Japan disaster to put logging pressure on rainforests in Indonesia, Malaysia

Mongabay: April 5, 2011: Jeremy Hance

The tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month is likely to boost wood imports into the recovering nation, adding increased pressure on the already imperiled rainforests of Southeast Asia. Even before the disaster, Japan was the world's number one importer of wood chips and plywood and the second largest importer of logs. Japan usually imports plywood from China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, however the forests of Southeast Asia are facing tremendous loss due to logging and clearing for industrial-scale agriculture, such as palm oil.

According to a press release from Wood Resources International LLC, the Japanese government has already requested 30,000 prefab temporary houses for disaster victims over the next two months. Demand for imports is expected to increase once infrastructure has been repaired and power restored.

"Over the next 6-12 month, it can be expected that there will be a rise in demand for both lumber and plywood. This will result in increased importation of processed products and of logs to supply domestic Japanese mills," reads the press release from Wood Resources International LLC.

A recent article from the Borneo Post largely agreed.

“One timber player rules out a '30-40 per cent jump in exports' to Japan – which mostly buys plywood from Malaysia – but expects a probable steady rise in demand from Japan to help in the reconstruction process, depending on the extent of the damage to buildings,”   AmResearch, an investment research firm based in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, told the Borneo Post.

Both Malaysia and Indonesia have become targets of conservation and environmental groups for their deforestation rates.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Malaysia lost 140,200 hectares of forest every year from 2000-2005, while Indonesia lost 485,000 hectares of forest annually during the same period of time. However, other studies have found even higher rates of forest loss in Indonesia.

Deforestation in the region produces vast greenhouse gas emissions, threatens thousands of species, and produces conflict with local and indigenous people over land.