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Commodity report: Roundwood,* 1946- 1954

* This report treats "roundwood" as a general commodity, with no differentiation into hardwood and softwood.

When the second world war ended, there were great requirements for wood and for all the products to be derived from wood. Fuelwood still had to replace coal in many countries which once could import this commodity. Sawnwood was essential for reconstruction work, and wood pulp and its derivatives were everywhere badly needed. Plywood, veneers and board were in great demand. Electrification and improvement of the railway network resulted in an increased demand for posts, poles and sleepers although in some countries electric fencing and steel or concrete sleepers and pylons were tending to displace wood.

Production from the world's forests responded in the way shown in Table 1, which also gives the total recorded removals of roundwood from 1946 to 1954 and compares these with the prewar level 1937/38. The gradual increase in the volume of wood production from nearly 1,300 million cubic meters in 1946 to about 1,500 million cubic meters (a rise of 15 percent) reflects mainly a greater output of wood destined for industrial uses, from 614 million cubic meters to 828 million or 35 percent larger. The relative production of fuelwood tended to decline so that industrial wood represented an increasing share of total fellings. The figure was 48 percent prewar, then dropped to 47 percent in 1946 because of the wide demand for wood as fuel, but was 51 percent in 1950 and 55 percent in 1954.

The record of timber felled over the past nine years in the FAO regions is shown in Table 1. In Europe, the level of total roundwood production immediately after the war considerably exceeded the volume warranted by traditional silvicultural practices. As economic conditions improved, fellings were gradually decreased to a level which seemed better to correspond to the sustained productive capacity of Europe's forests. At the same time, there was a spectacular fall in the volume of wood cut for fuel, from 155 million cubic meters in 1946 to only some 95 million cubic meters in 1954. Industrial roundwood cut rose by almost 12 percent during this period, from 145 million cubic meters to about 163 million cubic meters.

TABLE 1. - WORLD PRODUCTION OF ROUNDWOOD, IN FUELWOOD AND INDUSTRIAL WOOD, 1937/38 AND 1946-54 in millions of cubic meters

The continuation of the war-time expansion of forest industries in North America saw roundwood removals rise from 348 million cubic meters in 1946 to 370 million cubic meters in 1954, accompanied by a decline of some 14 percent in the volume of reported fuelwood production. More and more wood served as industrial raw material, in 1954 about 84 percent of the figure cited above.

The Soviet Union was the world's largest timber producer before the war, but production in 1946 was 12 million cubic meters less than the prewar output. The reconstruction effort and industrial expansion gradually resulted in an increased volume of fellings and the cut in 1954 apparently considerably exceeded the immediate prewar level. Exploitation was increasingly extended into the northern parts of the country and into Siberia. The planned figure for roundwood fellings in 1954 was 435 million cubic meters, a figure which meant a rise in the volume of industrial roundwood produced during the period under review of close to 74 percent, and a 40 percent rise in fuelwood fellings. This increased production followed the trend in other regions; in fact the proportion of fuelwood in total removals declined from 50 percent in 1946 to 40 percent in 1954.

During the war years, considerable encouragement was given to developing forest industries in certain countries of Latin America. Total roundwood output in 1946 was 10 percent above prewar and a further 8 percent rise was recorded in 1949. Thereafter, output declined, reflecting a reduction in fuelwood cut, but the total volume regained the 1946 level in 1954 when the output of industrial wood which earlier only represented some 10 to 12 percent of the region's total fellings, reached just 200 percent of the prewar figure and exceeded the 1846 level by one-third.

In Africa, the recorded output of roundwood in 1946 was 28 percent higher than before the war and, after a fall in 1947 and 1948, climbed higher to 39 percent above the prewar level. Industrial timber has only represented a very small percentage of the total wood output - 2 percent before the war, 4 percent in 1946 and 7 percent in 1954; but the increase of production that has occurred, though small in volume, is high percentage-wise: in 1953/54, 300 percent over the thirties. The war induced a heavy increase in both timber and fuelwood output and after the war there was a strong drive to develop new forest industries in the dependent territories of European powers.

In Asia, the dislocation of the war led to a large drop in timber output. In spite of this region's great needs, arising both from increasing industrial activities and ever-growing populations, the reported volume of roundwood production had by 1954 only slightly exceeded the prewar level. Fuelwood production apparently did not change during the years under review but output of industrial roundwood rose by some 15 million cubic meters, or by 38 percent, still, of course, quite insufficient to meet requirements.

The expansion of timber output, started in the Pacific area during the war, continued at a steady pace. Production of industrial roundwood rose by over 71 percent from 1946 to 1954 while the output of fuelwood remained steady.

Industrial development and population increase

It is of interest to examine how forest production in different parts of the world has followed industrial and economic development and how it has kept pace with population increases. It is known that fuelwood production has everywhere decreased, so, if total cut is taken as the basis of comparison, a wrong picture is obtained and output from the forest seems to have been lagging far behind in all regions except Australasia. However, judging by the output of industrial wood only, a more satisfactory situation appears. In North America, the index of total industrial production increased by more than 25 percent during the period under review which, although more than double the percentage rise in output of all industrial roundwood, is less than the rise in pulpwood output. The gross industrial production of the Soviet Union trebled from 1946 to 1954; the total output of industrial roundwood more than doubled while the production of pitprops and pulpwood in 1954 was four times that in 1946. In Latin America, Africa and the Pacific Area, the increase of industrial roundwood production seems to have more or less kept in step with the rate of increase in industrial output and with other economic developments. On the other hand, European production of industrial roundwood rose by only 12 percent from 1946 to 1954 while industrial activity increased by more than 50 percent. In Asia, too, output of industrial roundwood in general lagged far behind the rate of industrial development.

A fine comparison between forest production and population increase may appear far-fetched at the present state of our statistical knowledge but world population is estimated to have increased by some 9 percent from 1946 to 1953, that is from 2,304 million to 2,508 million, while total roundwood removals increased close to 15 percent and output of industrial roundwood by 35 percent. There may be justification for saying, therefore, that, since the war, forestry production in the broad view has kept pace with the growth of world population, as is suggested in the accompanying Table:



Increase of fellings of industrial wood

Increase of population

Percentage: 1946= 100







North America



Latin America









Pacific Area






This statistical picture must be qualified by clearly recognizing that wood requirements of growing populations are greatest where there has been least development in forest production. Despite the progress apparent during the 1946-53 period, forest utilization still drags considerably behind needs.

Changes in demand for wood

As already pointed out, the keener demand for industrial roundwood has in part been met by diverting to industrial purposes wood formerly disposed of as fuelwood. In the Soviet Union, Australia and New Zealand, the demand seems to have been met entirely by stepping up total fellings. In Europe, fuelwood cutting has purposely been drastically reduced to permit increases in the amount of wood available for industry.

Supplies of industrial roundwood still remain generally inadequate to meet fully the needs of all forest industries, so that competition for raw material has grown during recent years between, for instance, sawmills on the one hand and the pulp and paper industries on the other. As is shown in Table 3, while availabilities of industrial wood of all categories have shown an average increase of some 35 percent since 1946, sawlog volumes have increased by only 30 percent against about 60 percent for small-sized timber for pulpwood and pitprops.

In the highly industrialized areas of Europe and North America, the recorded volume of sawlogs, veneer logs and logs for sleepers produced has remained practically unchanged, and the increase in total supplies of industrial wood really reflects more and more pulpwood, because the amount of timber used as pitprops has generally declined. European output of logs has been maintained at around 104 million cubic meters per year while the production of small-sized timber has risen from 43 million cubic meters in 1946 to about 60 million cubic meters in 1954. In (Canada and the United States the volume of log output has fluctuated between roughly 215 and 220 million cubic meters while the production of pulpwood has risen from 67 million cubic meters to close to 95 million cubic meters in 1954. In the Soviet Union the volumes of both logs and small-sized industrial roundwood (pulpwood and pitprops) have shown increases. The increase in output of logs may be considered as a normal expression of the reconstruction and expansion that has been going on. The big rise in coal production in the Soviet Union has necessitated large amounts of pitprops, even with the technical advances in the use of wood in the mines. Gains in the volume of both pitprop and pulpwood production have been about equal.



Industrial Wood


Pulpwood and Pitprops

Million m3

Percent 1946 =100

Million m3

Percent 1946 =100

Million m3

Percent 1946 =100








































































TABLE 4. - EXPORTS OF CONIFEROUS LOGS in thousands of cubic meters ®

In the developing regions of Latin America, Africa and the Pacific Area, the big increase has been in the output of sawlogs, while the output of pulpwood and pitprops has not greatly changed. This is to be expected since sawmilling has in the past generally been the first stage in the growth of forest industries in new areas. The more complex industries, particularly pulp and paper, have followed rather far behind.

The increase in Asia's apparent total production of industrial roundwood was almost entirely due to the rising output of Japan, the other countries of the region accounting only for a minor amount. But Asia is a region too vast and diverse to recognize general trends. The only country which can be discussed in detail is Japan where considerable wood-using industrial capacity, especially sawmills, already existed before the war. The available raw material supplies have since the war had to meet simultaneously heavy demands for sawn - wood, for pitprops and for pulpwood. The pulpwood demand was especially strong from 1952 onwards, from many newly established pulp and paper mills. With better use of the available forest resources, much of the demand was able to be met but the sawmills inevitably suffered to the gain of the pulp industries which yield a greater economic profit.

The diagram shows how the production of; the main wood-based commodities developed in the period under review. While removals of all industrial wood, as compared with the prewar level, rose by close to 50 percent, sawnwood production increased by some 40 percent, woodpulp and pulp products by about 70 percent, and fibreboard and plywood trebled. These figures reflect largely the changes in the industrial demand for roundwood as a raw material, although wood waste has been used increasingly for fibreboards.

TABLE 5. - EXPORTS OF BROADLEAVED LOGS in thousands of cubic meters ®

TABLE 6. - EXPORTS OF PULPWOOD in thousands of cubic meters ®

TABLE 7. - EXPORTS OF PITPROPS in thousands of cubic meters ®

Roundwood trade

There has been a slow rise in international trade in roundwood during the past decade. But trade does not exceed three percent of the world production of industrial roundwood and is principally concentrated in Europe, as shown in Tables 4 to 7.

This European trade in industrial roundwood has varied between 3 and 6 percent of the total production in the region, the main categories concerned being pulpwood and pitprops. The volumes involved have amounted to about 10 to 15 percent of the region's total output of the commodities. The flow of trade in roundwood is mainly from the northern countries to the other parts of Europe. This reached its highest level in 1951 and 1952 when there was heavy buying by the main importing countries. Prewar these countries drew considerable supplies from the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. Closure of this flow has since the war contributed to the pressure on export supplies available from northern Europe. Trade in pitprops and pulpwood has shown strong fluctuations but in 1954 pulpwood had increased by nearly 300 percent as against 1946, while pitprops had declined slightly. Trade in other round timber has remained more or less stable. It is in general limited to exchanges between contiguous countries, with the exception of imports of fine hardwood logs from other regions, a trade which has shown a considerable increase during the period being reviewed.

DIAGRAM. - World Production of Roundwood and Forest Products, 1954

In other regions of the world the volume of trade in roundwood remains rather insignificant, except between contiguous countries as in Europe. There has been an increased flow of pulpwood from Canada to the U.S.A., but the volume of pitprop exports from North America to Europe has declined. The trade in hardwood logs from the Philippines to Japan has shown remarkable increases from year to year. The Soviet Union has not resumed pulpwood exports at all, and has in fact, become a pulpwood importer. Exports of pitprops have been resumed only slowly and on a much lower level than prewar.

Trend toward greater self-sufficiency

The difficulties encountered by most countries of the world after the war to meet their wood consumption needs, the realization that the days of cheap imports are over, and the growing awareness that, with some capital outlay and a little trouble, trees can be grown as a crop in most countries, has led to a distinct trend toward greater national self-sufficiency. Dependence on imported supplies of forest products had during the period from 1946 to 1954 proved detrimental on several occasions. Fluctuations in demand and prices have disrupted international trade with bad effects on levels and patterns of consumption.

In Europe, the principal importing countries are gradually succeeding in reducing to some extent their dependence on imports, although domestic pulp industries are still being created to meet the profitable demand for paper products, even at the cost of increasing imports of pulpwood. For pitprops, however, domestic sources of supply are increasingly being utilized and the total consumption of pitprops has been reduced, resulting in a considerable decline in Europe's volume of pitprop trade. Increased afforestation and reforestation efforts in a number of European countries, especially in the Mediterranean area, are tending to make those countries less dependent on imported supplies. In other regions, notable efforts towards greater self-sufficiency have been made, directed primarily toward better use of existing (chiefly broadleaved) forest resources, although considerable attention is being given also to "tree-farming" and to plantations of fast growing species to provide the raw material for sawmills, paper, and other manufacturing industries. The trend toward greater national self-sufficiency has in a few instances led to trade restrictions, either on imports so as to support domestic production, or on exports of rough or semi-finished products to promote conversion into more highly valued products. These cases have, however, been few and have not, so far, affected international trade to any general degree.

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