Merbau Decking – Why It’s Unsustainable

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Merbau is a good choice for decking as characteristics of the wood are very suitable for decking, paneling, flooring and making furniture. However, there are doubts that Merbau can be used for commercial purposes as it is difficult to log it without harming natural habitats. Merbau is not only considered an endangered species, at the prevailing rate of indiscriminate usage it will get extinct in next 35 years. A long maturity period of 75 to 80 years is one of the reasons why, even in Merbau rich forests, only 10 to 15 Merbau trees are seen in a hectare of land.

Originally Merbau was available from eastern part of Africa to Oceania. Now most of the commercially viable Merbau forests are in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and its use of the wood as bio-fuel and indiscriminate felling for illegal export may make it disappear from the Earth very soon. Although Merbau used to be felled legally, it caused the destruction of many Merbau forests. Now, with illegal felling of the rare Merbau trees, they are on their way to extinction. Another reason for the low numbers of these endangered species of Merbau trees is that the authorities do not give much importance to reforestation with these valuable trees. Unfortunately, China, with its large supply of Merbau is emerging as the foremost importer of Merbau wood. Even though Chinese Customs have knowledge about the source, this fact is continuously ignored by them. This availability of the precious Merbau wood may be the result of the fact that the authorities have not declared Merbau wood as an “endangered species” yet.

Indonesia has become more alert and is strict in implementing rules. Merbau exports through legal channels have become difficult and the routes through illegal channels have also started drying up. There are always loopholes in any law which may encourage smuggling of things that are in demand elsewhere. Indonesia has many remote islands as a result felling of Merbau timber, it cannot be controlled effectively. Forged Malaysian documents are available to shift the origin of Merbau logs to Malaysia. Through this illegal channel, a substantial amount of the precious Merbau timber reaches China. Even though the export from Indonesia has been prohibited, Merbau logs reach various other parts of world too.

Another source of Merbau is the illegally operating allowance from Papua New Guinea. Operating without any regard to national laws and directives, Merbau from Papua New Guinea reaches China in huge quantities. Also, another route that has opened now for export of Merbau is from Indonesia. Although exported as Malaysian Merbau, this timber actually originates in Indonesia. Timber is diverted while shipping to different ports of Malaysian companies.

Another method of smuggling Merbau is to alter the shape of the log from round to rectangle shape. After a log is shaped, it is designated as “sawn timber” which may not attract the attention of authorities. Sawn timber is legal in most countries and the more corrupt the officials are, the less they focus on removing these practices.

The timber market is a highly profitable business Timber is used worldwide in flooring, making panels, furniture, decking, etc. As the market demands more timber, countries such as China is capitalizing on it and making huge profits from their illegal or legal timber transactions. China is enjoying a thriving business in wood based industries. Indonesia and Papua New Guinea also benefit from weak administrative policies by their government which enables them to reap profits from illegal and dishonest practices. In addition to the illegitimate and overlooked guidelines and the extended time it takes for a Merbau tree to mature, the fact that governments in most of these countries do not place much emphasis on reforestation creates this void where Merbau timber will be almost extinct unless steps are taken to declare the extraordinary Merbau tree as an endangered species.

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