Muhtar: SFM has been built into the industry since the 1900s.

IN recent years, sustainability has been a key concern with primary industries such as timber. But what many may not know is that sustainable forest management practices (SFM) have been built into the industry’s foundation for nearly a century.

Under SFM, only specific trees with the right specifications are allowed to be harvested via the selective management system.

“Sustainability has been at the core of the timber industry since 1901, when the British introduced the SFM system in Malaya, which is still being practised today, ” said Malaysian Timber Council (MTC) chief executive officer (CEO) Muhtar Suhaili.

Monitoring and certifying the sustainability of the timber industry is the Malaysian Timber Certification Council’s (MTCC) Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS), which is the first tropical timber certification scheme endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

By providing independent assessment of forest management practices to ensure the sustainable management of Malaysia’s forests, it ensures a proper tracking mechanism of timber throughout its chain of custody (CoC) certification to meet market demands for sustainably sourced and produced timber products.

A stable supply of raw material is a challenge for the industry.A stable supply of raw material is a challenge for the industry.

As of November 2020,5.27 million hectares of forests have been certified under the MTCS, 22 FMUs and eight forest plantation management units, while there are 389 CoC holders nationwide.

There’s also the commitment made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to maintain the country’s forest cover at over 50% of its total land area, as well as the Paris Agreement commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by 45% by 2030.

“In the era of increased consumer awareness, demand for sustainable products is gaining ground and sustainability is crucial for any company’s success, ” he said, adding that MTC works with MTCC over the years to spread awareness on the sustainable practices implemented in the timber industry and forestry sector in Malaysia.

Drilling down into current industry concerns, Muhtar pointed out that some of the industry’s biggest challenges revolve around the availability of raw materials; productivity, labour and automation; lack of innovation and design-centric products; trade barriers and environmental issues as well as competition from countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and the African countries, among others.

This is why the newly minted CEO is seeking to secure seven must-wins next year, which build on the foundation of its Malaysian Timber Council Roadmap 2019-2023.

With the vision of becoming the leading organisation that develops the Malaysian timber industry into a world leader in the manufacture and trade of timber products, the five-year plan lays out MTC’s strategic approach in transforming the timber industry in the country with four key thrusts and 14 focus areas.

The seven must-wins that he wants to secure next year – anchored on the mission to ensure the sustainability of the industry by improving its competitiveness, enhancing market access and creating trade opportunities – are to support business succession programmes, uplift raw material sources, cultivate market access, champion design and branding programmes, enhance business process automation, spur sustainable green initiatives and strengthen its relationships with stakeholders.

With relation to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, he pointed out that MTC aims to address dormitory issues, as well as providing the Import Assistance Programme to help with the augmentation of raw material import to produce

value-added products.

It is also seeking to encourage the industry’s move towards automation by providing a financial incentive to subsidise the purchase of machinery for timber-based manufacturers.

In addition, it has a Factory Automation and Smart Manufacturing programme that focuses on intensifying efforts towards technology adoption.

He shared, “At the same time, MTC will also delve into the field of digital marketing and communication, where we will promote the adoption and implementation of digital solutions to improve the marketing aspects of timber companies to prepare themselves in the new business environment post-pandemic.”

Besides the Design Incubator Programme that will see Malaysian timber and furniture manufacturers collaborate with designers and architects for the development of Malaysian-made high-value branded timber products, MTC is also looking into the future of the industry in terms of talent.

It is doing so via the Business Succession Programme, to encourage the second generation to take over their parents’ businesses, as well as the Engineer Placement in Industry programme, which will help prepare engineers with customised training for the future development of the timber industry.

Moving forward, MTC is looking into the possibility of introducing wood in industrialised building system construction to increase timber usage, among others.

“There are showstoppers such as Fire and Rescue Department requirements, but we intend to engage the relevant industry players and stakeholders to make it happen.The idea is to widen the usage of sustainable timber in various ways, ” he explained.

In line with this is product development, where MTC will promote the utilisation of local timber species such as Merpauh and Sepetir for the production of high-value products, in addition to conducting regular dialogues with its foreign counterparts to expose business opportunities and participate in international trade exhibitions and missions, both physically and virtually.

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