Private firms still barred from logging next year
THE one-year logging ban currently in place may be eased only slightly in the following financial year, with private timber production still off the table, according to officials at the state-run Myanma Timber Enterprise.
“We won’t allow the private sector to produce timber in the coming 20172018 financial year,” said U Nyi Nyi Tun, deputy general manager at the Myanma Timber Enterprise’s Planning and Statistics Department.
In a bid to curb deforestation and allow re-growth, the government implemented a nationwide ban on logging for the 2016-17 financial year. Major forested areas, like the mountain ranges in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, were included in the suspension. A logging ban of 10 years will be maintained in the Bago Yoma range.
While the wholesale ban looks to be lifted next year, heavy restrictions will remain in place with production only permissible by the Myanma Timber Enterprise, which falls under the umbrella of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.
The Myanma Timber Enterprise said it has enough logging elephants to produce the amount of timber that extraction will be capped at.
“If we don’t have enough elephants, we will hire a few from private companies. But we won’t be giving private companies full licences for carrying out extraction like before,” U Nyi Nyi Tun said.
Production next year will likely be limited to 60 percent of the typical annual allowance, said U Aye Cho Thaung, deputy director of the Myanma Timber Enterprise.
There are about 19,000 teak trees and 530,000 other hardwood trees for potential logging next fiscal year, he added. Each teak tree is capable of producing up to 1.5 tonnes of timber, but production will be restricted to just 15,000 tonnes of teak and 350,000 tonnes of hardwood.
“We will not be producing more than that. MTE will cut only the timber that is marked for removal by the Forestry Department,” said U Aye Cho Thaung.
The lucrative logging industry had long fuelled rapid deforestation and endangered one of Myanmar’s once abundant and most valuable natural resources. Myanmar is the third-worst country in the world for deforestation, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, with forest coverage having shrunk from 65pc of the country’s land mass in 2000 to 42.92pc in 2015.
Deforestation amplifies the country’s climate-change vulnerabilities by contributing to the degradation of watersheds, facilitating soil erosion that allows run-off and flooding, and interfering with the natural carbon cycle.
With the ban in place this fiscal year, the Myanma Timber Enterprise has continued to sell existing stocks of teak and hardwood to meet the needs of local factories. But according to watchdog group the Environmental Investigation Agency, the current stockpiles are enough to last three years.
Under Myanmar law, exports of raw timber have been banned since 2014, but even as the country has sought to clamp down on timber production, the illegal market funnelling logs to China has only continued to grow, according to EIA. Illicit timber trade between the two countries is nearing an all-time high, the group said in a report last year.
U Nyi Nyi Kyaw, director general of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, has acknowledged that his ministry is struggling to control the situation and enforce the ban and the annual production caps. Every year, Myanmar seizes from 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes of illegal logs, for an average of 40,000 tonnes a year over the past 10 years, he said in June.
U Myo Min, director general of the Forestry Department, said a government reforestation plan has only achieved about half of its goal from 1981 to 2016 due to a lack of funding and dedicated human resources.