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Taking down the giants
Leaving a trail of destruction, logging companies now venture further than ever to meet booming timber demands; in fact, even as far as New Guinea.
Logging in Papua, Indonesia. © WWF / Ian CRAVEN

As the rest of the region’s timber supplies are slowly being exhausted, major logging companies are pushing into the forests of New Guinea – by any means necessary.

These forests are among the most significant timber resources in Asia-Pacific. Naturally, such riches attract significant commercial interest. This includes Asian companies, such as Malaysia-based Rimbunan Hijau, which accounts for a vast proportion of all forest product exports in Papua New Guinea (PNG).1

What is happening and why

As commercial stands of timber in Sumatra and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) are increasingly exhausted, the logging industry has shifted eastwards to New Guinea.

In PNG, the forest industry makes an important contribution to the country’s economy. The vast majority of timber is produced as raw logs for export - this account for 97% of the value of all exports of forest products, with woodchips covering almost all of the remainder.2

Logging in practice

But the price being paid by the forests is high. In PNG, industrial logging has been the most significant cause of forest loss and degradation for over 2 decades.

Lack of compliance with environmental standards, and inadequate monitoring and control by government regulating agencies are plaguing the sector. According to the World Bank, these practices have caused logging to become completely unsustainable in the country.3

…meanwhile, on the Indonesian side

In Papua Province, vulnerable tree species such as merbau are cut illegally and exported to China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, despite a logging ban imposed in 2001. Most of the merbau timber is destined for factories in China that produce wooden flooring.

A ‘booming’ industry

Against a background of contradicting laws, logging across Papua Province has surged dramatically. According to Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry, over 7 million m3 of timber is smuggled out of Papua annually. This means that 70% of the total volume of timber that leaves each year is illegal.4

Massive profits

The crime rings that organize the illegal forest trade are raking in huge profits. While local communities in Papua are paid around $11 per cubic metre for merbau logs, in China the same amount is worth around $240.  Estimates suggest that more than 300,000 m3 (or US$600 million worth) of merbau timber leaves Papua Province every month.

These colossal benefits eventually find their way into the accounts of brokers living in Jakarta, Singapore and Hong Kong. Meanwhile, thousands of kilometres away, in the forests of New Guinea, local loggers desperately try to make ends meet.5

Where is the timber going?

Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua’s biggest export markets include China and India. For merbau, consumption in these 2 countries is escalating rapidly to respond to domestic needs and for processing into flooring and furniture for export to other markets.


Booming countries such as China and India are piling up orders for timber. Market trends suggest that China’s forestry sector will continue to grow in the medium term and demand for raw material for plywood mills and pulp and paper mills should remain strong. China will need to keep up imports to meet demand, since its’ domestic industrial wood supply will fall a long way short of demand in 2010.6

For New Guinea's forests, this can only mean one thing - increased pressure on its timber reserves.

What is WWF doing about this problem?

1 WWF. Papua New Guinea Forest Certification and Responsible Wood Sourcing. Accessed 11/12/2005.
2 WWF. Papua New Guinea Forest Certification and Responsible Wood Sourcing. Accessed 11/12/2005.
3 Minkow D, Murphy-Dunning C. 1992. Pillage in the Pacific. Multinational Monitor.  Accessed 15/02/06.
4 EIA/Telapak. 2005. The Last Frontier: Illegal logging in Papua and China’s Massive Timber Theft. Report. 32 pp.
5 EIA/Telapak. 2005. The Last Frontier: Illegal logging in Papua and China’s Massive Timber Theft. Report. 32 pp.
6 Chunquan Z, Taylor R, Guoqiang F. 2004. China’s Wood Market, Trade and the Environment. Science Press/WWF-International. 63 pp.

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