Suspension of timber harvesting disrupts RPCs forestry programme

Saturday, 20 November 2010 00:22 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Planters’ Association of Ceylon is calling on the government to reconsider a recently imposed suspension on timber harvesting in Regional Plantation Company [RPC] estates.  

In a press statement issued this week the Planters’ Association, (PA) the representative body for 23 RPCs, said harvesting of fuel wood and timber, by RPCs, is conducted in accordance with a Forestry Management Plan (FMP) approved by the Ministry of Plantation Industries under the supervision of a number of government agencies, and was therefore not an environmental threat.  

However, the prohibition on RPCs harvesting trees for timber may result in a backlash in the form of increased illegal logging of state forest reserves, and will also adversely affect RPC cash flows, said the PA.

“The RPCs have well planned out fuel wood and timber growing forestry programmes. What is grown mainly in the up country are suitable species of eucalyptus (gum) trees. In the low country, trees like mahogany and teak are cultivated. These trees are grown and harvested in accordance to the FMP, under proper government supervision, to supply fuel wood for tea factories and to supply timber to the market,” said Sunil de Alwis, a member of the Planters’ Association and a former Director of the Plantation Management Monitoring Division of the Ministry of Plantation Industries.

The RPCs say these estates have been involved in forestry management, for fuel wood and timber, since the 1970s even under State management prior to privatisation. They have also been supplying timber to the State Timber Corporation and other agencies like the Ceylon Electricity Board for electricity posts and the Railway Department for sleepers. Timber from these estate lands were also marketed for other purposes such as building construction and furniture manufacture.

However, in October this year, the government prohibited the felling of trees in RPC lands, for timber, until further notice. As there is an ideal time for harvesting trees for timber, the PA says a prolonged suspension would deprive RPCs from deriving optimum benefits, both in terms of timber and earnings.

“The RPCs have been supplying timber legitimately and in an environmentally sustainable manner.  Some RPCs, have even invested in aerial logging equipment that does not damage the undergrowth and top soil when trees are removed from the fields.

However, the current restriction on the supply of timber by RPCs may actually encourage illegal logging to meet market demand for timber. It will also be environmentally damaging because illegal loggers do not cut trees under accepted forestry management systems or in a sustainable manner,” said de Alwis.

RPC forestry programmes are approved by the Department of Forest Conservation and these trees are not cut down in an ad hoc manner, says the PA.

To harvest these trees, RPCs require the approval of a committee comprising a representative from the Ministry of Plantation Industries, the District Forest Conservation officer, an official of the Central Environmental Authority and the District Secretary or the Provincial Secretary, or their representatives.  

According to statistics from the Ministry of Plantation Industries, from 2003 to October 2010, around 4.2 million fuel wood/ timber trees were planted on RPC lands. However, during this period permission was granted to harvest only around 458,509 trees, which is slightly in excess of 10%.

Given the financial and environmental implications of the RPC forestry programmes, the PA is urging the government to lift the current restriction on harvesting of trees for timber, under the FMP. The Minister of Plantation Industries, Mahinda Samarasinghe, who is conversant with the RPC forestry management programmes, has already made representations to the relevant authorities to lift the current restriction on RPC timber harvesting, and the Planters’ Association is hopeful that his timely intervention will resolve this issue.