“The Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) recognition mark is an important achievement and proves clearly the proper management of the Malaysian forests and clearly separates Malaysia from other producers of tropical timber,” reports Ms. Fani Motesnitsa in the September/October 2009 issue of Greece-based Epipleon magazine. Ms. Motesnitsa, the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, based her report on personal observations during a visit to Malaysia in July 2009.
On 6-16 July 2009, our magazine was invited by the Malaysian Timber Council (MTC) on a trip to Malaysia to participate in a 10-day familiarisation programme on the timber industry and the forests of Malaysia. Representatives of technical magazines, unions as well as environmentalists of various European countries participated in this programme.
Over the last decade, logging legislation and forest management systems have become stricter and stricter. Everyone – forest owners, loggers as well as traders – must provide the necessary documentation to certify that their products do not originate from illegal logging. In many countries, there are severe penalties for illegal logging as well as for trading in illegal timber.
The picture we have in Europe, including Greece, is not very clear when it comes to timber and products of South-East
Asian origin. On the one hand, we know that a big portion of the imported tropical timber comes from this region, but on the other hand, we do not have a complete picture of its origin, and therefore its quality and legality are often questioned.
Malaysia is a country well known for its tropical timber forests and for its trading relationships with many European countries, like Greece. In its endeavour to counter the misconception in Europe for the past eight years about the products originating from Malaysia, the MTC organised a very interesting programme, inviting representatives from the European countries to get to know better and understand how the timber industry works in this country. This year, we had the honour to be invited, and our magazine was represented in Malaysia by our editor, Fani Motesnitsa, to participate in the programme.
The other participants of this year’s programme were: Mrs. Alice Heras from the French technical magazine “Bois”, Mr. Ireneusz Maciag from the Polish technical magazine “Gazeta Przemyslu Drzewnego”, Mr. Andrea Brego from the Italian magazine “Il Legno” and Mr. Henrik Stoldt from the German magazine “Parkett Magazin & Parquet International”. Mr. Bert Kattenbroek, representing the Dutch Association of Joinery Companies (NBvT), Mr. Michele Meoli, representing the Italian National Timber Trade Federation, Fedecomlegno, Mr. Bernd Slesazeck, representing the Dutch Timber Assessment Committee, Mrs. Rachel Butler, Head of Sustainability for the UK Timber Trade Federation, and Mr. Christoph Rullmann, Managing Director of the German Association for the Protection of Forests and Woodlands, also participated in the programme.
The MTC was set up in January 1992 at the initiative of the timber industry to promote its development globally. It is managed by a Board of Trustees whose members are appointed by the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.
The goal of MTC is to promote the Malaysian timber trade and the development of timber product exports on the international market. At the same time, it also helps in the upgrading and technological development of the industry, by training the industry members and exposing them to technical information on the latest machinery and woodworking technology. However, MTC’s main goal is to improve the image of the Malaysian industry globally.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE COUNTRY
Malaysia, located in South-East Asia, is a federation of states. It spreads across two separate geographical regions: Peninsular Malaysia (bordering with Thailand) and Borneo Island (bordering with Indonesia and Brunei). Its population is over 25.5 million, as per 2009 data, and its area is 330,252 km. It is a federation of 13 states and three territories (Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, the latter being the country’s main log producer).
Malaysia has 5.46 million hectares gazetted by law as protected areas, out of which:
- 2.25 million hectares are National Parks and Parks for Fauna Protection (wildlife); and
- 3.21 million hectares are forests which are under permanent protection with no logging permitted.
These areas are protected because of their biodiversity and they represent 28% of the total forested area of the country and 16.6% of the total country area. So, we are talking about a substantial amount of protected areas.
Every geographical region of Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, Sarawak) has its own Forestry Department established in
the late 1800’s! Malaysia is very sensitive to issues concerning its forest management system and has introduced very severe laws, and its regulations of viable management systems are extremely strict and followed to the hilt.
The logging system used in the country is called the Selective Management System and is based on the pre-selection of the trees to be cut, which must have a life cycle of 25-30 years, which will contribute both to the conservation and evolution of species and to the maximum utilisation of the raw material.
Our visit in one of the forests where they cut the wood was more than impressive and totally informative. The technique used is as follows: the whole forest area is divided into compartments and the logging is done only in one compartment, selectively on 25-30-year-old trees. At the beginning, they are marked with special tags on the base, close to the roots (so it can remain after the logging) and on the trunk. Next, clear instructions are given on how to cut and fell the trees, in order not to affect other small trees nearby. After the logging, new trees are planted in the area, which will remain “closed” for the next 25-30 years. Impressive was the fact that in these forests, although logging has been practiced for years, there were no empty spots without trees; this was because the selection was made very carefully.
When the logger goes into the forest, he will fell only the trees with bar-coded tags on the trunks. Next, he will fill in a form in triplicate with all the information on the felled logs. The logger will keep the first copy of the form; the second copy will be given to the local forestry department, and the third copy will go to the trader who will buy it.
Therefore, at any given time by looking at this form and the information therein, every trader or even the manufacturer who buys the timber will be able to trace the exact origin of the timber, when the tree was cut, and even by whom.
This system was initially used by the British (Malaysia was a British colony) and was maintained all these years; it is also a very functional and detailed system.
It is worth mentioning that in Malaysia there is a satellite forest observation programme in order to be able to immediately detect changes in the forests (be it in their structure, or even in the opening of forest roads), so that the respective control mechanisms can be activated if necessary.
ILLEGAL LOGGING AND MALAYSIA’S STAND ON THIS ISSUE
In 1993, the National Forestry Act was added to the legislation; this act defines very strict measures and penalties for illegal logging and empowers the police and the armed forces to help the Forestry Department to curb these activities. Their intervention was not limited to the above, but also to timber thefts, which were a frequent occurrence; likewise forest trespassing (i.e. military helicopters are used to detect illegal activity in the forests).
Amendments to the law have resulted in mandatory imprisonment of one up to 20 years (before, it used to be up to three years only) for conviction in illegal logging. Moreover, the fine has been increased 50-fold, from RM10,000 to RM500,000, and there are rewards to all those giving information on illegal logging activities. Thus, step by step, the cases of illegal logging declined from an average of 223 during 1987-1993 to only 28 during 1994-1999! Today, according to various studies, illegal logging in Sabah and Sarawak is below 1%.
TIMBER CERTIFICATION MARK
Last May, Malaysia received international recognition for its timber certification mark - the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS) - and become the first country in Asia to receive it and the second in the world after Gabon. The mark was given by PEFC - Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes - an internationally recognised certification body that endorses Malaysia’s viable forest management system.
The recognition mark is an important achievement. It proves clearly the proper management of the Malaysian forests and clearly separates Malaysia from other producers of tropical timber. This mark is valid for five years, and the forestry management system is subject to strict periodical controls to ensure the continuous adherence to the PEFC criteria.
This trip was a very good training and educational experience. Seeing things personally, one has a more complete picture of this industry.
Note: This article was translated from Greek into English.