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Challenging year for Sabah’s timber industry
Published on: Wednesday, January 01, 2020
By: David Thien
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KOTA KINABALU: By banning the export of Sabah’s timber logs overseas last year, the new Sabah Government seeks to add value to timber output by shifting focus on downstream processing to manufacture timber products like furniture, and a zone at the Sandakan POIC site is designated as a furniture manufacturing hub.

The Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Darell Leiking even arranged for Swinburne University expertise in smart furniture design and manufacturing to help out with two local Sabah furniture manufacturers through the Malaysia Automotive Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) office in Penampang Oct 15.

Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida) also held a talk for wood industry players at its office recently on Dec 17.

There is also an ongoing judicial review application case in court over the sale of Sabah Forest Industries (SFI) with complexities over the refusal of the authorities to issue a license for the interested buyer to continue SFI’s timber operation at its former concession areas.

Meanwhile, the Sabah timber industry is not a sunset industry, but a sunrise industry with great potential in the future as the world trend moves towards appreciative of the good feel and value of timber wood as a building and furnishing material for living environment, opined most industry players.

Sabah’s Sustainable Forest License Agreement for its timber industry is rated among the best, but there is a need for better implementation and execution of good intentions, Timber Association of Sabah (TAS) President Norman Wong (pic) told a group of international timber journalists and representatives of timber buyers visiting Sabah last Nov 21.

“That’s the great thing about Sabah, but when it comes to implementation and execution, there are a lot of work. We are just facing it now.

“The government needs to understand forest plantation timber more. Traditionally, Sabah has always been about natural forest timber – exploitation, the extractive industry. 

Now, we are talking about something that is regenerating. There is a need to work out the economic value chain and the industry is trying very hard to help the government.

“We are really trying hard. Let’s not work in silos. Because this is a very complex industry, it affects so many stakeholders, at times decisions should be made with consultation with all affected parties.”

“Short-term thinking should be replaced by long-term thinking. Plantation is not short term. Even though we are very fortunate here, it is still ten years and above to get good timber.

“Fortunately, we are doing the masterplan, and we had our workshop meeting about a week ago. We look at the things that support the forest and timber industry and the things that inhibit the forest and timber industry.

“We can only come up with one thing that supports the forest industry, that is the license agreement. We have 79 inhibitors that were identified without any duplication,” Wong said.

Wong called for courageous leadership in execution, to make tough decisions, to forge commitment, teamwork for collaboration that is needed.

“We will work hard in Sabah, and with your help and support, we want to make that a reality, to have a sustainable forest and timber industry in Sabah that is inclusive and with shared prosperity for all that is the vision of the government as well,” Wong stressed.

During a visit to a sawmill in Keningau, the foreign journalists from all over the world and representatives of buyers were excited about Wong’s future plan to manufacture Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) products for the building industry and others after a period of testing for quality assurances. 

They saw a bright future for Sabah’s timber products particularly from sustainable certified sources like Sapulut Forest Development Sdn Bhd’s forest management areas.

Emphasizing on creating value, General Manager of Sapulut Forest Development Sdn Bhd Bryant Wong said that there’s diminishing supply from natural forests but for plantation forests, there’s potential for higher volume of homogenous supply than ever, and that’s the key to producing other valuable engineered wood products like CLT.



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