Pandemic affects sale of extracted timber

Of the 2.6mn cubic feet (cft) of timber extracted in 2020, the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) could not sell 1.5mn cft due to the pandemic, revealed data maintained with the NRDCL.

“Timber being susceptible to damage caused by adverse weather conditions, quality gets affected if we delay the disposal,” said General Manager, Forest Resources Division, NRDCL,  Deo Kumar Biswa.

Deo Kumar Biswa said the primary buyers – wood-based industries are not able to consume extracted timber as before since the construction industry has receded due to the pandemic. “Unsold timber also includes the stock balance from the past years.”

Additionally, Deo Kumar Biswa said after the second quarter of 2020, there were not many buyers and the members of Association of Wood Based Industries (AWBIs) did not participate in the monthly timber allotment unlike in the past.

As per the Timber Extraction and Distribution Modality (TEDM) 2019, 50% of the timber extracted is allotted to the members of the AWBIs and 50% to the NRDCL.

“Except for high demand of timber in the western region because of concentration of sawmills, we have a lot of disposal problem in the east,” said Deo Kumar Biswa.

About 0.6mn cft of extracted timber remains in Jakar, Bumthang which saw-millers refuse to take as demand is met from the western region.

Although, the NRDCL has asked the AWBIs to through the TEDM 2019 provision, they do not and cannot follow the clause since there are no end buyers.

The remaining 50% of the timber allotted to the NRDCL have been distributed for the construction of temples, government projects and were supplied to the NRDCL’s wood joinery units, Deo Kumar Biswa said.

Despite the government putting up a requisition for the need of timber, it was cancelled due to lack of funding for constructions.

In order to encourage builders and AWBIs to buy timber, the NRDCL is selling timber at negotiated rates depending on the quality and species of the timber which are extracted prior to 2020 or early 2020.

“We are compromising the price fixed by the Natural Resources Pricing Committee,” he said.

Additionally, Deo Kumar Biswa said the NRDCL is providing bank guarantee scheme (selling the timber on credit) to the wood-based industries and time extension for pending payments to the wood-based industries.

“NRDCL plans to upgrade the existing saw mills and wood joinery units for making value addition and meeting the demand of customers in the form of sawn timber and for ready use wood products like floor boards, wall panels, window and door frames, “he said.

The NRDCL has also proposed one-time export of the unsold timber but the government has asked them not to go ahead with the plan.

The Department of Forests required an annual allowable cut to 2mn cft from 2.2mn cft before the pandemic. In 2020, annual allowable cut was 2.77mn cft.

Deo Kumar Biswa said although the annual allowable cut is 2.33mn cft in 2021, timber extraction is discontinued until the stock balance of 2019 and 2020 are sold.

Sharing the challenges in timber extraction, he said getting the spare parts for the timber extraction machineries is difficult, time consuming and expensive because manufacturers have stopped manufacturing spare parts due to old model.

Further, existing road network used for timber extraction is no longer operational and needs new road construction which is expensive and getting road construction clearances are problematic.

“Retaining experienced workers in timber extraction is another challenge and not many are willing to take up timber extraction because the sites are located in rural forests where electricity and communication facilities are absent.”

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu