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It's time to make paper in the tropics

K.F.S. King

K.F.S. King is Assistant Director-General in charge of the Forestry Department of FAO. This article is adapted from an address he delivered in March 1975 to the American Paper Institute's Pulp, Fiber and Raw Materials Group meeting in New York.

Of the world's stocked forests, 55% are in developing countries but only 4% of the world's wood pulp originates from these. Up to now the absence of technology for utilizing mixed tropical hardwood for pulp and paper was a major factor in this imbalance. But this is no longer the case. The time is ripe, says the author, for the pulp and paper investors in industrial countries and the governments of developing countries to accommodate each other's interests and build more mills in the forest-rich nations of the tropics.

The most recent FAO analysis of trends in world consumption of pulp and paper indicates that in 1985 annual consumption will be almost double that of 1973. It is against this background that the availability of raw materials for pulp in the developing countries, and the potential of these countries for producing these raw materials, should be examined.

The growing stock of the world's forests comprises about 300000 million cubic metres of wood. The annual increment of these forests is estimated to be 3000 million cubic metres. The consumption of wood in 1985 for all industrial purposes is forecast to be 1900 million cubic metres. For the pulp and paper industry in particular, the estimate is that 800 million cubic metres will be needed in 1985.

If the estimates of the annual increment of the world's forests are compared with the estimates of the requirements for 1985, it will be seen that increment is greater than requirements. However, if regional demands are compared with regional resources, it will be evident that in some regions, particularly in western Europe and in Japan, there will be (and already in some cases there are) serious local deficits.

Moreover, a not inconsiderable proportion of forests are located in areas from which it might be imprudent - for reasons of soil and water conservation, for example - to harvest as much as the growth rates of the forests might seem to warrant.

The developing countries possess 55 % of the world's stocked forest land, but only 4% of the wood pulp which the world produces comes from these forests. What are the reasons for this apparent neglect of what seems to be a substantial and valuable reservoir of wood raw material?

One of the reasons is that many developing countries cannot themselves, from their own financial resources, afford the capital which is required to establish viable pulp mills. Foreign exchange is often in short supply in the developing economies; the local markets are often too small to absorb the output of the large plant recommended to them by experts whose thought processes have been conditioned by the norms of the developed economies, and they would therefore have to export the excess. But the industry is notorious for its fluctuating fortunes, for its periods of excess capacity. The risk seems too great for them to operate in isolation. They therefore turn to the more industrialized countries for investment in this field.

And here we find a similar reluctance, a reluctance born not necessarily of a lack of capital and a shortage of foreign exchange but of an amalgam of factors - some political, some economic, some technical.

Many developing countries, in my opinion correctly, are adamant that they must control the exploitation and development of their natural resources. This does not preclude (and it is my information that they do not intend it to preclude) entering into partnerships with financiers from the developed countries, or the establishment of owner/management relationships with such financiers. Indeed, such relationships and partnerships exist, and there is evidence that they can work for the mutual benefit of the investor and the countries involved in these relationships. The essential factor seems to be political stability, but even this is debatable.

Be that as it may, it appears to me that these sociopolitical considerations have not been the main constraint to the establishment of pulp mills in the developing countries. It seems that the main obstacle has, in the past, been the state of technology of the industry.

Most of the developing countries lie in the tropics. Most of the natural forests of the tropics are found in the moist zones. These moist tropical forests are generally characterized by a multiplicity of species which grow together in an intimate mixture. In addition, the trees of the mixed tropical forests do not produce wood which has been traditionally used for the production of pulp, with the characteristics to which the technology, evolved in the developed temperate world, has been adapted.

However, over the last five years or so there have been remarkable advances in pulp and paper technology. It has been demonstrated that high-quality pulp, suitable for a range of end uses, can be produced from mixed tropical hardwoods, on a practical and commercial basis. Recent work in France, at the Centre technique forestier tropical in Paris, and in Sweden, at the Stora Kopparberg in Falun, supports these conclusions. Of course, the pulp produced from tropical hardwoods can also be utilized in a mixture with long-fibred pulp.

There are, at present, differences of opinion regarding the nature of the exploitation and harvesting systems which would be most suitable and economic to maintain the required degree of uniformity in the wood supply which would be obtained from the forest. One approach, which is currently being followed, is the separation at the post-chipping stage of the mixture of wood densities which has been harvested.

I believe that these remaining problems can be solved. The scientific basis now exists for the economic utilization of mixed tropical hardwoods. The commercial feasibility has been demonstrated. What remains is for arrangements to be worked out between potential investors and the owners of the forests in developing countries.

If what some may call my optimism is justified, much of the supply of the world's demand for pulp by 1985, viewed in purely physical terms, can be met from the mixed tropical forests of the developing countries. But this would be a simplistic view, for the following reasons.

Industrial countries face paper shortages by 1985 and forest-rich developing countries want their own pulp and paper mills; they ought to be able to accommodate each other's needs

First, there will have to be a considerable development of infrastructure in the developing countries to make many areas of tropical forests accessible to the producer.

Second, if scientific forestry is to be practiced, if the known interrelationships of the forests, soil and water are to form the basis of land-use practices, if attempts are to be made to minimize the occurrence of floods and drought and the siltation of rivers and reservoirs, and if provision is to be made for the nonproductive uses of the forests, then the amount of wood available from the natural forests in the developing countries for pulp production cannot be assumed to be anywhere near the figure implied in the data presented earlier.

Third, increasing demands are being made in the developing countries for new lands to produce food. Some proportion of these lands will inevitably come from areas now under forests.

Fourth, much of the now unexploited virgin forest of the tropics is stocked by large, valuable, overmature trees which can be converted for the production of specialized end products which, a priori, would yield higher financial returns than if they were utilized for pulp.

Fifth, the very location of some of these forests probably militates against their commercial exploitation in the foreseeable future.

This list is not intended to frighten. It is presented merely to emphasize that not all the natural forests of the developing countries are available to the pulp and paper industry.

Artificial forests, man-made forests and plantations must supplement supplies. Indeed, it may be argued that in some localities they should be the main source of supply.

The advantages of forest plantations are well known:

1. The species can be chosen for specific or various purposes and technologies, the forests can be tailormade to the nation's requirements.

2. The locations of these forests can be chosen, not only to take advantage of the physical and climatic conditions most suitable for the growth of particular species, but also to take advantage of port facilities, other infrastructure, and the availability of labour, both skilled and unskilled.

3. The growth rates of plantations are generally much higher than those of the natural forests.

4. The cost of producing a unit of wood is often much lower in a plantation than in a natural forest.

5. It is more economic to engage in silvicultural practices such as fertilizing and tree breeding in plantations than it is in natural forests.

These claims are based on evidence, on data which we have collected in FAO over the years.

Naturally, the rates of growth vary according to species, variety, site, rainfall, temperature, length of growing season and treatment. But there is little doubt that the mean annual increments for plantations in the tropics are considerably higher than those obtained in the temperate zones.

For example, in the north temperate zones and in the Mediterranean countries with a pronounced dry season, the mean annual increment for conifers is between 2 and 5 cubic metres per hectare per year; in the tropics and subtropics, the annual increment varies between 15 and 30 cubic metres per hectare per year.

More specifically, there are many areas from 30 degrees north of the equator to 30 degrees south of it in which Pinus caribaea gives an annual increment of from 17.5 to 21 cubic metres per hectare per year under bark, up to the age of 15 years at least. In the Kenya highlands Pinus patula and Cupressus lusitanica yield 18 cubic metres per hectare per year, and Pinus radiata gives 24 cubic metres. In Brazil, the average yield of 35-year Pinus elliottii is about 22 cubic metres per hectare per year, with minima of 16 cubic metres and maxima of 34 cubic metres.

The rates of growth are also remarkable for broadleaf species. Eucalypts, which are among the quickest growing hardwood species, give an annual increment of between 20 and 30 cubic metres per hectare per year. Gmelina arborea and Maesopsis eminii plots in Malawi and West African countries have a mean annual increment of 30 cubic metres per hectare per year.

These rates of growth permit, of course, very short rotations of plantation forests in the tropical and subtropical regions. Pulpwood rotations commonly take between 10 and 15 years; in the temperate zones they generally take between 20 and 30 years.

HIGH QUALITY PRINTING PAPER IN AN ITALIAN PAPER MILL all the pulp was imported from Canada

Although FAO data on the extent of man-made forests of species suitable for pulp do not cover all countries, it is known where trials on the establishment of plantations have been conducted and what results have been achieved. A bulk of information is therefore available, in FAO and in individual countries, which may be used for the immediate establishment of plantations.

Rotations of 20 to 30 years in temperate zones are reduced to 10 to 15 years in the tropics

The rates of growth I have quoted were obtained without recourse to fertilization. There is evidence, however, that mean annual increments, especially in the early days of a plantation's life, may be increased by as much as four times through the application of fertilizers.

Recent work in central Java illustrates this point. The practice there is to seek the assistance of farmers in the establishment of teak plantations. The farmers plant the forest trees and between the rows of these trees various food crops are sown. In order, primarily, to increase the food crop yields, fertilizers are applied to the soil at the time of planting. The incidental result is that rates of growth of the tree crop have been increased by four times in the first year.

This is doubly significant. Apart from the physical increase in early yield, the forest canopy closes more quickly, weed growth is suppressed, and tending costs are reduced. From calculations I have made, based on the Javanese experience, it is evident that even if fertilizers were applied to the forest crop alone, the resultant increase in growth and reduction in tending costs would more than compensate for the cost of the fertilizer and its application.

I have tried to show that there is a growing demand for pulp and paper in the world, and this is more than likely to continue. In North America there might not be a negative balance in the supply/demand situation insofar as the raw material for pulp and paper is concerned, but there will definitely be an increasing deficit in other parts of the world, particularly in western Europe and Japan. It is most unlikely that this deficit can be met from the traditional sources.

On the other hand, the natural forests of the developing world possess wood raw material which can be utilized for the production of pulp. In addition, the potential for the rapid expansion of fast-growing tree plantations in the developing countries exists. The assessment of this potential is based not on a priori assumptions of climatic and soil conditions but on trials conducted in many countries over a number of years and on a number of sites. Indeed, some industrial plantations have already been established in a few developing countries on a large scale.

The governments of developing nations are, of course, aware of the favourable raw material supply situation which exists in their countries. They are also conscious of the far-reaching effects which the establishment of pulp and paper mills can have on their economic development. Accordingly, they have had studies prepared on the feasibility of producing pulp and paper in their countries, sometimes with the object of utilizing mixed tropical hardwoods, sometimes utilizing plantation-grown hardwoods or softwoods.

Such studies have been prepared, for example, for Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Surinam and Venezuela, in South America; for Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia, in Africa; for Iran in the Near East, for Burma, India, Indonesia, Papua-New Guinea and Thailand, in Asia. It is evident that the governments of most of these countries would require financial and technical/managerial assistance if their plans are to be implemented. FAO is prepared to assist in the bringing together of governments and potential investors, in the hope that these plants would be established.

The strategy for the development of pulp production in the developing economies should be based on the two broad types of forest which are obtainable in these countries. The FAO forecasts indicate that if the present recession does not worsen, there will be an acute shortage of paper by as early as 1978. If the present capacity to produce pulp and paper is not increased, the situation in the years following 1978 will deteriorate rapidly. The new capacity which should be established to alleviate shortages should preferably be located in the developing countries where the raw material exists, and should utilize, first, the mixed tropical hardwood species. At the same time, plantations for the production of wood for pulp should be established in these countries to meet the increasing demand for wood, to accommodate the shifts in land-use practice which are bound to occur as these countries develop, and to obviate the necessity of harvesting areas which are now inaccessible and which may be too costly to utilize for pulp.

Plantations and mixed tropical hardwoods are the pulp sources of the future, and the future is at hand

The scientific knowledge for the growth of trees in the developing countries exists. The technology for the utilization of the mixed tropical hardwoods is known. The demand for pulp and paper is growing and will continue to grow. Most of the ingredients necessary for the successful establishment of pulp mills are therefore available. I believe that capital for investment in these projects may also be forthcoming. There remains, however, a prerequisite, which is dependent on the understanding by the investors of the desires and hopes and aspirations of the peoples of the developing countries, and on an appreciation by the leaders of the developing countries of the motivations which shape the policies and practices of the investors. It depends, in short, on an accommodation of interests for the mutual benefit of both parties. It has been my experience, during the last few years, that this accommodation can be achieved.

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