Basic plan for forestry should help increase profitability, protect forests

Forestry plays significant roles in combating global warming and flood control, beyond simply ensuring a stable supply of lumber. It is crucial to make the industry attractive to workers by improving its profitability.

The Forestry Agency has revised its Forest and Forestry Basic Plan, which serves as a guideline for the nation’s medium-term forestry policy.

The basic plan is revised about every five years. The latest revision has set a goal of increasing the supply volume of domestic lumber by nearly 40% to 42 million cubic meters in 2030 from the 2019 level. The plan also aims to boost exports of high-quality wood products.

Forests cover two-thirds of Japan. To achieve decarbonization with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, the importance of forests that absorb carbon dioxide has increased. They also have functions to recharge water sources and prevent landslides and floods.

It is hoped that rich forests will be preserved by promoting forestry.

Around the world, lumber prices have soared as a result of supply shortages mainly due to an upturn in housing demand and disruptions in container logistics. This so-called “wood supply shock” has also had an impact in Japan. For example, housing prices have increased, construction schedules have been delayed and furniture prices have gone up.

Demand for domestic timber has grown, providing a boost to forestry. The nation’s wood self-sufficiency rate recovered from a little less than 20% in 2002 to a little less than 40% in 2019. It is hoped that the industry will take advantage of this opportunity to raise the rate even further.

The biggest challenge is how to respond to the labor shortage in this industry. The number of forestry workers has decreased to about 45,000, about 30% of the number in 1980, partly because the forestry industry has struggled as a result of cheap imported lumber.

Although a large number of Japanese cedar and cypress trees that were planted after the end of World War II have reached the logging stage, the trees have been left untouched due to the labor shortage, causing the ruin of mountain forests. It is said that progress has not been made on replanting after logging as the costs involved in reforestation cannot be covered.

By securing human resources and improving efficiency, it is necessary to achieve a good cycle from logging to sales and reforestation.

The use of advanced technology is likely to be effective. If drones are used to transport saplings, necessary costs can be reduced significantly. It is also possible to survey forestry resources using aerial photography.

The development of technologies for automation and remote control is also progressing for logging, timber collection and transportation, which can involve dangerous work. If the risk of work-related accidents decreases, the industry might be able to attract young people.

An initiative has started to plant a tree variety that only takes about 30 years to grow instead of the usual 50 years. This not only saves time and money, but also is said to increase the absorption of carbon dioxide as the trees grow faster.

It will also become important to promote large-scale forestry businesses such as by encouraging local governments to offer forestry operators assistance.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 7, 2021.