with the natural forest, plantation forest and conservation areas all combined. Out of these, about 600,000 ha are ITP but only about 400,000 ha of them could be used up for tree planting.
To date, 160,000 ha have been planted, leaving a balance of about 240,000 ha more to cover.
It is estimated that by 2030 the global demand for industrial roundwood would have increased by 200 per cent.
By that same year, Asia Pacific would have seen an estimate deficit of 63 million cubic metres of the material.
A surge in demand could put pressure on whatever is left of the biodiversity-rich natural forest including that of Sabah’s. The ITP plays an important role in protecting the state’s natural forest assets.
To compete in this era of globalisation, the forest sector has to be much more innovative. A high performing ITP sector will set a fertile ground for this to happen. From plantation production to processing and market innovation, it will create value all of which will be captured in Sabah.
Right above the state’s socio-economic interest, the ITP can be seen as an important contributor to the global sustainability agenda as enshrined it the United National Sustainable Development Goals. It ticks many boxes, one of which is to help end poverty.