According to recent assessments, the Asia-Pacific Region requires more wood than it can sustainably produce; this situation will become more marked in future. This raises the question of how the sector in the Region will react. The impending food shortage during the 1960s resulted in impressive developments in agriculture with the advances of the Green Revolution. Will we see similar advances and technological change in forestry?
Significant changes have been made during the recent past. Rubberwood, formerly viewed as a waste product, is today a valuable raw material. The wood processing industry has developed reconstituted wood panels, thus reducing its dependence on large diameter timber. The private sector has assumed an increasing role in plantation management and farmers have entered into agreements with the processing industry for supplying wood.
This review provides an overview of the current forestry and wood processing practices to assess what forestry in the Region might look like in the year 2010. It reviews technologies and practices that are presently available and the constraints that have obstructed a faster adoption and adaptation of available knowledge and research results. Following the review of technological changes in individual forestry sectors it provides an outlook of potential developments.
Besides the widening supply and demand gap, forestry has also been affected by environmental concerns and the discussion about certification schemes have raised the awareness of the need for sustainable forestry management. Globalization of production and trade have enabled a free flow of capital investments affecting forest resources and industries in other parts of the world. Particularly the ASEAN and Northeast Asian economies have experienced unprecedented growth and industrialisation with impacts on the rural landscape and labour availability. Market liberalisation in the former centrally planned economies has stimulated the interest of private sector in growing trees.
The present study is divided into five parts covering the sub-sectors of natural forest management, plantation management, agroforestry, non-timber forest product (NTFP) use and management and wood processing.
NTFPs and agroforestry have been the least affected by technological changes. Economic growth has created non-land based employment opportunities which has led to labour shortages in the agricultural sector. Farmers are looking for means to increase production in the short-term. The development of agroforestry technologies has not responded to this need. Diverse agroforestry systems will remain in existence in many countries but where farmers intend to produce wood in respond to increasing demand, they will switch to more simple systems.
With few exceptions, NTFPs have suffered from a lack of incentives for resource management and downstream processing. Conflicts over resource ownership have fuelled over-exploitation and increased the risk of investing in any processing industry based on naturally occurring products. To establish a viable industry means investments in plantations, which explains the current expansion of rattan plantations in Malaysia. For most people, NTFP collection and processing are not remunerative. Furthermore, people view NTFP collection as a backward activity and many products themselves as primitive or old-fashioned, and replace them with more "western" products. Investments in new technologies are therefore unattractive.
Natural forest management has been affected by over-exploitation of accessible lowland forests, considerable logging damage and, more recently, mounting environmental pressures to improve operational standards. Natural forest management is currently limited to timber harvesting operations with only little attention paid to enrichment planting and liberation thinning.
The expansion of harvesting activities to more mountainous environments has led to the introduction of skyline cable systems and helicopter logging. However, both systems have been introduced only recently. Their impact will be limited in the near to medium-term future. Research into reduced-impact logging has been stimulated by the move towards sustainable forest management, timber certification and the reduction of carbon emissions. The impacts of reduced-impact logging and its cost-effectiveness are still under investigation. Rapid adoption will not be possible because of substantial training requirements.
In general, those stakeholders responsible for forest management, generally concessionaires, have not opted yet for specialised forest management. Logging has hardly changed over the last thirty years. Some companies will upgrade their equipment and practices. In response to timber certification, reduced-impact harvesting will improve the logging practices. The rate of adoption will depend on pressures by governments and opportunities for acquiring concessions overseas.
With the involvement of the private sector in plantation management the objective of reforestation has shifted from protecting the environment towards producing wood for downstream industries. The integration of wood fibre production with processing facilities has stimulated the use of improved planting stock and higher expenditures for fire protection and research.
The plantation sector in the Region will assume increasing importance with rising raw material demands. A review of past experiences shows some success, particularly in simple plantation forestry but numerous examples also demonstrate a significant extent of poor results. Notwithstanding earlier problems, the interest in plantation establishment by the private sector will grow, fuelled by the need to feed the growing capacities of pulp and paper mills as well as supported by government incentives. Land use conflicts between private companies and the rural population will decrease. Farmers will increasingly get involved in growing trees in most countries of the Region.
In contrast to natural forest management, the plantation sector will continue its transformation from less to more intensive management. In the medium-term future most interest will focus on monocultures of species for which high quality planting stock is available. This trend will continue as long as there are no major setbacks (e.g., pest and disease infestations). Labour shortages will affect the degree of mechanisation operations. Tree felling and bunching will be performed by light feller bunchers and log extraction by light rubber-tired skidders and forwarders in large-scale plantations. Improvements in the road network will allow for the use of mobile chippers.
Collaboration between wood producers and processors will draw farmers into small-scale plantation management but will affect the development of complex plantations only to a limited extent. Maintaining naturally regenerating hardwoods in plantations would be a first step towards more complexity. This will also determine the use of dipterocarps for enriching logged-over forests, which may also be coupled with the intensive management of NTFPs such as rattan.
The wood processing industry is undergoing a structural change with a gradual shift from using large to smaller diameter trees. The most dramatic developments in the wood processing industry have been in the reconstituted wood-panel industry, particularly in medium density fibreboard (MDF) production. Special grades and properties, including moisture resistance, fire retardance and exterior grades will fuel growth rates in the future. The expected growth in ready-to-assemble furniture will increase the awareness of the special characteristics and advantages of wood-based panels.
The decreasing supply of large diameter logs will also affect the plywood industry, which over the years developed technologies for peeling high density hardwoods smaller diameter logs. Depending on the success of marketing strategies for alternative boards, it can be assumed that the tropical plywood sector will shrink faster than expected, at least in relative terms.
Vertical and horizontal integration of productive units will provide opportunities for increasing efficiency of wood use. Currently there are no incentive structures for reducing wood waste during harvesting operations in natural forests, or for transporting the waste to processing mills. The most logical way to overcome high extraction and transportation cost of wood waste is to pre-process timber at the logging site and the use of mobile chippers is predicted to increase. Non-wood fibres will play some role in production processes. However because of their drawbacks they will not replace wood as the most significant raw material in most countries.