The Malaysian Sarawak State Forest Department and Sarawak’s “Big Six” timber companies have made a first move in their plan to have their forest operations certified by 2017. One of the first steps is to gain the essential first-hand knowledge on certification and to understand what will work.
Malaysia’s state on Western Borneo, Sarawak, is clearly determined to let action follow words, when it comes to combatting illegal logging.
On 23-24 July 2015, the Sarawak Forest Department, NEPCon and WWF Malaysia jointly held a two-day workshop for local timber industry players.
The delegates gained an overview of global trends within forestry legality requirements and forest certification, and learned what a company needs to do to obtain forest management certification.
Six major timber companies operating in the State, often called the “Big Six”, are managing forest concessions stretching across hundreds of thousands of hectares in Sarawak.
Top management people from these key players participated in the workshop, showing their commitment to certification.
"This is the “right direction in response to the state’s ongoing efforts to improve the legality system in Sarawak”, said Forest Department Director Sapuan Ahmad.
Mr Sapuan speaking at the event.
“State needs a good image”
Sarawak’s timber industry has played a pivotal role in the development and economic growth of the state. However, for years Sarawak’s reputation has been tarnished by allegations of illegal logging and corruption.
During the past year, the Sarawak Forest Department has conducted about 240 raids on timber camps and companies believed to be linked to illegal logging activities.
According to the Sarawak Forestry Department, the State lost 41 million Malaysian ringgit (approximately USD 10.4 million) in revenue due to illegal logging in 2014 alone. There is no complete estimate of the consequences including loss of wildlife, landslide and degradation of the quality of water in the interiors.
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem has been very consistent in recent strong messages to the public, acknowledging the challenges and gaps that exist within one of Sarawak’s major economic activities.
Since last year, timber licensees in Sarawak need to speed up the process to ensure certification of the Heart of Borneo areas by 2017, if they wish to keep their forest concessions. This is part of the government’s efforts to improve the forest industry.
A few months ago, the State Legislative Assembly passed an Ordinance providing more deterrent penalties for forest offences and better regulatory control to ensure timber produced in the state comes from legitimate sources.
The workshop formed part of on-going joint efforts by the Government, local communities, timber companies and NGOs to uphold integrity and legality in Sarawak’s timber industry.
Tokyo Summer Olympic creates golden opportunity
Mr Sapuan said, “We want all forest management units to practice logging in a sustainable and responsible manner.”
Globally, there is mounting market pressure to ensure that timber entering into the supply chain is produced in a sustainable manner and legally sourced.
Delegates learned that key markets such as the US, the EU and Australia already have in place regulations to halt illegal timber entering into the market, whilst Japan is developing a new bill inspired by the European legislation.
Japan accounts for 45, 5 % of Sarawak’s timber export value in 2014 and close to 90% of the plywood export. The rest ends up in India, other Asian markets, the Middle East, and Africa.
The Summer Olympic 2020 in Tokyo may provide immense opportunities for the timber business in Sarawak. On the other hand, it will be a control gate filtering out illegal timber and timber products entering into this market.
Companies in Sarawak need to adapt their operations to these conditions in order not to miss out business opportunities and gain access to wider markets, reducing the State’s dependency on Japan and the Far East.
NEPCon's Executive Director Peter Feilberg and expert Alexandra Banks joined in lively discussions with the audience.
Stepwise approach to sustainability
“For the timber industry, forest management certification is the best available way forward”, said Mr Adenan.
The State has shown a strong commitment to curbing illegal logging. In a joint letter to the Forest Department Director, the “Big Six” recently sought support in achieving the sustainable forest certification target by 2017.
Mr Sapuan said the workshop provided an invaluable opportunity for key players in the forestry sector to find out more about legality and certification of timber and timber products as well as market trends and values.
He believed that Sarawak would also go for independent third party auditing for its legality system. This would further enhance transparency and strengthen the State’s credibility in its pursuit of long-term improvements.
NEPCon Executive Director Peter Feilberg said, “We are very glad that Sarawak is gearing towards forest certification and we support the State in its strong commitment to address illegal logging. At the same time, we also recognise the State’s challenges in fulfilling all the certification requirements. A stepwise approach starting with legality and moving towards full forest certification such as FSC or PEFC may be an obvious choice”.
“At WWF-Malaysia, we are extremely delighted to work with the Sarawak Government to eliminate illegal timber production and we are assisting the government to implement sustainable forest management via credible certification schemes”, said the WWF Malaysia Conservation Director, Dr Sundari Ramakrishna. “At the end of the day, while the scale of illegal logging remains huge in Sarawak, any kind of certification scheme will help improve the situation.”