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5. Impacts and effectiveness of logging bans in natural forests: Sri Lanka - H.M. Bandaratillake


Land area and forest cover

Sri Lanka has a land area of about 6.5 million ha. Its closed canopy forest cover has dwindled rapidly from about 84 percent in 1881, to 44 percent in 1956 and subsequently to 27 percent in 1983. According to the Forest Cover Map of Sri Lanka prepared by the Forest Department in 1992 (Figure 20), Sri Lanka’s total natural forest cover, including sparse forests, was around 2.0 million ha (30.9 percent of the land area). Closed canopy natural forest cover was 1.5 million ha, or 23.9 percent of Sri Lanka’s total land area (Table 26). This suggests that the average rate of deforestation during the past few decades, both planned and unplanned, had been around 42 000 ha per year. Per capita forestland declined from 0.32 ha in 1956 to 0.09 ha in 1992 (Table 27).

The decline in forest cover is primarily due to rapid population growth and resulting land shortages and poverty. Agricultural production has increased mainly by converting natural forests to farmland. Nearly 809 000 ha of natural forests have been lost to agricultural and residential use since 1948. The Mahaweli Development Project alone replaced 243 000 ha of forests.

Figure 20. Sri Lanka’s forest cover

Table 26. Natural forests in Sri Lanka, 1992

Forest type

Total area (ha)

Total land area (percent)

Closed canopy:


3 108



68 616


Lowland rain

141 506


Moist monsoon

243 886


Dry monsoon

1 090 981



22 435



8 688



1 579 220


Open canopy:


464 076



2 043 296


Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Forestry, Forestry Sector Master Plan (1995)
Table 27. Population increase and depletion of natural forest cover in Sri Lanka


Population density (persons/km2)

Forest cover (million ha)

Forest cover (percent of land area)

Per capita forest area (ha/person)





















Source: Forest Department
Sri Lanka is one of the smallest but most biologically diverse countries in Asia. Much of the country’s biodiversity is found in its forests, particularly those in the wet and intermediate zones of the southwest. The National Conservation Review found that from 20 to over 50 percent of species in selected plant and animal groups are found in the lowland rainforests and moist monsoon forests of four districts in the wet zone (Table 28). Many species are endemic and several are rare with extremely localized distributions in remnant forest fragments. For example, 119 woody plant species (8 percent) are restricted to single forests, and 49 of these rare species (3 percent) are endemic.

Table 28. Sri Lanka’s diversity and status of selected flora and fauna groups in lowland rainforests and moist monsoon forests of Galle, Matara, Kalutra and Ratnapura districts

Selected group

No. of species in group

No. of species recorded in rain/moist monsoon forests




Rare endemic

Woody plants

1 496

619 (41%)

119 (8%)

299 (20%)

49 (3%)



50 (21%)

14 (6%)

2 (1%)

0 (0%)



*>27 (10%)

9 (3%)

22 (8%)

6 (2%)

Freshwater fishes


21 (32%)

10 (15%)

13 (20%)

3 (5%)



27 (56%)

8 (17%)

14 (29%)

3 (6%)



44 (27%)

13 (8%)

22 (14%)

5 (3%)



109 (26%)

22 (5%)

19 (5%)

1 (+%)



25 (28%)

5 (6%)

3 (3%)

0 (0%)

Source: FD/IUCN (1997)

# Rare species are defined as those recorded in only one forest.

* This total is an underestimate because many more species await identification.

In the light of the increasing demands placed upon the forestry sector, its diminished capacity to meet the various needs of the people sustainably has become a major problem. The most serious consequences of deforestation and forest degradation have been identified as:

Forestry in the national economy

According to Central Bank of Sri Lanka statistics, in 1998 the Sri Lankan forestry sector contributed about SL Rs 15 billion to the national economy, or 2 percent of the total gross domestic product (GDP). However, the actual contribution of the forestry sector is much higher than what is reported. The national income and product accounts concentrate only on market-oriented activities. Even these activities are not noted properly due to a lack of data. The statistics also fail to account for non-market production of sawnwood, fuelwood, and various forms of non-wood forest products (NWFPs). According to estimates by the Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP) (1995), the forestry sector contributed approximately 6 percent of the total GDP if the values of all the forest products, services, and employment generated are included. The FSMP also estimates that the forestry sector employs approximately 331 000 people, doubling the official employment figure. Although wood and charcoal are the country’s main sources of energy, the contribution of the forestry sector to the energy sector is poorly recognized. Fuelwood supplies approximately 40 percent of Sri Lanka’s energy, and 90 percent of the country’s population use fuelwood as the main source of fuel.

The forests also provide beneficial non-extractive services, including clean water, grazing land, ecotourism, recreation, carbon sequestration, climate control, biological diversity, and cultural values.

Forestry sector institutions

Four ministries are involved in the forestry sector in Sri Lanka:

- The Forest Department is responsible for managing production forests and protection forests that include around 135 000 ha of forest plantations and 60 percent of the natural forests. The Protected Area System, under the Forest Ordinance (FO) and National Heritage and Wilderness Areas Acts, are also protected and managed by the Forest Department.

- The STC, established in 1968, is a Government corporation responsible for harvesting and marketing wood from State-owned forests and forest plantations. With a monopoly on timber from State forests, it operates sawmills, impregnation and seasoning plants, furniture factories, and timber sales depots.

- The Department of Wildlife Conservation is responsible for conserving fauna and flora in approximately 13 percent of Sri Lanka’s land area. The DWLC is also responsible for enforcing the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, which has declared approximately 30 percent of the forests under its jurisdiction as National Reserves and Sanctuaries (Protected Areas).


Sri Lanka has a long history of religious, cultural and social practices that have accorded a prominent place for tree planting and nature conservation. The British Colonial Government introduced large-scale clearing of natural forests to make room for coffee, tea, rubber and coconut plantations. The exploitation of timber was instituted through the adoption of felling rules in 1835, and timber-cutting licenses and a management system in 1879. FO No. 10 of 1885 enabled the declaration of reserved forests, sanctuaries and controlling the felling and transport of timber. In 1887, the British Colonial Government appointed a Conservator of Forests, whose duties included establishing the Forest Department. This initiated a trend towards forest conservation and an approach to scientific forest management. FO No. 16 of 1907 is the cornerstone of the present law relating to forests.

The first forest policy formulated in 1929 was considered groundbreaking because it introduced new objectives for forest management, including the export of forest products, creating self-sufficiency in construction lumber and fuelwood, conservation of soil and water, and preservation of indigenous flora and fauna. The process of mapping forest reserves began in 1931 and the concept of working plans for forest management was presented in 1933. The Forest Department also conducted forest inventories during this period. Extensive plantations were established with teak, eucalyptus, mahogany, albizzia, pines and Artocarpus (jak). The Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, which was enacted in 1937, protected wildlife in national reserves and sanctuaries. The forest policy was further clarified in 1938 when all natural forests above 1 500 m (5 000 feet) were designated climatic and protective reserves.

Forest policies during the post-independence period (1948-1979)

Prior to 1948, the Forest Department was responsible for wildlife conservation, protected area management and forestry. After Sri Lanka gained its independence, wildlife and protected area management were transferred to a newly established Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC). These two departments continued to be a part of the Ministry of Lands until the 1970s.

Influenced by the FAO declaration of the principles of forestry policy in 1951, the Government introduced the following comprehensive sectoral forest policy objectives in 1953:

Following these objectives, many forest management activities covering conservation, establishment of industrial forest plantations, forest administration, legislation, forestry research and education were carried out by the Forest Department from 1950 to 1970. The working plans for sustained yield management were extended to cover forests in most forest divisions, thus placing all management planning and operations in the hands of the Forest Department.

A resource assessment (1965-1967) and a pre-investment study on forest industry development carried out in 1969 concluded that with appropriate forest management, the country could enjoy an adequate supply of timber and protective forest cover. This led to the establishment of domestic forest industries (e.g. Ginthota plywood factory, Kosgama plywood complex, Boosa sawmill and impregnation plant, and the STC). In the 1970s, with the commencement of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) Program in Sri Lanka and the Government decision to conserve Sinharaja Forest, the Forest Department began to place greater emphasis on forest conservation.

Recent forest policies

Until the 1980s, forestry was considered to be a State responsibility. Increasing population pressure on forest land led to an amendment of the 1953 forest policy to involve local communities in developing private woodlots and forestry farms through a social forestry program. The implementation of the Community Forestry Project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) from 1982 to 1990 reflected this policy change.

Following criticisms of the 1986 Forestry Master Plan (FMP)’s proposals for logging natural forests in the wet zone, an environmental management component was added to the five-year investment program. Thus, the Forestry Sector Development Project was launched in 1990. This established the Environmental Management Division in the Forest Department. A moratorium on logging operations in wet zone natural forests and subsequent logging bans in all the natural forests were imposed in 1990.

The National Heritage and Wilderness Areas Act was enacted in 1988 to preserve unique ecosystems and genetic resources, physical and biological formations. It precisely delineated areas constituting the habitats of threatened plant and animal species. The Sinharaja Forest, a primeval rainforest, was declared a national heritage under this act and UNESCO listed it as a World Natural Heritage site in 1988.

The need for a wildlife conservation policy was long recognized but a National Policy for Wildlife Conservation was only adopted in 1990 in response to the Sri Lanka National Conservation Strategy. The objectives, based on those of the World Conservation Strategy, are to:

This policy emphasized the urgent need to redress the drastic imbalance of protected areas, most of which are located in the dry zone (in 1990 around 90 percent of the protected areas under the DWLC were located in the dry zone).

The Forest Ordinance was amended in 1995 to incorporate a new category called “conservation forests” to cover forests set aside for conservation after implementation of the logging bans in natural forests.

The National Forest Policy of 1995

The National Forest Policy, formulated and approved by the Government in 1995 governs all forestry activities in the country except for the management of protected areas under the DWLC. The policy acknowledges that the natural forests are heavily depleted, and expresses concern for safeguarding the remaining natural forests for posterity to conserve biodiversity, soil and water resources. It emphasizes the importance of retaining the present natural forest cover, and increasing the overall tree cover. A large part of the natural forests should be completely protected. Multiple-use forestry is to be promoted, and the natural forests outside the protected area system are to be used sustainably to provide for the growing demand for bio-energy, wood and NWFPs, especially for the benefit of local people, while ensuring that environmental objectives are met.

The National Forest Policy recognizes that homegardens, other agroforestry systems and trees on non-forest lands have a crucial role in supplying timber and fuelwood. It also acknowledges the importance of public participation in forestry development and conservation. It emphasizes the need to develop partnerships with local people, communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector in protecting forests, growing trees to meet household needs, supplying raw material for wood-based industries, harvesting, transporting, processing and distributing various forest products. The policy aims to broaden the institutional framework for forest management, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for the various partners.

The overall objectives of the National Forest Policy are to:

Forestry Sector Master Plan (1995)

The main objectives of the Forestry Sector Master Plan (FSMP) are to prepare a comprehensive long-term development framework, ensure that the forestry sector can provide environmental services and various forestry products to meet the needs of the people, and contribute sustainably to the nation’s economic and social development. The plan covers the 1995-2020 period, and includes 10 development programs outlining short-, medium-, and long-term actions to develop forest conservation, multiple-use management of forests, commercial forest plantations, agroforestry, NWFPs and bio-energy. In addition, institutional support programs comprise development of legislation and institutions, human resources, research, extension services, and monitoring and evaluation.

The Five Year Implementation Program (FYIP) of the FSMP was developed by the Ministry of Forestry and Environment in 1997 to conserve forests and enhance the forestry sector’s contribution to the welfare of rural population and the national economy. The components of the FYIP include forest conservation, forest land allocation and macro-level zoning, commercial plantation development, multiple-use management of natural forests, social forestry, agroforestry, extension, forest-based industry and institutional development.

Key policy, legislation and institutional changes concerning the management of forest resources are summarized in Table 29.

Table 29. Key policy, legislation and institutional changes concerning management of Sri Lanka’s natural forests during the twentieth century


Policy/legislation/institutional changes (Authority)

Provisions for forest management


FO No. 16 (FD)

Protection of forests and their products within reserved forests and village forests, primarily to control exploration of timber.

Amended several times from 1912 to 1995

Removed the requirement for import and export licenses.
Introduced a provision for a reward fund and to eject encroachers
Increased fines.



Incorporated a new category of forest reserves called conservation forests.


First authoritative Forest Policy

Export of timber and forest products, self-sufficiency in timber and fuelwood.
Preservation of indigenous fauna and flora.



Clearing of forests prohibited above 5 000 ft (1 500m).


Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance No. 2 (FD)

Protection of wildlife in national reserves and sanctuaries and outside protected areas.


Amendment Act No. 44 (DWLC)

Nature reserves and jungle corridors incorporated in national reserves.


Amendment Act No. 1 (DWLC)

Intermediate zone, envisaged as a buffer zone for controlled hunting, was removed from the Ordinance.


Amendment Act No. 49 (DWLC)

Refuges, marine reserves, and buffer zones incorporated with national reserves.


Establishment of Department of Wildlife Conservation

Administration of Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Management of protected areas declared under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance.


National Forest Policy

Emphasis on conserving forests, increasing supplies of small-dimension wood, maintaining sustained timber yields.



Involve local communities in forestry development through social forestry.


(Approved by the Government)

Conserve forests, increase tree cover and productivity of forests and enhance the contribution of forestry to the welfare of the rural population and strengthen national economy.


Establishment of State Timber Corporation

State organization for harvesting and marketing of timber from State-owned natural forests and forest plantations.


UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program

Establishment of arboreta.


Mahaweli Environment Project

Network of protected areas established to mitigate the impact of the Mahaweli Development Project on wildlife and to protect catchment areas.


Forestry Master Plan

A long-term framework for development of the forestry sector.


Forestry Sector Master Plan
(approved by the Government)

A comprehensive long-term framework for sustainable development of the forestry sector.


National Heritage and Wildness Areas Act No. 3 (FD)

Protection of State land with unique ecosystems, genetic resources, or outstanding natural features.


National Policy for Wildlife Conservation (approved by the Government)

Maintenance of ecological processes and preservation of genetic diversity.


Forestry Sector Development Project - Environmental Management component

Logging of natural forests banned. Accelerated and National Conservation Reviews carried out (assessment of conservation values of natural forests).


National Environmental Regulations No. 1 (Under the National Environmental Act) (CEA)

Requirement of environmental impact assessment (EIA) for extraction of timber from forests and forest plantations exceeding 5 ha and conversion of forests into non-forest uses exceeding 1 ha.


Five Year Implementation Program of the FSMP

Short- and medium-term development program for the forestry sector.


Placing greater emphasis on forest conservation

Prior to the 1970s, the key functions of the Forest Department were to provide for sustainable production of timber and fuelwood and to establish new forest plantations. In 1970, when the MAB program was established, 36 biosphere reserves were set aside as arboreta for Sri Lanka’s different natural forest ecosystems. In 1972, public outcry against logging in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve prompted the Government to appoint a cabinet sub-committee to examine the problem. Subsequently, all commercial timber harvests were halted when the reserve was designated a conservation area in 1977. Since then, the Forest Department has placed greater emphasis on forest conservation.

Over-exploitation and recommendations of the 1986 Forestry Master Plan

The FMP in 1986 over-emphasized the use of natural forests for timber production and paid very little attention to forest resource conservation. Public interest in environmental and forest conservation increased in the mid-1980s as a result of large-scale deforestation during the previous two decades in areas such as the Mahaweli. The earlier forest management approach, which was based on the commercial selection system, was characterized by the removal of all commercial species of over 60 cm dbh at the end of a 20-30 year cutting cycle. This led to a severely degraded stand structure and species composition. In the early 1980s, it became clear that this could not be sustained. In 1998, selective felling in the dry zone forests was suspended pending the compilation of forest inventories and forest management plans. The suspension became a complete ban in 1990 at the time of the overall ban on logging in all natural forests.

Notwithstanding Sri Lanka’s severely depleted natural forests, the FMP recommended harvesting in 119 000 ha (43 percent) of wet zone natural forests and 954 000 ha (65 percent) of dry zone natural forests. As expected, the FMP evoked considerable criticism from environmentalists, academics, NGOs, the general public, and some officials of the Forest Department for not giving adequate attention to environmental and forest conservation considerations.

The Government responded by commissioning an environmental study to evaluate the FMP proposals, with assistance from the World Bank and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), resulting in the following strategies for the conservation of natural forests:

- establish an Environmental Management Division in the Forest Department (Forest Conservation Unit);

- implement a National Conservation Review to evaluate the conservation values (biological diversity and hydrological importance) of all the natural forests; and

- identify an optimal protected area network.

The 1989 study concluded that commercial and political pressures had determined logging practices in Sri Lanka, resulting in severe degradation of the growing stock in many areas. The report also noted that deforestation was a serious threat to the conservation of forest biodiversity, endemism, and watershed protection in Sri Lanka.

In response to the study’s recommendations, the Forest Department designated 13 forests in the wet zone (totalling 24 000 ha) as conservation areas. This was roughly 50 percent of the forests within the zone that had been marked for exploitation under the five-year investment program of the FMP.

The Government also imposed a complete logging ban in all natural forests in 1990 following recommendations of the Conservation Review Committee. This ban is still in place, and there is strong public support to maintain the ban until the depleted forests are rejuvenated.


The goals of the logging ban are to:

Since almost all the natural forests are State-owned, the institutions involved in implementing the logging ban are limited to the Forest Department and the STC, operated under the Ministry of Lands, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development.

The National Environmental Regulations control timber harvests on areas exceeding 5 ha and prevent the conversion of forests exceeding 1 ha to non-forest uses. The main purpose of these regulations is to ensure environmental protection in various development activities. Although the environmental regulations are not directly relevant to the implementation of the logging ban, logging operations in natural forests and forest plantations require an EIA.

The logging ban in natural forests is still in place except along the roadsides in the north where forests can be logged or cleared for security purposes. Permission to clear natural forests has also been granted for development projects subject to the National Environmental Regulations. The Forest Department has a firm commitment to enforce the logging ban. However, illegal cutting in natural forests still occurs on a small scale. The threat of illegal cutting is much greater in forest plantations than in natural forests. The Forest Department had recorded an average of 670 forest offenses per year for illegal cutting in natural forests (about 1 000 cases from plantations) from 1991 to 1995. The volume of timber involved in these illegal cuttings was about 1 130 m3 per year, valued at around US$ 80 000 (SL Rs 5.2 million).


Policy implications

Strategies to implement sustainable forest management

The Government seeks sustainable management for all its forests by encouraging State agencies, local people, user groups, rural communities, NGOs, the estate sector and local industries to work together. However, natural forests should be managed only by the State agencies in cooperation with local people and communities, possibly assisted by NGOs.

State forest land is being zoned into the following four categories for conservation, multiple-use management, agroforestry and forest plantation development:

Management plans are also being formulated in consultation with relevant agencies and stakeholders according to the principles of “bottom-up planning” and transparency to indicate management priorities and operational approaches for managing forest resources. The Protected Area System will include Class I and II forests, covering flora and fauna biodiversity, critical watersheds, and forests with special cultural, religious, historic and aesthetic values. The Protected Area System will be demarcated based on biodiversity surveys, other scientific studies and approved criteria, and managed by the State in co-operation with local people and NGOs.

Protection and production forests

The 1985 forest inventory report identified two categories of natural forests:

By 1986, management plans had been prepared for 9 management units of the wet zone natural forests. As specified in the strategies for implementing the National Forest Policy, the Accelerated Conservation Review (ACR) and National Conservation Review (NCR) were carried out by the Forest Department, with the assistance of IUCN/UNDP, from 1990 to 1996. The main objectives of these two reviews were to define a national system of conservation forests (Class I and II forests).

All natural forests exceeding 200 ha were studied except those inaccessible in the north and east of the country. Of 281 forests assessed for watershed characteristics, 85 were identified as extremely important for protection. Out of the 204 forests assessed for biodiversity conservation, minimum sets of 108 and 49 areas were identified for protecting woody plant and endemic woody plant species, respectively. Woody plants and animal diversity were represented in a total of 133 forests. Based of these results, 31 new conservation forests in the wet zone, covering around 61 300 ha, were included in the protected area network. Assessments of conservation forests in the dry zone have not been finalized.

An additional 25 000 ha of montane and sub-montane forests are located above 1 500 m. The natural forests in the Protected Area System extend over nearly 1 million ha, representing 49 percent of Sri Lanka’s total natural forests (Tables 30 and 31), and covering approximately 15 percent of the country’s total land area. According to the IUCN regional review of protected areas in 1992, Sri Lanka has an extensive national protected area network that provides adequate coverage of most major forest habitat types.

The DWLC is responsible for 40 percent of Sri Lanka’s forests designated exclusively for conservation. The Forest Department is responsible for 56 percent of the natural forests, which include both production and conservation areas. Local administrators manage a small area of production forests. Fifty-one percent of the forests are considered production forests subjected to the logging ban (Table 31). The FSMP and the FYIP classified these forests as multiple-use management forests for “sustainable management primarily for the production of wood and non-wood forest products.”

The ban on commercial logging operations in the natural forest will continue until the growing stocks are fully recovered and the forests are again ready for harvesting. The 1986 Environmental Study of the FMP, which recommended a moratorium on logging operations in the wet zone forests in 1989, prescribed a rest period of up to 100 years for the growing stock to recover. The EIA of the Forestry Sector Development Project in 1991 recommended a rest period of at least 10 years for the wet zone forests. Any decision to lift the logging ban would be made only after a complete review of the situation.

Table 30. Sri Lanka’s protected areas administered by the Forest Department and Department of Wildlife Conservation

National designation


Area (ha)

Forest Department

International Biosphere Reserves


9 376

National Biosphere Reserves


63 384

National Heritage and Wilderness Areas


11 187

Conservation Forests


76 525



160 472

Sub-total Corrected*


149 909

Department of Wildlife Conservation

National Parks


462 448

Nature Reserves


33 372

Strict Natural Reserves


31 574



284 117



821 871



971 780

Source: FD/IUCN (1997)

* Corrected for International and National Biosphere Reserves that are located in National Heritage and Wilderness Areas and Conservation Forests.

Table 31. Sri Lanka’s natural forests by production and protection classifications (thousand ha)

Management agency




Forest Department



1 150.5

Department of Wildlife Conservation




Local administration





1 049.7


2 046.5

Percentage of the total forests




*Currently subjected to the logging ban
**Figure includes natural forests above 1,500 m
Legislative arrangements for the logging ban

No formal policy revision, amendment to the Forest Ordinance, regulation or special legal provision was enacted in imposing the logging ban in 1990. As the Forest Department is the major forest owner, the logging ban could be imposed without legal provisions in the Forest Ordinance. However, the National Environmental Regulation No. 1 of 1993 legally controls the extraction of timber from forests through the EIA procedure. Accordingly, environmental clearance is needed for extraction of timber from any forest exceeding 5 ha. This requirement imposes controls on logging operations in both natural forests and forest plantations.

On the whole, the logging ban has been implemented effectively throughout the country, except where forests had to be cleared for security reasons and development projects. Nonetheless, illegal felling of trees and encroachments in State forests are taking place regularly and the Forest Department and DWLC officers are fully involved in curbing such activities. To date, law enforcement remains a primary preoccupation of forest officers.

Management strategies for multiple-use production forests

The National Forest Policy emphasizes the allocation of natural forests firstly for conservation and secondly for regulated multiple-use production forestry. However, the FSMP recommends a continuation of the ban on commercial logging operations in the natural forests until management plans are prepared with the active participation of local communities that should derive benefits from the multiple-use forests.

Economic implications

Demand and supply of wood before the logging ban

In the mid-1980s, Sri Lanka was virtually self sufficient in industrial wood and fuelwood. Over 90 percent of the demand was for fuelwood, of which 85 percent was consumed by households and 15 percent by industry. Industrial wood represented only about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s total wood demand. Exports were negligible. Approximately 35 000 m3 of sawnwood were imported annually. According to the wood demand and market study conducted for the 1986 FMP, the demand for industrial logs was 980 000 m3 with an estimated annual increase of 14 000 m3 (Table 32).

Table 32. Sri Lanka’s wood demand, 1985 (thousand m3)


Wood demand


Sawlogs, sleeper logs


Peeler logs


Transmission poles


Coconut logs for rafters


Total logs




11 500


1 610

Total fuelwood

13 110

Total wood demand

14 090

Source: Ministry of Lands and Land Development, Forestry Master Plan (1986)

* 0.7 tons fuelwood = 1 m3 fuelwood

The STC had a monopoly on the supply of timber from State forests and forest plantations, while timber from the non-state sector (i.e. homegardens, rubber and coconut plantations, etc.) was marketed by the private sector. The STC’s average log production in 1984/1985 was about 110 000 m3, representing 11.5 percent of the total industrial wood supply. The STC sold about 70 percent to private sawmills and wood-working industries. Approximately 920 sawmills were operating in Sri Lanka during 1984 and 1985. Most were private ventures or partnerships. From 1985 to 1989, the STC owned the most sawmills, operating 16 sawmills in all, including 3 major sawmills at Minneriya, Madawachchiya and Thimbolkatiya. The sawmilling industry bought the bulk of its logs from the private sector while the STC supplied just 17 percent of the total log intake. Sri Lanka produced 380 000 m3 of sawnwood in 1984, about 10 percent of which was produced by the STC.

The Ceylon Plywood Corporation’s (CPC) two mills (Kosgama and Gintota) are Sri Lanka’s only producers of plywood and particleboard. CPC was the country’s major wood processing enterprise. The total annual capacity of its two mills was around 35 000 m3 per year. During the 1980s, CPC utilized only about 50 percent of the its capacity due to log shortages. From 1984 to 1986, CPC produced around 19 000 m3 of plywood annually.

About 83 000 m3 of plywood were imported each year during the mid-1980s, primarily from India, Southeast Asian countries and the former Soviet Union. Import duties were 60 percent. The Kosgama Complex was the only producer of particleboard in Sri Lanka during the 1980s, producing around 3 000-3 500 m3 annually to meet the local demand. Very small quantities of particleboard were imported. The import duty of particleboard in the 1980s was 35 percent.

In 1984, fuelwood represented 71 percent of Sri Lanka’s total energy supply. Annual fuelwood and biomass fuel use in 1984/1985 was 7.9 million metric tons, 85 percent of which was domestically consumed, primarily for cooking. Consumption of fuelwood for industrial use was around 1.1 million metric tons per year (15 percent of the total). The tea industry consumed 33 percent of the total industrial fuelwood supply. The main types of fuelwood used in the domestic sector were rubberwood (28 percent), coconut wood (24 percent), wood from natural forests (23 percent), and wood from homegardens (11 percent). The main types of fuelwood in the industrial sector were rubberwood (49 percent) and wood from natural forests (38 percent).

The log supply from natural forests in 1985 was estimated to be around 425 000 m3, the bulk of which came from wet zone natural forests. Industrial logs from natural forests made up approximately 44 percent of the total industrial log supply. Non-forest wood resources from homegardens and rubber, coconut and palmyrah plantations supplied approximately 455 000 m3 (47 percent of the total supply). Forest plantations supplied only 80 000 m3 of Sri Lanka’s industrial logs in 1985, or 8.3 percent of the total supply (Table 33). The harvest plan for 1986 to 2000 estimated the supply of logs from natural forests would be about 320 000 to 350 000 m3 per year, or 21 percent of the total supply. The FMP attributed this reduction to minimizing over-harvesting in the natural forests. It was expected that the availability of logs from forest plantations, non-forest resources, rubber and coconut/palmyrah plantations would be increased to compensate for the reduced log supply from the natural forests. Balance II in Table 33 indicates a slight shortage in the industrial log supply during the 1986-1990 period, which was predicted to increase after 1990.

The 1986 management plans for the 9 units in the wet zone had prescribed a 30-year harvest cycle with intermediate improvement cutting 15 years after selective cutting. The average yield from selective cutting was 30 m3/ha (maximum 40 m3/ha) of log volume and the average yield from intermediate cutting was 15 m3/ha. After 1986, the STC harvested an average of 922 ha of natural forests in the wet zone each year. In addition, the CPC was permitted to selectively harvest 11 000 ha of the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya natural forest complex that yielded an average of 30 000-40 000 m3 per year from 1987 to 1988. The felling operations in wet zone forests continued until the logging ban was introduced in 1990.

Table 33. Availability and demand for Sri Lanka’s industrial logs, 1985-2000 (thousand m3/year)*







Natural forests





Existing forest plantations





Homegardens and other non-forest





Rubber plantations





Coconut/palmyrah plantations





Total log availability


1 704

1 592

1 486



1 050

1 230

1 390

Balance I





Rubber and coconut logs not accepted by markets




Balance II





Source: Ministry of Lands and Land Development, Forestry Master Plan (1986)

*Estimated by the Forestry Master Plan of 1986 prior to the decision to impose the logging ban.

During 1986 and 1987, about 9 400 ha of dry zone natural forests in the Monaragala district were released to the STC for selective logging until such harvesting was suspended in 1988. In 1990, the suspension became a complete ban.

However, the logging operations in the forests were replaced by various development activities such as irrigation and settlement schemes (i.e. the Mahaweli Development Project) carried out by the STC. Large volumes of timber were harvested from the natural forests in the Mahaweli Development areas by the STC (e.g. 53 300 m3 in 1980 and 55 000 m3 in 1981). After 1986, approximately 90 000 ha of dry zone natural forests were cleared to make way for the Mahaweli System C and Padaviya Developments. About 130 000 ha of natural forests in the dry zone were logged for the Mahaweli System B Development. Some forests in the Mahaweli Development Scheme were logged until about 1995, even after the logging ban had been implemented.

The STC’s timber production from 1986 to 1995 is shown in Figure 21 and Table 34. Since 1985, the STC has halted logging operations in the Northern and Eastern districts due to the ethnic disturbances in those areas. The STC’s logging operations in the Galle, Matara, Ampara, and Anuradapura districts were also hampered during 1988 and 1990 due to ethnic unrest. The STC timber harvest from the natural forests during 1985-1995 is shown in Figure 22.

Figure 21. STC’s timber production in Sri Lanka, 1986 - 1995

Figure 22. Sri Lanka’s timber extracted by STC from natural forests, 1985 - 1995

Table 34. State Timber Corporation’s timber production in Sri Lanka, 1986-1995


Before the logging ban

After the logging ban











Logs (m3)

99 358

109 796

54 710

42 237

54 967

27 804

38 797

46 797

45 678

56 467

Peeler Logs (m3)

5 584

4 283

1 210








Sawn timber (m3)

19 384

24 388

15 247

8 766

9 862

5 447

5 038

4 822

3 996

5 705

Fire wood (m3)

529 212

426 452

318 210

273 267

129 868

56 232

75 164

90 909

130 193

191 436

Pulp wood (m3)


10 686

22 242

7 777

5 384

5 932





Sleepers (Nos.)

138 316

65 661

64 874

72 247

31 688

18 171

59 779

154 887

83 849

54 035

Tree poles (Nos.)

19 827

16 793

5 045

3 744

10 323

11 709

26 929

4 613

10 554

20 729

Poles (Nos.)

484 213

520 070

393 974

412 874

113 308

70 354

146 570

22 017

221 173

206 731

Charcoal (m. ton)

3 045

1 514


1 142







Source: State Timber Corporation, Annual Reports (1986-95)
Demand and supply of wood after the logging ban

Roundwood logs

Sri Lanka’s total industrial roundwood consumption in 1993 was estimated to be 1.3 million m3. Ninety percent was used for sawnwood production (Forestry Planning Unit 1994). Wood consumption depended almost entirely on domestic log supply, the majority of which originated from non-forest lands. Imports totalled only approximately 7 000 m3 (Table 35). The relative importance of non-forest lands as a source of timber has increased substantially (Table 36).

Table 35. Estimated supply sources for logs in Sri Lanka, 1993


Volume (thousand m3)

Percentage of total




Rubber plantations



Clearing of natural forests






Tea estates



Forest plantations



Unrecorded (incl. illegal)*







1 275


Source: Ministry of Forestry, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development (1994a)

* An undetermined part of the unrecorded supply includes illegal cuttings from natural forests and forest plantations.

Table 36. Sri Lanka’s domestic supply of logs before and after the logging ban (thousand m3)




Natural forests

425 (44.3%)

5 (0.4%)

Forest plantations

80 (8.3%)

47 (3.7%)

Homegardens and other non-forest sources

260 (27.0%)

550 (43.4%)

Rubber plantations

120 (12.5%)

230 (18.1%)

Coconut/palmyrah plantations

75 (7.8%)

150 (11.8%)

Unrecorded (including illegal supplies)


286 (22.6%)

Total domestic log supply

960 (100%)

1 268 (100%)

Note: Brackets show percentage of total.
The supply of industrial logs from natural forests in 1993 had been further reduced to negligible levels (5 000 m3) due to the introduction of the logging ban and the allocation of increased areas for conservation. But the supply of timber from natural forests due to illegal cutting should be considered to provide a more accurate account of the timber supply from the natural forests. The Forest Department’s 1993 forest offense records noted 639 offenses of illegal harvests that produced 706 m3 of timber from the natural forests. However, this volume would be much higher if unrecorded offenses were also taken into account. Due to the reduced supply of timber from natural forests, the availability of sought-after hardwood species such as ebony (Diospyros ebenum), hora (Dipterocarpus zeylanicas), satin (Chloroxylon swietenia), and milla (Vitex pinnata) has drastically fallen. The reduction in supply from natural forests was compensated mainly through non-forest sources, which doubled from 1985 to 1993 (Table 36). The industrial utilization of rubberwood has also greatly increased within the last few years. Rubberwood is mainly used by furniture makers and the plywood industry. Coconut logs are mainly used for low- and medium-quality construction works.


Total sawnwood consumption in 1993, including railway sleepers, was 544 000 m3. Being almost self sufficient in sawnwood, Sri Lanka imports only about 29 000 m3, or 5 percent of its supplies. Total sawnwood production in 1993 was 515 000 m3, including approximately 14 800 m3 of railway sleepers.

Construction is the major end use for sawnwood in Sri Lanka, consuming approximately 75 percent of production. The furniture industry (15 percent) and other wood-based industries (10 percent) make up the balance. The sawnwood demand is projected to grow by about 12 600 m3 per year, or an average growth rate of 2 percent.

Sri Lanka’s increasing demand for sawnwood is expected to be met by increasing domestic production, relying mainly on the supply of logs from non-forest lands. In 1997, 90 percent of Sri Lanka’s total sawnwood consumption were produced domestically and approximately 10 percent were imported. The FSMP indicated that domestic forest industries are very dependent on supplies of wood from sources other than natural forests.

Wood-based panels

Plywood consumption in 1993 totalled approximately 28 000 m3. About 5 000 m3 (18 percent) were produced locally and 23 000 m3 (82 percent) were imported. Fiberboard consumption in 1993 was about 2 500 m3, and that of particleboard was about 1 500 m3, all of which were imported. Approximately 20 000 m3 of roundwood logs were consumed annually by plywood industries, most of which was rubberwood. The consumption of plywood is expected to grow at a rate of 2.7 percent per year.

Impact on the STC supply of timber

The STC contribution to Sri Lanka’s total timber supply from 1986 to 1995 illustrates the impact of the logging ban on STC and the shift in its share of the domestic timber market (Table 37). Prior to 1985, the STC supplies were much higher due to the large logging operations in the Mahaweli Development areas, which provided approximately 54 000 m3 of timber per year. The average annual STC timber supply between 1980 and 1985 was around 210 000 m3, representing over 24 percent of the domestic timber demand. After the suspension of logging operations in the dry zone in 1988 and the imposition of the logging ban in 1990, the STC’s annual timber supply declined markedly to between 42 000 and 73 000 m3. The STC’s contribution to the domestic timber supply fell below 5 percent.

Table 37. STC’s contribution to Sri Lanka’s total timber supply, 1986-1995


Total timber consumption (thousand m3)

Supply by STC (thousand m3)

STC’s contribution to the total consumption (percent)


1 000




1 020




1 050




1 100




1 150




1 200




1 250




1 300




1 320




1 340



Source: State Timber Corporation, Annual Reports (1986-1995)
From 1985 to 1990, STC’s average annual timber production from the natural forests was 27 000 m3. After logging was banned, it fell to about 8 000 m3 per year. Its natural forest timber after 1991 originated mainly from the Mahaweli System B in the dry zone, which continued until about 1995.

Prior to 1991, the STC only supplied timber extracted from State forests, but the logging ban drastically reduced its log supplies. In fact, the STC’s total roundwood production volume has declined by about 25 percent. Since 1990, the main source of STC timber is from State forest plantations, with a small amount (7-8 percent) derived from private sources. Small quantities of timber also come from natural forests cut for security purposes and small-scale development schemes. There has been no decline in the production of sleepers and transmission poles as these are produced mainly from forest plantation supplies.

Import, export and price trends


About 6,700 m3 of logs valued at SL Rs 73.8 million (US$1 = SL Rs 49.5 in 1993) were imported in 1993, and imports have increased only slightly since. During the 1980s, there were no imports at all.

The increasing scarcity of logs has resulted in substantial price increases for some species (Table 38). The largest price increase was for the super luxury class grade, which includes teak (Tectona grandis), ebony (Diospyros ebenum), bedun (Pericopsis mooniana), and calamander (Diospyros quaesita). All species in this class, except teak, originate from the natural forests. The average price increase of super luxury class logs from 1985 to 1997 was about 35 percent annually, and 50 percent just before and after the imposition of the logging ban (1988 to 1992). The average annual price increase of luxury class logs of species such as satin (Chloroxylon swietenia), halmilla (Berrya cordifolia) and milla (Vitex pinnata) was 25 percent from 1988 to 1992, compared to the average annual increase of 17 percent during 1985 and 1997. Plantation species included in this class are narrow-leaved and broad-leaved mahogany. The average annual price increase of other classes (i.e. special class, classes I, II and III) from 1985 to 1997 was about 20 percent, with no significant increase attributable to the logging ban.

Table 38. Average prices for grade “A” logs at depot sold by STC in Sri Lanka

Classification of Logs

Price per cm3 (SL Rs)

Average annual price increase, 1985-97 (percent)

Average annual price increase, 1988-92 (percent)






Super luxury class








Luxury class








Special class








Class I








Class II








Class III








US$1 = SL Rs






Source: State Timber Corporation

Sri Lanka is a net importer of sawnwood (Table 39). Import volume has fluctuated widely over the years and annual imports between 1985 and 1995 ranged from 21 000 to 38 000 m3. In 1997, import volume reached 62 300 m3. Statistics do not indicate a significant increase in imports as a result of the logging ban. However, data on imports after 1997 are not yet available and it is believed imports have increased substantially after the lifting of import duties in 1997.

Table 39. Sri Lanka’s sawnwood imports and exports, 1985-1997









Imports (m3)

38 000

34 800

27 100

21 500

28 700

27 500

62 300

Exports (m3)




1 300




Net trade (m3)

- 7 850

- 4 300

- 6 400

- 0 200

- 8 550

- 7 210

- 2 280


US$ million








SL Rs million








Source: Department of Customs, External Trade Statistics (1985-1997)
Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Indonesia are the major sources of sawnwood imported by Sri Lanka. The leading imported species are kempas (Koopassia malaccensis) and balau. In 1997, about 80 percent of the sawnwood imports were from Singapore and about 10 percent from Malaysia. About 95 percent of the imports are for the construction sector and the balance is used in the furniture industry. The import duty on sawnwood was 60 percent in the 1980s. It was reduced to 10 percent in 1993, and eliminated altogether in 1996. Since 1997, there has been a sudden increase in the volume of imported sawnwood.

Imports of sawnwood did not increase immediately after the logging ban, although sales of imported sawnwood by the STC more than doubled between 1989 and 1991 (Table 40). This was probably due to the immediate shortage of timber from natural forests. The STC imported an average of about 10 to 20 percent of Sri Lanka’s total sawnwood from 1986 to 1995.

The increased demand and reduced supply have increased the price of luxury and special class sawnwood by an average of 15 percent per year, or more than 100 percent since 1985. Prices for Class I, II and III sawnwood have increased since 1985 by an average of 12 percent, 11 percent, and 15 percent per year, respectively. Sustained strong demand for sawnwood is expected to continue driving up prices.

Table 40. State Timber Corporation sale of imported timber in Sri Lanka, 1986-1995


Volume (m3)

Annual increase (percent)


3 170

- 0.9


3 830



3 020



4 070



5 210



10 100



8 110



2 840



2 620



4 070


Source: State Timber Corporation, Annual Reports (1986-1995)
Wood-based panels

Sri Lanka is a net importer of wood-based panels, primarily from Malaysia, Indonesia and India. Plywood imports increased from 6 700 m3 in 1987 to 30 000 m3 in 1995. The increase of plywood imports immediately after the logging ban was 9 800 m3, a 60 percent increase from the previous year.

In the 1980s, wood-based panels were rather expensive in Sri Lanka, especially when compared to sawnwood prices. During the last 10 years, the prices of the most common sawnwood species have increased rapidly (about 15 percent annually), making plywood more competitive. At present, the prices of domestic plywood are slightly lower than the prices of imported plywood. The price of imported plywood (12 mm) is about SL Rs 55 000/m3 (US$770/m3).

Demand and supply projections

Wood requirements of the Sri Lanka forestry industry will depend on the future demand for various forest products and development of the domestic forestry industry. According to projections made for the FSMP, the total demand for industrial roundwood is expected to reach about 2 million m3 in the year 2020, compared with 1.3 million m3 in 1993.

Under management programs advocated by the FSMP, the increasing demand for sawnwood is to be met mainly from domestic sources, with imports representing only about 5 percent of the total. Production would increase from about 514 000 m3 in 1993 to about 880 000 m3 by 2020. Raw materials are expected to be derived primarily from non-forest resources. Sawnwood consumption, production and imports, under current trends and FSMP scenarios, are shown in Table 41.

Table 41. Scenarios for consumption, production and imports of sawnwood in Sri Lanka (thousand m3)








Current trends












































Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Forestry, Forestry Sector Master Plan (1995)
The FYIP of the FSMP is scheduled to be implemented in 2001. Sawnwood consumption has already increased, but production has not kept up with the levels expected. As a result, sawnwood imports in 1997 (Table 39) already reached the previously projected import levels for the year 2000. A key factor for this increase was the 1996 import duty waiver for timber, leading to an increased availability of imported timber at relatively low prices. Another factor was the removal of the transport permit requirements for imported timber in 1999.

Alternative wood supplies

The role of non-forest wood resources

Homegardens, rubber and coconut plantations supplied over 70 percent of the wood in 1993. Only about 4 percent came from forest plantations. In 1995, homegardens contributed around 49 percent of the total sawlog supply derived from non-forest resources (40 percent of the total log supplies) and this proportion is expected to reach about 54 percent by 2020. Rubber plantations are expected to contribute an average 21.5 percent and coconut plantations an average of 15.2 percent between 1995 and 2020.

Although non-forest lands will continue to play a very important role in Sri Lanka’s future wood supplies (Table 42), the share of wood coming from non-forest lands will likely decline as total wood demand increases and supplies from non-forest lands remain relatively constant. The additional demand may potentially be met by sourcing another 250,000 m3 from plantations and from natural forests that are cleared for security purposes or development.

Table 42. Potential contribution of non-forest lands to national sawlog supply in Sri Lanka, 1995-2020


(thousand m3)

Supply from non-forest lands
(thousand m3)


1 357

1 119


1 444

1 178


1 576

1 248


1 653

1 279


1 763

1 267


1 868

1 286

The role of forest plantations

The Forest Department started managing forest plantations in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but most of the planting was done only after 1950. By 1998, the Forest Department managed 92 340 ha of forest plantations. The private sector manages another 5 000 ha. The most common species planted is teak (Tectona grandis), followed by pine (Pinus caribaea and P. patula), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus grandis, E. microcoris, E. robusta, E. globulus) and mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) (Table 43). In addition, Acacia auriculiformis, Eucalyptus tereticornis and E. camaldulensis are planted for fuelwood. Smaller areas of albizzia, Acacia mangium and indigenous species such as kohomba (Azadirachta indica), halmilla (Berrya cordifolia) and godakirilla (Holopelea integrifolia) have also been planted for timber.

Table 43. Forest plantations established by Sri Lanka’s Forest Department


Area (ha)


31 700


16 440

Eucalyptus (for timber)

9 180

Eucalyptus and acacia (for firewood)

19 100


3 700

Mixed species

12 220


92 340

Source: Forest Department
The STC has a monopoly for harvesting and marketing timber from State-owned plantations and natural forests. Therefore, all the timber from forest plantations owned by the Forest Department is extracted by the STC. In the late 1980s, the average annual production of logs from forest plantations was 37 700 m3. The average volume actually declined to 27 100 m3 per year after 1990 logging. Apparently, the logging ban did not result in any significant increase in the production of timber from forest plantations. Similar results have been reported for transmission poles, sleepers and other products.

According to the FSMP, approximately 50 000 m3 of wood were to be harvested from the Forest Department’s forest plantations in 1995. This volume was expected to increase to about 150 000 m3 by 2000 and to 260 000 m3 by 2005. However, the Forest Department’s management plans for teak, eucalyptus, pine and mahogany plantations considered these estimates too high. Instead, annual timber production from plantations is expected to be only around 90 000 m3 (Table 44). Insufficient management and inappropriate species selection in the past, as well as encroachment, fire and elephant damage have reduced the quality of forest plantations.

Table 44. Projected timber production from forest plantations in Sri Lanka, 1999-2005 (m3)









24 220

32 540

8 050

4 870

22 500

92 180


32 850

25 150

12 000

5 280

19 500

94 780


34 420

27 930

10 150

6 950

21 000

100 450


25 650

26 180

9 720

5 600

23 000

90 150


28 370

25 340

8 620

4 730

20 500

87 560


27 500

16 200

9 300

5 480

21 500

79 980


28 200

15 600

9 800

6 200

22 000

81 800

Source: Forest Department
The more realistic Forest Department forecast indicates a potential gap between the total demand and supply of logs in the future. According to the current Forest Department estimates, forest plantations are capable of producing around 36 percent (90 000 m3 per year) of the indicated supply shortage. Non-forest sources may provide 82 percent of expected domestic demand, while the Forest Department’s plantations can supplement approximately 6.2 percent of needs from 2000-2005. The balance (11.8 percent of the national demand), totalling about 160 000 m3 per year, will have to be derived from areas cleared for security and development purposes, imports, and unrecorded supplies (including illegal cuttings).

Impact on the forest industry

The number of registered private forest enterprises increased from 645 in 1983 to 4 500 in 1995 (Table 45), even though timber supplies from State forests declined. The enterprises rely mainly on timber from private non-forest sources. This includes sawmills, timber depots, carpentry shops, furniture shops and firewood depots. There were 4 000 sawmills, most of which were very small, and 380 major industrial sawmills.

While the number of private sector sawmills has increased, the number of State-owned enter-prises has declined. From 1985 to 1992, the number of sawmills operated by the STC declined from 16 to 8, producing only 3.8 percent of Sri Lanka’s sawnwood. The STC attributed the closure of its three large mills at Minneriya, Madawachchiya and Thimbolketiya directly to the supply shortage. The CPC also closed down their Kosgama mill after the imposition of the logging ban in the wet zone forests when raw materials became scarce. The other CPC plywood factory was sold to the private sector, and is currently utilizing mainly rubberwood.

Table 45. Number of private forest enterprises registered with Sri Lanka’s Forest Department, 1983-1997


No. of enterprises

Annual increase (percent)








1 391



1 666



1 786



2 578



4 500



6 190


Source: Forest Department, Administration Reports of the Conservator of Forests (1983-1997)
The FMP noted that the biggest challenge for the forest industry is the shortage of wood. It estimated that within 10 to 15 years, the shortage of sustainable wood resources would limit production of the domestic sawmilling and plywood industries. The industry is already suffering from the supply shortage. Although the number of forest enterprises in the private sector has increased since 1995, the volume of sawlogs from non-forest lands is expected to increase by only about 1 percent per year. As the supply from State forest plantations will not significantly increase during the next five years, the Government must identify and carry out suitable remedial measures to avoid a supply shortage in the next 10 to 15 years.

Impact on Government revenue

The main source of Government revenue from the forestry sector is from royalties or stumpage and other taxes paid by the STC. Prior to 1990, the State forests were the only source of STC timber supply. Since 1991, about 7 to 8 percent of the STC timber sold were derived from private sources. Until 1994, royalties paid to the treasury by the STC were 10 percent of the lowest unit sale value of the logs sold at a depot. In 1995, this royalty was converted to a payment of stumpage, calculated at 40 percent of the sale value of the logs sold at a depot. The STC also pays a Business Turnover Tax (BTT), Defense Levy, Income Tax and withholding tax. Government revenue from the STC increased considerably from 1986 to 1997 (Table 46). Royalty/stumpage receipts are direct Government revenues, while other taxes are related to the sale of timber based on the profits earned.

Table 46. Sri Lanka’s government revenues from the STC (thousand US$)



Total taxes

Total revenue

US$1=SL Rs



2 381

3 124




2 221

2 884





1 195





1 281





1 348




1 074

1 291




1 263

1 525




1 825

2 097




4 317

4 562



1 105

5 093

6 198



1 433

4 346

5 779



1 957

6 135

8 092


Source: State Timber Corporation (1986-1994: Royalty; 1995-1997: Stumpage)
A significant reduction in the timber production led to a decline in sales revenues and Government royalties from 1991 to 1994. The royalties paid in 1991 (US$ 217 000) were about 40 percent of that paid in 1990. This difference is not reflected in the total revenue because of the variations in taxes. However, since the conversion to the 40 percent stumpage charges in 1995, revenues increased nearly eight-fold.

Environmental implications

Impact on forest protection

According to Forest Department records, incidences of illegal cuttings increased after the imposition of the logging ban. Illegal harvesting was more prominent in forest plantations than in natural forests, however. Some analysts believe the trend of increasing illegal harvesting can be attributed to socio-economic issues such as poverty, unemployment and changes in the political environment that are not related to the logging ban.

The average number of forest offenses in the natural forests from 1985 to 1989 and 1990 to 1994 was 478 and 649 per year, respectively (Table 47). However, the volume of timber involved in these offenses dropped by 23 percent from 1990 to 1994. The average number of illicit cuttings in forest plantations from 1985 to 1989 and 1990 to 1994 was 825 and 1360, respectively. Teak plantations are the most vulnerable to illegal cuttings because of their high value and easy accessibility. The recorded average rate of encroachments in natural forests between 1985 and 1989 was about 340 ha per year. After the imposition of the logging ban, it declined to 300 ha per year.

Table 47. Forest offenses recorded in Sri Lanka’s natural forests and plantations, 1985-1994

Type of offense











Natural forests

Illegal harvests













1 080

1 223


1 089

1 306

1 478

1 002



Forest plantations

Illegal harvests





1 156

1 014

1 156

1 505

1 558

1 565

Source: Forest Department
Beside the logging ban, several other factors influence illicit harvests and encroachment, such as increasing population, unemployment, and changes in the political environment. This complexity makes it difficult to relate forest offenses directly to the logging ban in natural forests.

The forest types protected under the logging ban

The current logging ban covers 1 049 700 ha of production (multiple-use management) natural forests, which represents approximately 51.3 percent of all natural forests. The forest types include 18 percent of lowland rainforests, 27 percent of the moist monsoon forests, 65 percent of the dry monsoon forests and 54 percent of the sparse forests. Other forest types - montane, sub-montane, riverine and mangrove forests - were all previously included in protected areas and were therefore unaffected by the ban.

The lowland rainforest that is located below 1 000 m in the wet zone is the most important forest type from a biodiversity and hydrological perspective. These forests have very high species diversity and are located in the upper catchments of several important rivers. In comparison, the moist monsoon forests located below 1 000 m in the intermediate zone and the dry monsoon forests in the dry zone are relatively low in biological diversity and hydrological importance. The sparse and open forests are highly degraded as a result of past over-logging and other adverse human interference. All these forests need a long period of rest to replenish the growing stock before any logging operations can resume.

Impact on watershed conservation

In 1995, the Forest Department, in collaboration with IUCN, assessed the importance of the natural forests for soil conservation and hydrology in 281 tracts that are each over 200 ha in area. The study found that the natural forests in the wet and intermediate zones are more important for soil conservation than the ones in the dry zone. Similarly, the study found that over 50 percent of the forests in the wet and intermediate zones are critical for flood control, compared to only 23 percent in the dry zone. This analysis illustrates the relative importance of the natural forests for soil conservation and hydrology in different climatic regions.

Impact on biodiversity conservation

Over-exploitation of the natural forests for timber production and population pressure are the main causes of deforestation and forest degradation in Sri Lanka. The loss of natural forest cover has been most pronounced in the wet and intermediate zones, producing extremely fragmented forest remnants. The impact of loss and degradation of forests on species diversity cannot be quantified because little or no baseline information exists for many areas. However, some forest species may already have been lost. Of 58 dipterocarp species originally found in Sri Lanka, one is thought to have become extinct. Data also indicate that at least 11 percent of the native snakes have not been observed since at least 1950. Thirteen of the 14 possibly extinct species are endemic forest species. Threatened valuable species include satin wood (Chloroxylon swietenia), ebony (Diospyros ebenum), calamander (Diospyros quaesita) and nadun (Pericopsis mooniana). Madara (Cleistanthus collinus) may already be extinct.

Medicinal and ornamental species such as orchids may also be over-exploited. Of the 170 species of orchids in Sri Lanka, 13 are likely to become extinct. In addition, 74 of the 200 species of Sri Lanka’s medicinal plants are threatened. Only two decades ago, most of these plants were abundant, indicating that if present trends continue, another 20 to 30 species will become threatened over the next two decades.

Over-harvesting has also affected the animal population. The elephant population has declined from more than 10 000 at the beginning of this century to less than 3 000 in 1993. The remaining elephants are now restricted to the moist monsoon, dry monsoon and sparse forests in the dry and intermediate zones. Their natural habitats are increasingly being fragmented, disrupting movements and dispersal patterns.

The logging ban protects the biodiversity in about 51 percent of various forest types. Studies have shown that regeneration of threatened, endemic woody plant species is poor in selectively logged forests. Similar observations have been made for endemic small mammals. The National Conservation Review, however, suggests that some logged-over areas can regenerate well and possess ample biodiversity. The management of forests for the conservation of biodiversity is a key national forest policy objective. Hence, after complete replenishment of growing stocks in forests affected by the logging ban, sustainable forest management should be practiced in a manner that prevent species extinction and further biodiversity erosion.

Social implications

About 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 18.3 million people still live in rural areas, and 30 percent of the rural people live near the forests. They depend at least partly on forest resources. It is estimated that about 4 million people in Sri Lanka derive some benefit from NWFPs. The value of NWFPs from the lowland rainforests have been estimated to be SL Rs 15 000/ha/year (US$ 210/ha/year).

The social implications of the logging ban have been evaluated in this study mainly in four key areas:

Impact on employment and income generation

Before 1990, the STC operated 16 sawmills and 35 timber sales depots. In 1992/1993 the STC closed down 8 sawmills and 16 timber sales depots mainly because of timber shortages, and partially due to the reduction of Mahaweli forest clearing areas and security problems in the north and east.

The number of STC employees declined from 2,990 in 1990 to 1,720 in 1996. Most of them were mid- to lower-level workers who were involved in sawmill operations, timber sale depots and logging. About 820 employees left voluntarily and received incentive packages that cost the STC around SL Rs 42 million (US$ 850 000).

In 1994, the FSMP estimated that 40 000 people were employed either full- or part-time in the sawmilling industry, out of which 10 000 to 12 000 were in the private sector. Since 1994, the number of enterprises has increased 25 percent annually. The total employment in forest industries, including sawmills, in 1997 was estimated to be around 60 000 workers. The private sector mainly uses raw materials from non-forest sources. Hence, the impact of the logging ban on them is not as significant as with STC employees. The private sector jobs are mainly labor and field supervisory levels.

Impact on forest dependency

The ban has no impact on the extraction of NWFPs by village communities, and thus, their dependency on natural forests has not been affected except where people lost their jobs in former logging operations. The present legislation provides for collection of fuelwood and NWFPs by village communities, and this practice continues in natural forests except in some protected areas.

Impact on the perceptions of people

Sri Lankans have a strong tradition of conservation with close religious, cultural and spiritual links to natural forests. Buddhist philosophy has had a great influence on the conservation of forests and wildlife in the country. The Buddhist monks use small blocks of natural forests - forest hermitage areas or aranya - as places for meditation. A practice that started before 1500, it has become a good method of forest protection. Even now, no illegal felling takes place in forest hermitage areas. At present, forest hermitages exist in many natural forests and many villagers do not support logging of natural forests for this reason.

Impact on public recreation

Both local and foreign tourists visit many forests, especially the protected areas, for recreation purposes. There are 12 national parks managed by the DWLC, one World Heritage Site (National Heritage and Wilderness Area) and 2 conservation forests managed by the Forest Department for recreation and conservation. The number of visitors to 5 national parks managed by the DWLC in 1997 was around 300 000 and the revenue generated was SL Rs 40 million (US$ 700 000). Visitor arrivals to the Forest Department’s protected areas were recorded at 45 000, while the revenue generated was around SL Rs 1 million (US$ 17 000). Some forests within the protected area system have great potential for nature-based tourism, and management plans are being prepared for this purpose.


Main reasons for the success of the logging ban

The Forest Department releases the forests for extraction only to the STC. No other private or State institution is authorized to extract timber from State forests. Any other form of tree felling is considered illegal. This monopoly facilitates effective implementation of the logging ban even without a written policy or special legislation.

Non-forest wood resources are a major source of timber. Since the bulk of timber comes from sources outside the State forests, the pressure on natural forests and the impact on forest industries are significantly less.

The decisions regarding the logging ban were taken by the Government as a result of strong environmental lobbying against logging in the natural forests. Against this background, the Government has had a firm commitment for effective implementation of the logging ban.

Constraints to the effectiveness of the logging ban

The Ministry of Lands, Irrigation and Mahaweli Development in 1990 gave a directive to the Forest Department to implement the logging ban without any policy statements or amendments to the existing forest policy. A formal policy statement would have provided better guidance for effective administration.

Some of the natural forests in this area were cleared for development even after the logging ban was implemented and continued until about 1996.

Clearance of natural forests along roads in the northern and eastern parts of the country has been allowed for national security reasons in spite of the logging ban. Logging by STC, with prior approval of the Forest Department, has continued as requested by the defense institutions.

Illegal cutting continues at a considerable rate. The threat of illegal cutting is even greater in forest plantations due to easy access and higher valued species (teak and mahogany). Enforcement is not effective due to the lack of financial and human resources, lack of motivation, etc. The magnitude of illegal fellings may be greater than recorded.

Conditions necessary for the successful implementation of the logging ban

Based on the Sri Lankan experience, the following aspects have been identified as necessary conditions for the successful implementation of the logging ban.

The development of appropriate policies with clear and functional definitions of conservation goals followed by the development of suitable legislation and institutional arrangements are crucial. Furthermore, political will, Government commitment and support are necessary for effective implementation of the logging ban.

Non-forest wood resources along with forest plantations can provide a viable alternative to timber from natural forests. Incentive schemes are necessary to encourage the private sector to establish forest plantations and plant trees in homegardens and agroforestry systems.

Survey and demarcation of forest boundaries is essential to prevent illegal felling and encroachment. Programs have been prepared to survey and demarcate the large number of proposed forest reserves and other State forests, between 2000 and 2010, with financial assistance from the ADB.

Sri Lanka’s private timber transport permit system has been identified as a disincentive for private sector involvement in homegardens, agroforestry systems and other non-forest tree resources. Even though permits have been recognized as important to the domestic timber supply, relaxation of the present system to promote private sector and community involvement in tree planting and forestry development has been proposed.

If the natural forests are to be protected against illegal felling and encroachment, the number of cadres from the DWLC and the Forest Department has to be increased. Training should be provided to the field staff to strengthen their law enforcement capabilities.

Decision makers need to be familiar with the benefits of conservation. The current extension and awareness programs implemented by the Forest Department, DWLC, and NGOs, should be strengthened and expanded to cover all levels of the target groups.

The National Forest Policy recognizes that the State alone cannot protect and manage the forests effectively. People’s participation in forestry development and management should be promoted as one of the main strategies for forest conservation.

Old and inefficient equipment that has not been designed for small-dimension logs, and inadequate management and labor skills, are major problems in the forest industry. This leads to low recovery rates and poor overall productivity, particularly in the sawmill sector. The present average recovery rate has been estimated to be around 40 percent. Raising efficiency rates of wood-processing technologies is necessary to reduce waste.

Forest products and timber utilization research needs to be strengthened to carry out more coordinated, product-oriented research and to disseminate information with greater emphasis on lesser-known timber species.

Development of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management is an important aspect. Although there have been several international initiatives on the development of criteria and indicators, Sri Lanka is still in the initial stages of this process.


The logging ban in the natural forests, which was imposed in 1990, can be generally considered as a success in achieving forest conservation in Sri Lanka. The key factors that contributed to the success of the logging ban are the monopoly of the STC in extracting timber from State forests, commitment of the Government, and the large percentage of wood supplied by the non-forest sector. However, the logging ban has not been completely successful. Some of the ban’s major obstacles include the lack of supportive policies, continued timber removals under the Mahaweli Development scheme, and illegal timber removals in other natural forests.

Several conditions that can help a logging ban succeed have been identified. They include:


The following two policy options are proposed to guide the implementation of Sri Lanka’s logging ban as a strategy for achieving forest conservation. They are also relevant for other countries.

Option 1: Complete logging ban with appropriate policy and legislation

The proposed option is a complete logging ban in natural forests after developing appropriate policies and relevant legislation, along with the institutional framework to support the ban. This option proposes a complete halt to commercial timber extraction from all natural forests. Other relevant conditions - such as political will, development of alternative wood resources, demarcation of forest boundaries, adequate resources for forest protection and law enforcement, extension and awareness, participatory forest management and development of a monitoring system - are also needed to more effectively achieve the objectives of forest conservation. The main disadvantage of this option is the lack of any provision for harvesting and utilization of timber from natural forests or integrated sustainable multiple-use management. This suggests the possibility of a modified option to provide both forest conservation and more flexible future management and use of the natural forests.

Option 2: Commercial logging ban with an optimal system of protected area network and community-based forest management

The present protected areas system should be reviewed and expanded to establish an optimal protected area network to conserve biodiversity in all forest ecosystems and habitats, and to protect watersheds. The forests outside the protected area system should be managed on a sustainable basis through community-based forest management for a variety of goods and services. Communities may develop management plans to prohibit extractive uses in selected parts of these forests to protect specific habitats, prevent soil erosion, protect water resources, or enhance recreational and aesthetic values. This approach will empower communities to protect and manage natural forests, provide them with economic incentives and maintain suitable harvesting rights. In addition, conditions should be implemented to achieve long-term conservation objectives. The main advantage of this option is the partial utilization of timber from natural forests while conserving biodiversity and protecting soil and water resources under adaptive and flexible sustainable management.


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