Tuesday, November 24

S’wak moving towards pulp, paper industries


Nicholas Andrew Lissem

KUCHING: Sarawak is expected to produce about one million air-dried tonnes (adt) of pulp by 2020 to further catalyse the growth of the paper sector as well as its supporting industries namely chemical, logistics, construction and services.

According to Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC) industrial planning acting senior manager Nicholas Andrew Lissem, the future potential growth of the industry includes further developing new regional growth centres in the interiors of Sarawak.

“Sarawak has developed planted forest which is ready for processing and the immediate plan is to develop a kraft pulp mill (that utilise Acacia wood) as well as a mechanical pulp mill,” he said during KTS 50th Anniversary Business Partner Talk held here recently.

Sarawak’s forest plantation was still at infancy stage, said Nicholas, and thus needed to undergo a fast learning curve to be competitive and sustainable.

To note, the proposed capacity of the kraf pulp mill and mechanical pulp mill were about 850,000 adt per year and 200,000 adt per year respectively.

The challenges going forward would be high investment and long gestation period as well as insufficient good planting materials by the players.

“Most timber plantations are in the interior parts of Sarawak and that requires heavy investment on infrastructure,” Nicholas highlighted.

“Lack of skill manpower – both management and supervisory – are also some of the main issues in the industry,” he added. Other risks included were slow growth rates of the planted species as well as risks of disease and fire that would pose potential threats to the plantation.

In terms of exports, Nicholas revealed that timber and timber products have been registering above RM7 billion since 2004. In 2011, timber was the fourth largest source of export earnings for Sarawak after natural gas, petroleum and palm oil.

Export value of timber products from Sarawak improved threefold for the last three decades while the export value of logs remained at about RM2 billion. The total export value of timber products was about RM5 billion for the last four years.

In 2011, total export earnings from timber products was about RM7.1 billion, while export value of logs was at RM1.844 billion.

Currently, there were more than 800 timber processing mills in Sarawak with about 70 per cent are furniture and sawmills.

Furniture mills mostly fall under the small and medium size mill category.

“About 28 per cent of the mills are of the primary industry, namely sawmill, plywood and veneer. The primary industry utilise on average about seven million cubic metres (m3) of logs per year,” he highlighted.

He pointed out that mill residues were further processed to produce woodchips, charcoal briquettes, fibreboard, particle board and biomass fuel. The recovery rates of the primary industry was less than 60 per cent, which meant that wood residues were about 40 per cent.

Total residues utilised was about 3.2 million m3 per year which would be able to generate export revenue of about RM350 million per year.

On the industrial front, Nicholas pointed out that Sarawak targeted to develop a total area of 1.2 million hectare (ha) planted forest whereby a total of 43 planted forest licences had been issued so far.

Estimated volume of timber harvested from planted forest would be between 10 million and 15 million m3 per year. “This will reduce pressure of over-relying on harvesting from natural forest and planted species will generate new growth of future timber downstream processing,” he said.

As of the end of 2011, the total area develop under tree plantation was about 300,000 ha. Most of it was planted with Acacia for the development of pulp and paper industry in Sarawak.

“Acacia is also suitable material for other products like flooring and furniture. Other steps are being taken to promote the planting of other indigenous fast growing species,” he explained.

“Sarawak is in a transitional period of moving towards an industry utilising more planted species, which pulp and paper will be identified as the potential trigger industry moving forward,” he concluded.