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8. Wood science and technology R&D can contribute to poverty alleviation
K. Satyanarayana Rao


Mankind is currently re-discovering the values of wood, especially its value as an environmental friendly material that is reusable, recyclable, and biodegradable, besides its carbon sink effects. This important bioresource is one of the most useful materials around the world and its usage is both extensive and widespread. In India, it fulfills several key needs of the society. Production and use of wood in a way that sustains its supply will be a key element in sustainable forestry. R&D in Wood Science and Technology is aimed at generating environmentally sound technologies that promote usage of wood in a more responsible manner through better process and product technologies. Extensive use of these technologies can play a significant role in value addition, higher income and employment generation, tree biodiversity conservation, and enhancement of carbon sink, with least ecological costs. However, in the changing global and domestic scenario, Wood Science and Technology R&D cannot limit itself only to technology generation but to gear itself to develop pro-active/ catalytic strategies in developing Researcher-user linkages. This paper attempts to identify areas that R&D institutes could consider for realizing their full potential in addressing these issues and aiding poverty alleviation. The need for developing Institute-Industry-user group "Partnerships" is emphasized as this approach is paying rich dividends elsewhere in bridging the gap between knowledge providers and users.


It is increasingly becoming clear that Research Institutes should aim not only at technology generation but also address and tackle socio-economic problems through appropriate development and technology transfer activities. This is reiterated in the new "Science and Technology Policy 2003" of the Government of India enunciated by the Honourable Prime Minister in January 2003. One of the main objectives of this policy is "to mount a direct and sustained effort on the alleviation of poverty, enhancing livelihood security, removal of hunger and malnutrition, reduction of drudgery and regional imbalances, both rural and urban and generation of employment, by using scientific and technological capabilities along with our traditional knowledge pool. This will call for the generation and screening of all relevant technologies, their widespread dissemination through networking and support for the vast unorganized sector of our economy". The need for Science and Technology to be more directly linked to social needs, and to use it as the key problem-solving instrument in all endeavours is recognized in the new policy and is one of its major thrusts. (Anonymous 2003a, Joshi 2003).

R&D in Wood Science and Technology is aimed at generating environmentally sound technologies that promote usage of wood - the only naturally produced, renewable structural material we have - in a more responsible manner, through appropriate 'process and product technologies'. More extensive use and improvements in these technologies can play a significant role in tree biodiversity conservation, enhancement of carbon sink, with least ecological costs in management and use, besides generation of income and employment through improvements in product quality, value addition. This is expected to increase a stable forest enterprises base and aid in poverty alleviation. To guarantee that Forest Product Institutions continue to progress in this challenging work and provide tools for optimal use of wood, it is necessary that forest products R&D to gear itself up and make necessary adjustments for advancing Sustainable Forestry.

Pursuit of a strategy for achieving an economic growth rate of 8 percent during the Tenth Plan period, in a country like India, where natural resources are under immense pressure while aiming at the same time "eco-efficiency" and "sustainable communities", calls for bold departures from existing practices in each of the major sectors. "Eco-efficiency" aims at "producing more from less resources" while "sustainable communities" are realized only when all stakeholders are able to achieve both "sustainable production" as well as "sustainable use/consumption" (Moni 2003). Many gaps that are impeding rational utilization of this most ecological of raw materials need to be urgently addressed.


The National Forestry Research Plan (NFRP 2000) developed by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), is an excellent example and a right step in this direction. This plan is the outcome of 26 state level workshops followed by eight institute-level workshops, a national-level workshop and developed through a multi-stakeholder participation. During the workshops, the research users, managers, and researchers identified and prioritized research problems and research themes. Being transparent, participatory and bottom up in its approach, it has ensured the involvement of all the SFDs and other stakeholders, thus minimizing "curiosity-driven" or "fancy" research and is in operation since 2000.

India has launched a "National Mission on Bamboo Technology and Trade Development" (NMBTTD) and its action plan was released in April 2003. This plan charts out a strategy for organized production, processing and use of bamboo as a major poverty eradication tool. It is projected that the bamboo mission programme will enable about 5.01 million families of artisans and farmers to cross the poverty line (Anonymous 2003b). The Planning Commission, Government of India is also proposing a National Mission on "Bio-diesel" which aims at production in quantities sufficient to enable its blending with HSD to the extent of 20 percent in 2011-12. This would require planting of Jatropha curcas on 11 million ha of land in and outside the forest. The demonstration project envisaged under the plan is proposed to be implemented in a mission mode with six more missions (Anonymous 2003c). Such initiatives are very useful in the present context and address a long-felt gap.

Wood, in recent years, has been facing substitution pressure from other materials such as synthetics, concrete, cement, steel, ceramics, glass, aluminum and other non-renewable materials. It is to be understood that the ultimate competition for timber markets, whether the source is from "certified" or "non-certified" forests, is from those who want to displace wood with non-wood substitutes. Forestry and forest products researchers have paid too little attention to produce reliable figures of the environmental advantages of using wood products. Such analyses need to take into account both raw material acquisition and use of products during their entire life span, from extraction of raw material, and production to use and eventful disposal. Such studies, known as Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), are aimed at indicating how advantageous it can be to use wood from an environmental perspective. Such information, at present, is very scanty and the special benefits of using wood forest products for the environment, including extension of carbon sink effects of using wood products, are not getting addressed in the methodologies of LCAs yet. Future competitiveness of wood products depend on their environmental quality "not the quality which is claimed but that one which can be proved" (Thoroe 2003). Researchers in Wood Science and Technology have a great responsibility to provide such data and help forestry and forest industries to use them to try to convince consumers, traders, architects and decision makers of the advantages of wood. The environmental advantages of using of wood, vis-à-vis other materials, need to be urgently established through LCA studies. The prevailing negative image of the forest products industry in some quarters, as the main cause for deforestation has to be reversed. LCA studies that extend producer responsibility to include the entire life cycle of products remain both a challenge and opportunity to forest product research, to moderate such concerns.

Innovative approaches are necessary to enable industries and enterprises (eg. saw millers and processing units) to adopt and popularize sustainable technologies through approprite "partnerships" and "inter-twinning arrangements", with other stakeholders, especially the R&D institutes and user groups. Investments by private sector in promoting environmentally sound technologies need to be compensated appropriately. This is crucial for speeding the much needed technology absorption by the society.

An examination of the wood processing industry in India indicates that it is characterized by a large number of small-scale units that are generally unorganized and disperse with the exception of a few paper mills and panel product manufacturing units, which are in the large/medium-scale sector. The pace of technology adoption and change in the industry has also been extremely slow. Improvements are needed at all stages of operations - when wood is harvested, processed and utilized. For instance, even though with a rate of return of as much as 175 percent, if a monetary value is placed on the wood saved through prophylactic treatment alone, there is little evidence of this simple technique being adopted (Bajaj and Bhat 1996). Studies have also shown that pressure treatments enhance durability of a variety of timbers. Adoption of such simple and well proven treatment technologies has the potential to save a huge quantity of timber every year amounting to saving millions of well grown timber trees. This is in addition to other benefits such as reduction in investments, widening the choice of species for different end-uses, etc. However, the quantity of timber being treated in the country is negligible. Unfortunately, the potential of wood preservative technologies as an important tool for forest/tree conservation has never been fully realized in India (Kumar 1999). Reasons are many, but certainly a favourable operational regime for scientific processing, especially wood treatment, does not seem to exist. There is no legislation, no incentives or disincentives warranting a new wood use policy. There is also considerable scope to enhance the processing efficacy of saw mills and wood recovery rates by following simple improvements. The rate of return on investments in a programme of saw milling could produce improvements of as much as 120 percent (Bajaj and Bhat 1996). It is against this backdrop that the development of partnerships assume paramount importance.

A recent example of the institute-industry partnership initiative from India is the Advanced Wood Working Training Centre (AWWTC) at Bangalore. This centre is established by the Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST), Bangalore, recently in partnership with the Italian Wood Working Machinery and Tools Manufacturers Association (ACIMALL), Milan, and the Italian Trade Commission (ICE), Mumbai. This training and research centre aims to enhance and enable the Indian wood products manufacturing industries capabilities, promoting them to attain a globally competitive position in the areas of manufacture of value-added wood products by using state-of-the-art machinery. The centre is located at the Institute's premises in Bangalore. IWST provides the necessary infrastructure facilities for the centre. The machines are provided by the ACIMALL. The ICE, which promotes Italian technology and products in different countries operating through a network of hundred branches all over the world, provides the recurring costs of the centre. In today's highly competitive environment, the stringent market condition demands products and services of high quality and at a competitive price. Despite its vast potential in employment and income generation and availability of some of the best-known tropical timbers, the wood product industry in India has generally remained underdeveloped. This is particularly so in the mechanized wood processing segments aiming for domestic and international markets. Three of the identified critical needs in development of this sector are (i) properly trained personnel, (ii) precise, state-of-the-art machinery, and (iii) strong, industry-R&D institute-user group linkages. This international collaborative effort is expected to:

- Provide direct links between the wood manufacturing industry, R&D institutes and the government;

- Enhance technical levels and competitiveness of Indian wood-product manufacturing industry;

- Develop customized training programmes;

- Promote and catalyse industry support applied research, and

- Help solving technical as well as shop floor problems.

As the Italian woodworking machines are among the best in the world, the proposed centre has a potential to eventually develop into a research, education and technology transfer centre of excellence, through this international partnership. The response of the industries has been overwhelming so far, and the outlook very promising.

Example: A Common Facility Centre (CFC) for development of bamboo handicrafts at Angamaly, Kerala.

Angamaly, a small town in the Trichur district of Kerala is one of the 'bamboo clusters' in the country. Bambusa arundinacea, Ochlandra travancorica (a reed) and other bamboo species are abundantly available in and around Angamaly. The livelihood of over 25 000 artisans, engaged in mat weaving craft is dependent on income from bamboo. They possess skills such as bamboo cutting, splitting and slicing. Their income, however, remains very low as they are engaged only in bamboo mat weaving. The Development Commissioner (DC), Handicrafts, Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, has facilitated through a partnership involving a local NGO, the local Panchayat and the user groups to operationalise a Common Facility Centre (CFC) to upgrade their traditional skills. The DC made available the machinery for operations. R&D institutes, like IWST and the National Design Institute, Ahmadabad, are involved in the training of the artisans. In this model, the Development Commissioner, acting as a facilitator, has mobilized funds to be used for machinery, arranging training programmes, consultations, etc. The local Panchayat has come forward to provide land and building for establishing the CFC and the work shed. The local NGO, the Christian Association for Rural Development (CARD), has taken initiative to implement the programme. During the project period, the NGO will facilitate formation of a society to have a larger representation and identify up-market centres so that the standard of living of artisans will improve. After the project period, the society will function on a self-sustained basis. This CFC is in operation since 2002 and the progress is very promising. There is need for establishment of more such partnerships/arrangements for improving the quality of products, income and living standard of the artisans.


With a contribution of over US$400 billion to the global market economy, of which US$130 billion is traded internationally, wood continues to be an important bioresource in the economics of many countries. Despite the introduction and availability of many modern materials, wood accounts for nearly 46 percent of industrial raw materials. Worldwide, the industrial use of wood approximates that of cement and steel and far exceeds the plastics. The total harvested volume of wood (3.5 billion m3) exceeds the volume of all the other materials combined. Contrary to the common, but erroneous perception, use of wood, is in fact, ever increasing, more so in a developing country like India. This is partly because mankind is currently re-discovering the values of wood, especially its value as an environment friendly material that is reusable, recyclable, biodegradable and more importantly, a renewable natural resource.

The wood products industry in India is one of its oldest and most durable industries. In spite of tremendous pressures and market downturns, this industry has survived and has fulfilled several key needs of the society. However, the woodworking and manufacturing is mostly unorganized. The traditional craftsmen and carpenters constitute its major workforce and the income generated never really reflect their potential. Upscaling this sector to open the doors for augmentation of economic opportunity, income and employment, is a long-felt need. Value-added wood products have immense economic and marketing opportunities. Fortunately, India is bestowed with over 4500 wood yielding species that include some of the best known and highvalue tropical hardwoods like teak, rosewood, mahogany, red sandal, etc. Yet, we are, today a nett importer of wood and wood products and exports are marginal. This situation needs to be reversed.

In the post-GATT environment and in the globalised context, competitive ability is an imperative for achieving success in both external and local markets. Science and Technology (S&T) are key tools to achieve this competitiveness. The rapidity with which S&T is moving ahead calls for new strategies like inter- and multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional approaches and in some cases, multi-country participation. Today, more than ever before, there is a need for partnerships - between R&D institutes, market/business developers, financial bodies, and policy markers. Developing industry-institution partnerships proved an effective strategic tool in almost all developed countries in achieving competitiveness and success for Industries. A new vitality needs to be infused to the woodworking sector in India. R&D in wood science need to be pro-active in keeping pace with the changes to realize their tremendous potential to play a beneficial role in advancing the well-being and economy of our society and in poverty alleviation.


The author is grateful to Shri.R.P.S. Katwal IFS, the Director-General, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, for his support and guidance. I also would like to convey my deep sense of appreciation to my colleagues at the Institute of Wood Science and Technology for their useful suggestions.


Anonymous. 2003a. Science and Technology Policy 2003. Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India. 28 pp.

Anonymous. 2003b. National mission on bamboo technology and trade development. Planning Commission, Government of India. 181 pp.

Anonymous. 2003c. A Report of the Committee on Development of Bio-fuel. Planning Comission Report (bamboo).

Bajaj & Bhat. 1996. A study of the wood based industry in southern India. Report prepared for the Forestry office of the British ODA in India. 58 pp.

Joshi, M.M. 2003. Talk delivered on the occasion of the 90th Indian Science Congress, held at Bangalore, Jan. 2003. Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.

Kumar, S. 1999. Legislation support towards wood preservation. Proceedings of Workshop on "Forestry Research in Conservation of Natural Forests", pp. 80-87. UNDP-ICFRE, India.

Moni, M. 2003. Digital Opportunities. Geospatial Today, 1(6): 29-38.

NFRP. 2000. National Forestry Research Plan 2000. Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun, 4 vols.

Thoroe, C. 2003. Life-Cycle-Analysis - a challenge for forest research. (availble at

[11] Institute of Wood Science and Technology, Malleswaram Bangalore-560 003, India; E-mail: [email protected]

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