The Sunday Times on the Web Plus
30th August 1998

Front Page|
Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports |
Mirror Magazine

Front Page
Mirror Magazine

Stemming illicit felling

By Carl Muller

Perhaps there is an an- swer to this serious problem of wood. The conservationists want the trees saved, but as we must admit, every conservationist is no tree specialist. Also, this country has a long history in woodcraft. Wood-based industries are more or less traditional, and we see this centuries old craftsmanship alive among the furniture-makers of Moratuwa, the carvers of Matale and the beautiful yet painstaking handwork that is so characteristic of the Southern and Central Provinces.

Perhaps there is a problem. A big one, at that. Even the owners of private land cannot cut trees. The complaints are quite rueful. In many woodcraft villages in the Central Province, the grouse is that one cannot get the wood one needs. Rurals dislike the rigmarole of obtaining permits to store timber or sawn wood.

Recently this issue was addressed when the Regional Rural Development project, Kandy, initiated a workshop on the improvement of wood based industries in the Central Province. The abiding complaint was the shortage of working capital and lack of technology which prevented our woodworkers from competing with imported products. Also, the present stringent regulations against the cutting and transporting of timber was a deterrent, because these regulations also affected home-grown timber on private land.

But as I said, there is an answer, and the answer comes from Mr. Kjell Andersson of the Estate Forest and Water Resources Project, Kandy, who is an expert on saw mill technologies. He has made a study of the many problems that affect sawmills, and in so doing, has put all the other pieces of this jigsaw into place. "Everything, needs to fit" he says. "Wood-base industries need wood, sawmills need timber to be cut into the required lengths of wood. There must be timber for the saw mills and wood for the industry. It must all start with the trees. No trees, no timber, no wood, no industry."

Andersson suggests that this whole business of supporting the local wood industry must start from the top. The Government could license all plantation companies, that maintain estate forests, to sell to private wood-based industries the timber that is needed. This actually solves many problems. If sawmills and industrialists find there is a ready availability of timber which can be bought without all the red tape of obtaining licences and transport permits ( which is what many sawmill owners abhor) there will be a perfectly legal operation in process that puts paid to this business of illicit felling and transport. Of course , the plantation companies may not be able to supply a great variety of timber for, as is seen much of the estate forests consist of Eucalyptus, but this is exactly what makes this such as exciting prospect. Even in Brazil ( where illicit felling is a huge problem), Eucalyptus is now owned as the "wood of the future" and is now being touted as the most versatile and finest wood for a variety of purposes.

Andersson agrees that illicit felling is a great evil. Where the State Forests are concerned, Forest Officers need to be extra vigilant and ensure that these forests increase to their former grandeur. Protection, reforestation and conservation is a must. But the estate forests should be turned into the supply points for the timber needs of the country and the estates must be given all assistance to employ the latest technology that will ensure a constant and ever-growing supply of timber.

His own study of sawmills in this country has convinced Andersson that the circular saw is the most practical for use in Sri Lanka. "There are 4060 sawmills in this country," he says, "of which 350 may be considered major and 500 minor. All the rest are small ventures operated by a few persons and it is there that much illicitly-cut timber is processed. It is among such small mills that a lot of good timber is also spoiled because of bad and hasty cutting. Also, most of the saws are locally made with no adjustable scale to cut equal thicknesses of board. In many places there is no fixing apparatus either to anchor the log when cutting. As such, logs tend to turn when cutting and this causes much waste. The disadvantage of the present local circular saw is that the blade is 6 mm, thick and gives only one board per cut but on the other hand sawmills find installation cheap, maintenance easy, there is a high feeding speed and spares can be used for stationary as well as mobile units. Also, these saws give good measurement on the cutter boards, can saw and edge the timber and the power required averages 37kw. This is the sort of operation seen everywhere, mostly fixed, for there is little to encourage the mobile units, tractor-driven circular saws. Also, the people here have the experience and as I learned, what is now necessary is the better technology where the feeding system ensures that the log is fixed during the cut in order to get a better measurement of boards and higher recovery of sawn timber.

It is also pointed out that there is risk in using a single-diameter saw all the time on various thicknesses of timber. Perhaps we rarely consider what could happen if a circular saw when in operation, jumps its moorings, but, for one thing, that wicked-toothed wheel is spinning at about 170 km. per hour! Let loose at that speed it is a runaway killer! With a little more of the new technology, circular saws could produce up to 3000 cu.m. of sawn wood per year.

Frame saws have been in operation for a long time but are not frequently met with here. Maybe there are deterrents - high installation costs, the need for a special housing with a basement, high cost of maintenance, the need of a supplementary machine for edging of the boards, the problem of spares.

The band saw, as any sawmill will tell you is difficult to maintain and band wheel can be easily damaged, it being no more than 1.47 mm thick. This saw can be vertical ( on log diameters up to 100 mm) or horizontal for even bigger logs. But it is a very adaptable machine with a power requirement of 37Kw and with maintenance at a minimum.

It is to the estate forests that this country can turn to for its wood. The estate forests can meet the demand of the entire local wood-based industry and even open export lines in the manufacture and supply of wood. "We need to protect our forest reserves, stop the destruction of forest cover and hold on to our valuable timber. We can do so if we have the right alternative, and this is where eucalyptus comes in. Fine, resilient, handsome, disease-free, termite-resistant this is the miracle wood many countries of the world are turning to. Cut and polished Eucalyptus makes handsome cabinet wood. In the offices of the EFWRP an Eucalyptus table (eucalyptus grandis) practically shouts to you to be noticed. It is as sturdy as oak, as solid as the finest teak and as handsome as mahogany.

What is necessary is that the Government give unstinted support to the plantation companies to extend their reforestation areas, bring in the necessary machinery ( winches, cable logging systems, chutes ) and set up sawmills that with the expertise of the EFWRP and the best machinery from Europe, puts us on a rising spiral, giving us all the wood we need and giving us longer lengths too. This will enable us to reduce, drastically, on present imports, even help us to create export markets ( for the world demand for wood is large), and also allow us to keep our State Forest intact. Illicit felling goes on because of the demand. Meet this demand, and there will be a huge drop in such covert illegal practice. It will give our Forest Officers a breather, and the Police less work to do!

The whole picture could be most exciting, for plantation companies would begin their own timber transport companies as well, working in tandem with saw mills and wood industries, and also generate much employment. "The problem here is that we have approached things the wrong way," Andersson says. "It was the same in Europe some years ago - we looked at things backward. The idea was, from forest to sawmill to market. In Scandinavia today, this has been reversed. Now we first consider the market. The market tells the sawmill what it wants, the sawmill goes to the forest. Because of the limitations here, our local logging operations may go for the large trees but still cut shorter logs. This is tremendous waste. We must listen to the needs of the market first. The market must dictate the size and lengths of wood required.

It is now left to the authorities to take the fullest advantage of the EFWRP's expertise, avail themselves of the advice and training offered, and make this country self-sustaining in timber. Most exciting will be this switch to the "wood of the future" Eucalyptus - which can be encouraged to grow in greater areas among the plantations. Other plantation timber could also be more icing on the cake, Alstonia, Silky Oak, Albizzia species and Pinus. The time to act is now!

Presented on the World Wide Web by Infomation Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.

More Plus  *  Kandy's fire gaps turn to garbage dumps - A view form the hills

Return to the Plus Contents

Plus Archive

Front Page| News/Comment| Editorial/Opinion| Business| Sports | Mirror Magazine

Hosted By LAcNet

Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to

The Sunday Times or to Information Laboratories (Pvt.) Ltd.