Neten Dorji

Trashigang—Ugyen Tshering, owner of the Kuenzang Choden sawmill in Rangjung, Trashigang, enjoyed successful sales of timber and furniture up until a decade ago.

Despite employing workers at the sawmill, Ugyen Tshering now has encountered a new trend—local preferences have shifted away from timber sourced from the sawmill.

Many individuals in the villages are opting to operate chainsaws, bypassing the traditional sawmill. The changes in timber pricing policies have also led to numerous well-established sawmills in two eastern dzongkhags teetering on the edge of collapse.

Sawmill operators blame it on the government’s timber pricing policy and the increasing prevalence of chainsaw operations in the villages.

Kuenzang Choden Sawmill, the sole sawmill in Rangjung, which commenced operations in 2000, has been partially closed. Ugyen Tshering, the owner, said that the timber pricing policy forced them into competition with the Natural Resource Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL).

He also cited the increasing prevalence of chainsaw usage in villages as a contributing factor to the decline in business.

Ugyen Tshering said that prior to the implementation of the pricing policy, sawmills used to earn between Nu 60 to Nu 100 per cubic feet (CFT) of timber. He said: “Besides pricing, about 50 percent of the wood purchased from NRDCL is going to waste.”

Ugyen Tshering emphasised that the major issue of the lack of demand for timber has led to idle machinery rusting away, becoming overgrown with vegetation.

Ugyen Tshering said: “If NRDCL could reduce the price for timber, we could then offer a lower price. Otherwise, selling timber at a government rate would result in a significant loss for us.”

Sawmill owners said that they appealed to the relevant authorities, but unfortunately, no concrete solutions have been forthcoming.

Dhendup Dukpa, the owner of Karsel Sawmill in Trashigang, conveyed that since its inception in 2013, the sawmill has experienced a decline in business. He remarked, “The business was profitable when there were construction sites. Now it is difficult to sustain since timber prices have increased.”

He further noted that while there is some demand for mixed coniferous timber in the locality, it is primarily available in Bumthang, and the transportation costs associated with bringing it to Trashigang are prohibitively high.

Dhedup Dukpa mentioned that the transportation cost of a truckload of timber from Bumthang to Trashigang ranges from Nu 48,000 to Nu 65,000.

“On the other hand, we are compelled to sell the timber at government-regulated rates,” he lamented. “If this situation persists, we may be left with no choice but to shut down.”

Sawmill owners in the East have pointed out that one of the reasons for the decline in demand for timber from sawmills is the increasing prevalence of chainsaw operations in villages.

“They are selling furniture at a cheaper rate than what the sawmill is offering,” one owner remarked. “While there is a proliferation of all types of furniture, the relevant authority must rigorously verify the authorisation letters.”

Another sawmill owner, Pema Gyeltshen, highlighted the dilemma faced when NRDCL increases prices while the Office of Consumer Protection insists on selling timber at government-regulated rates.

“It’s a significant setback for us when NRDCL raises timber prices, and we are prohibited from adjusting our local rates accordingly,” said Pema Gyeltshen. “It’s imperative to revise the rates based on the location.”

He noted that their main customers, contractors, now prefer to use chainsaws, while timber from community and private forests is being sold at lower rates.

NRDCL officials also attribute the decline in sawmill business in the eastern region compared to past days. “Not many development activities are happening in the east. This could be the reason why the saw business is down. Moreover, there are not many timber buyers in the east,” said one official.

Forestry officials stated that there is no discrimination in terms of timber rates between sawmill owners and NRDCL when timber allotment is made.

“The Department of Forests and NRDCL use standard measurements before loading wood. There should be minimal waste of wood,” said an official.

He further mentioned that the use of obsolete machines by sawmill owners contributes to timber wastage during the sawing process.

Some sawmill owners have asserted that forest authorities should closely monitor the movement of furniture from one location to another. “Some buyers procure wood from community or private forests at lower prices or through illegal logging activities.”

This practice could be a contributing factor to the lower prices at which furniture is sold, which affects our business,” said a sawmill owner.