LAHORE - SALMAN ABDUHU - Pakistan is importing more than 75 percent of its total consumption of softwood which is used for door and window purpose, thanks to inefficiency and corruption of provincial departments, losing billions of rupees in the form of foreign exchange, it was learnt.

Industry sources said that softwood of millions of cubic feet worth billions of rupees is being damaged due rains and sunshine in the open fields of state forests in NWFP, Northern Areas and AJK. Resultantly, the country has to import almost 50 percent of its usage from the US, Canada, Germany and eastern Russian states, while around 25 percent of wood is imported from Afghanistan.

Ammad Azam Butt, Lahore Timber Market general secretary told The Nation that only 25 percent need of the country is fulfilled from domestic production, as billions of rupees precious and high cost wood is being wasted just due to negligence and vested interest of the provincial forest departments.

He said that Wood products exports from Pakistan has been confined to wooden furniture, small amounts of stationery (registers, diaries, letters, etc.) and some shisham (Dalbergia sissoo) table and kitchen wear.

Pakistan’s current forestry practices are unorthodox, underdeveloped, and most importantly, unsustainable, he said. He added that the logging and sawmill practices not only waste Pakistan’s natural resources, but they also deteriorate standards of living within the country and produce poor quality wood products at higher prices.

In Pakistan, almost 50 percent softwood comes from state forests in NWFP, Northern Areas and AJK, whereas most hardwood is from the plains area of Punjab and Sindh. Ninety percent of hardwood comes from farmlands and the remaining 10 percent from irrigated plantations. Billions of rupees is wasted on import of wood because local sawmills do not work properly and are not competitive to the world regarding finishing of logs, he added. Secretary information Malik Ghulam Sarwar Awan said that imported wood, even if it is brought from the US and Canada is cheaper by Rs50 to Rs100 despite import duties on it.

He said that foreign wood is cheaper as they grow farmlands and cut it in a systematic way, which never caused deforestation. Lacking in technology, expertise, or even sufficient infrastructure, Pakistan’s sawmills generate large amounts of wastage from its natural resources. This wastage is neither environmentally sustainable nor economically sustainable.

Pakistan’s sawmills lack the capital base to efficiently cut logs with the economies of scale and world-class efficiency of Canada. With an over-reliance on hand-labour, Pakistan’s sawmills cannot produce wood products that are competitive in quality or price with imports from Canada.

The capital and labour resources of Pakistan’s saw-mills would be better utilised in more value-added industries, such as the manufacturing of finished goods that use lumber. Currently, Pakistan has the world’s second highest rate of deforestation, with virtually no effective replantation programmes.

The implications of this loss of forest have spilled over to the nation’s other natural and agro-ecosystems, which will have adverse long-term economic impacts. Environmental issues aside, Pakistan is incapable of fully maximising its own natural resources due to inefficient sawmills. The construction industry is the largest single user of roundwood in Pakistan, consuming about 30 percent of the total. Builders purchase logs or scant (squared timber) and convert them according to their needs.

Pakistan has more than 8 000 sawmills in 2000, employing an average of four or five people and processing 2-5 m3 per day. There are also twelve large sawmills, which operate at well below their average production capacity of 50 m3 per day. On the whole, sawmills produce low quality outturn as a result of the preferred species not always being available and a lack of product standardisation, grading and quality control.

The most common sawmills products are fruit boxes and crates, which are manufactured by units attached to the mills. The entire conversion from roundwood to finished product is thus handled by a single small enterprise. Crates for transporting fruit and vegetables are assembled in the fruit producing areas, whilst boxes are made near industrial centres.  The industry uses a variety of species, the main ones being shisham (Dalbergia sissoo, 70 pc), deodar (Cedrus deodara, 12pc), Sufeda (Eucalyptus camaldulensis, 7pc), fir (Abies pindrow, 5pc), poplar (Populus deltoids, 3pc) and babul (Acacia nilotica, 3pc).

Furniture is made by thousands of small-scale enterprises in Pakistan. Traditionally, furniture manufacture was considered under the village carpentry sub-sector. Now, however, new modern furniture factories have been established by the private sector in Gujarat, Jhang and Peshawar.

Nearly all wood used for furniture making is shisham (Dalbergia sissoo, 82 percent), with small quantities of deodar (Cedrus deodara), poplar (Populus deltoids), mulberry (Morus alba) and other species. The furniture makers themselves saw most wood. An FSMP survey estimated urban consumption of wood for furniture at 5.9 m3 per 1000 population.

Country extracts many minerals, but only the coal industry uses large amounts of timber. In the pits, babul poles are used for structural timbers and babul planks are for facing timbers.