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Chainsaw milling: supplier to local markets

  • Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Nairobi, Kenya
Chainsaw milling:
supplier to local markets
5 2
Chainsaw milling:
supplier to local markets
This publication has been produced with the financial assistance of the European
Commission’s Programme on Tropical Forests and other Forests in Developing Countries
and the Government of the Netherlands.
The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of ETFRN, Tropenbos
International, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the European
Commission or other participating organizations.
Published by: Tropenbos International, Wageningen, the Netherlands
Copyright: © 2010 ETFRN and Tropenbos International,
Wageningen, the Netherlands
Texts may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes,
citing the source.
Citation: Wit, Marieke and Jinke van Dam (eds.). (2010).
Chainsaw milling: supplier to local markets. Tropenbos
International, Wageningen, the Netherlands. xxii + 226 pp.
Editors: Marieke Wit and Jinke van Dam
Final editing and layout: Patricia Halladay Graphic Design
ISBN: 978-90-5113-094-2
ISSN: 1876-5866
Cover photo: Hauling timber with carabaos, Cabagan, Philippines. G. Persoon
Printed by: Digigrafi, Wageningen, the Netherlands
Available from: ETFRN
c/o Tropenbos International
P.O. Box 232, 6700 AE Wageningen, the Netherlands
tel.: +31 317 48 14 16
This publication is printed on FSC-certified paper.
Preface v
Chainsaw milling: supplier to local markets — a synthesis vii
Marieke Wit, Jinke van Dam, Paolo Omar Cerutti, Guillaume Lescuyer,
Rohini Kerrett and James Parker Mckeown
Section 1. A technical overview
1.1 Sawmilling with chainsaws: a technical overview 3
Nick Pasiecznik
Section 2. Country studies from Asia
2.1 Domestic demand: the black hole in Indonesia’s forest policy 15
Arthur W. Klassen
2.2 Local timber demand and chainsaw milling in Papua, Indonesia 23
Agus Andrianto, Krystof Obidzinski and Heru Komarudin
2.3 The chainsaw economy in Tanimbar Archipelago, Indonesia 31
Jean-Marc Roda, Patrick Langbour and Bayuni Shantiko
2.4 Local processing of logs to increase smallholder share, Lao PDR 38
Bernhard Mohns and Richard Laity
2.5 Financial analysis of small-scale harvesting in Papua New Guinea 42
Rodney J. Keenan, Jim Grigoriou and Cossey Yosi
2.6 Chainsaw milling in the Philippines 50
Jan van der Ploeg
Section 3. Case studies in the Caribbean and South America
3.1 The development of small-scale logging in Bolivia 59
Charlotte Benneker
3.2 Chainsaw milling in natural tropical forests: a case study in Bolivia 66
Richard Mancilla Terrazas and Rudy Guzman Gutierrez
3.3 Sustainable management of guadua bamboo forest, Colombia 72
Juan Carlos Camargo, Ruben Dario Moreno and Nelson Villota
3.4 Forest communities and legal timber in the Ecuadorian Amazon 78
Walter Palacios and Ulrich Malessa
3.5 Chainsaw milling and Guyana’s LCDS 86
Office of Climate Change
3.6 The chainsaw milling subsector in Guyana 91
Godfrey Marshall and Rohini Kerrett
3.7 Chainsaw milling in the Caribbean 98
Claus-Martin Eckelmann, Albert Gallion, Antony Simon, Barry Mahabir,
Alfred Prosper and Alli Morgan
3.8 The impact of REDD+ projects on chainsaw milling in Peru 105
Lucio Brotto
3.9 Chainsaw milling in Suriname 114
Rudi van Kanten and Rewie Matai
Section 4. Case studies in Africa
4.1 Chainsaw milling in the Congo Basin 121
Guillaume Lescuyer, Paolo Omar Cerutti, Edouard Essiane Mendoula,
Richard Eba’a Atyi and Robert Nasi
4.2 The chainsaw supply chain in Cameroon: the northern trail 129
Patrick Langbour, Jean-Marc Roda and Yeboa Alexis Koffi
4.3 Chainsaw milling in community forests in Cameroon 138
Wynet Smith
4.4 Chainsaw milling and poverty reduction in Democratic Republic of Congo 144
Victor Vundu dia Massamba and Joël B. Kiyulu N’yanga
4.5 Chainsaw milling in Ghana: context, drivers and impacts 150
Emmanuel Marfo
4.6 Chainsaw milling in Ghana: assessing its economic impact 159
Jonathan D. Quartey
4.7 Chainsaw milling in Kenya 166
George M. Muthike, Douglas Shitanda, Christopher L. Kanali and Fred N. Muisu
4.8 Chainsaw milling and national forest policy in Liberia 174
Jangar S. Kamara, Edward S. Kamara, Letla Mosenene and Francis K. Odoom
4.9 Chainsaw milling in Nigeria 181
Labode Popoola
4.10 Chainsaw milling and rainforest dynamics in southern Nigeria 188
Ekeoba Matthew Isikhuemen
4.11 Chainsaw milling in Uganda 194
Robert K. Kambugu, Abwoli Y. Banana and Geoffrey Odokonyero
Section 5. Chainsaw milling and legality regimes
5.1 Developing timber legality regimes 205
Freerk Wiersum
List of contacts 213
Appendix 1. Overview of chainsaw milling 221
Appendix 2. Production costs, market prices and profitability of CSM 225
Trade instruments are increasingly being used successfully to promote the legality
and sustainability of timber production in the tropics and around the world. However,
the importance of local consumption and trade of timber for achieving the goals of
sustainable development is only recently being recognized in the policy arena.
International agreements regarding timber and carbon trading, such as the European
Union’s Action Plan on Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) and
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), will have an
impact on local timber production and vice versa. To date, little was known about the
extent of local timber trade in tropical timber producing countries, but information
from this ETFRN News shows that local timber production is significant, with profound
impacts on forest resources and local livelihoods. This emphasizes the need to address the
informal and local timber sector adequately within these agreements, in order for them
to meaningfully contribute to more sustainable forest management and equitable socio-
economic development.
Chainsaw milling, the on-site conversion of logs into lumber using chainsaws, is supplying
a large proportion of local timber markets with cheap lumber. While it offers socio-
economic opportunities to local people, it is very often associated with corruption and
illegalities. Regulating and controlling the practice is a challenge due to the mobility
of these chainsaw milling operations. With this issue of ETFRN News, Tropenbos
International, together with CIFOR, wishes to contribute to the discussion on how to
address the domestic timber trade effectively and equitably at international and national
We thank all the authors for their contributions, the editors for reviewing and compiling
this ETFRN News and the donors for their generous support. Roderick Zagt and Juanita
Franco from Tropenbos International are acknowledged for their support in the editing
and layout phase.
R.G.A. Boot R. Nasi
Director, Tropenbos International Programme Director, Environmental Services
Chair, ETFRN and Sustainable Use of Forests, CIFOR
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
TBI Indonesia
Domestic timber markets in developing countries are often supplied by timber harvested
in small-scale forestry operations and processed with chainsaws. Chainsaw milling (CSM)
provides socio-economic benefits to local people in the form of improved livelihoods and
cheap lumber for (urban) consumers. In some countries CSM is a legal and regulated
activity, but in most countries it is illegal. When left unregulated, its positive impacts risk
being compromised by the development of corrupt practices, through the rise of conflicts
at local or national levels, or through depletion of forest resources.
Domestic timber production and trade are to a large extent unrecorded. Information in
this issue of ETFRN News shows that in some countries it represents a high percentage of
total timber production, ranging from 30–40% (in Guyana, Republic of Congo, Democratic
Republic of Congo/DRC and Uganda), to more than 50% (in Ghana, Cameroon and Peru),
and almost 100% in Liberia. Wood for timber is only a small part of the total domestic
market; most locally traded wood is used for fuel or made into charcoal.
Governments of tropical countries around the world have failed to address the domestic
timber demand and struggled to deal with the CSM subsector, which is often informal.
International negotiations and agreements on tropical timber production also tend to
disregard local timber consumption, although the local timber trade might be affected by
these international agreements and vice versa. The European Union (EU) Action Plan for
Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) and the (future) climate change
agreements (through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or
REDD+)1 might be able to provide incentives to regulate local timber trade.
Marieke Wit works for Tropenbos International, Jinke van Dam works for Jinke van Dam Consultancy, Paolo
Omar Cerutti works for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Centre de Coopération
Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), Guillaume Lescuyer works for CIFOR
and Australian National University, Rohini Kerrett works for Forestry Training Centre Inc. and James Parker
Mckeown works for Tropenbos International Ghana.
Chainsaw milling:
supplier to local markets
a synthesis
This synthesis presents an overview of the scale of CSM and its actors, drivers, impacts
and local policy responses, as well as the potential effects of international forestry
regimes. It is based on the 28 articles in this issue of ETFRN News and covers 20 countries:
seven in South America and the Caribbean (section 2); four in Asia (section 3); and nine
in Africa (section 4).2 These articles provide a good overview of the opportunities and
challenges of CSM as a supplier to domestic and regional timber markets.3 Through this
issue, we wish to firmly establish the scale and impact of CSM in the domestic timber
trade, and flag it as an important issue to be addressed by national and international
forest policies.
What is chainsaw milling and where does it occur?
Chainsaw milling is the on-site conversion of logs into lumber using chainsaws, i.e., trees
are felled and cut into lumber using chainsaws. Several techniques and types of equipment
are used (Pasiecznik 1.1). A range of products is produced using chainsaw milling:
chainsaw millers cut boards and planks that are sold directly to the market and produce
blocks or scantlings that are further processed in sawmills.
Chainsaw milling has several advantages:
it generally requires little investment;
it can be used in areas that are not easily accessible to conventional milling;
it can be used for the conversion of isolated trees and for lower-quality logs; and
it involves less invasive equipment than conventional milling, e.g., tractors or
people are used instead of skidders, and hand-held chainsaws are used instead of
fixed mills.
Pit-sawing — felling and converting trees to lumber using handsaws — is the predecessor
of CSM. In most countries chainsaws were introduced in the 1960s for felling of trees or
for agricultural activities. However, operators soon discovered the usefulness of chainsaws
for ripping logs (i.e., cutting along its length). Advances were made in the development of
chainsaws, and they gradually replaced the labour-intensive work of pit-sawing.
Chainsaw milling is practised in developing and developed countries, with a wide range
of resource availability, socio-economic conditions and forest sector development. Our
emphasis is on its application in developing countries (Appendix 1 compiles some key
statistics on CSM production in the countries presented in this ETFRN News).
The supply chain: tree owners, millers, traders and buyers
The supply chain in CSM operations involves many actors, from the tree owner to the
end consumer. The organization of the CSM supply chain varies, depending on the status
of CSM (legal or illegal), the organization of production (communities, enterprises or
individuals), and the degree of integration between the participants in the trade chain.
Chainsaw milling teams are typically small, with an operator and assistants who mill
the lumber and transport it from the felling site to access roads or rivers. Operators
may work independently or as contractors to someone else, and they may own their own
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
equipment or operate equipment owned by others. Furthermore, CSM can be a full-time
occupation or a component of a diverse livelihood strategy. Timber is sold to the end
customer or traded in local markets, where a number of people are employed in handling,
loading, further processing, etc. Chainsaw operations are often financed by dealers from
urban centres who trade lumber in timber markets. The personnel of regulating and law
enforcement agencies are also important participants in the supply chain, although in a
different way.
Sources of raw material
Timber production for the local market is sourced from forests or from trees on farm
lands. Access to trees varies according to formal, customary and practical tree tenure and
use arrangements, and whether or not CSM teams operate legally or with assent. Access
to trees is often negotiated between the CSM team and the tree owners, who in many
cases (e.g., in the Congo Basin and Ghana) are customary owners, but do not officially
have title to the property where the trees are growing. In Guyana CSM is permitted on
State Forest lands and regulated through two-year community leases for a maximum of
8,000 ha. In the Congo Basin, the vast majority of timber comes from the non-permanent
forest domain, i.e., areas with no obligation to sustainable forest management. In
Ghana, farmlands are the most important sources of timber for chainsaw operators, but
increasingly, chainsaw operators are entering (permanent) forest reserves because of
dwindling resources elsewhere.
Chainsaw milling: supplier to regional markets
Although primarily destined for domestic markets, there are indications that chainsaw
milled lumber is increasingly being traded on a regional scale. For example, markets
for timber originating in the Tanimbar Islands of Indonesia have shifted from Java
to destinations such as the Philippines, Vietnam and South China in response to the
Indonesian government’s efforts to curb the illegal trade (Roda, Langbour and Shantiko
2.3). In Africa, very effective ethnic business networks are active in trading illegal
Cameroonian chainsaw milled lumber with Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Egypt, Libya
and Algeria (Langbour and Koffi 4.2). There is also some evidence that lumber is being
transported from Ghana to neighbouring countries (Quartey 4.6), and from DRC to
Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and beyond (Vundu dia Masamba and Kiyulu N’yanga 4.4).
Policies on chainsaw milling
CSM regulations are often incomplete or absent (Appendix 1), because forest laws tend
to focus on the industrial timber sector. Three general models exist: CSM is permitted; it
is permitted under certain restrictions (i.e., regulated); and it is not permitted (but it still
takes place). Some countries have restricted CSM to domestic use only (e.g., Indonesia,
Bolivia or Ghana) and/or to areas that are difficult to reach by industrial operations (Peru
and Bolivia). Other countries allow CSM for small-scale commercial production (Guyana,
Kenya and recently, Uganda). Where CSM is regulated, the licensing procedures for small-
scale producers can be difficult, costly and time-consuming, with no incentives to comply
chaiNsaw milliNg: suppliER To local maRkETsa syNThEsis
(Lao PDR, Indonesia, Cameroon, DRC, Gabon, Bolivia). As a result, operators often prefer
to work informally than to comply with burdensome bureaucratic procedures.
In most countries chainsaw milling is associated with illegal forest activities. Even when
CSM is authorized, its activities are often difficult to monitor due to the large number
of people involved and the small size and mobility of its operations. The absence of CSM
regulations and limited enforcement capacity exacerbate the problems of insufficient
monitoring. In some countries, unclear or randomly enforced regulations give rise to
illegal and corrupt practices where government officials derive personal benefits from
CSM activities (Philippines 2.6; DRC 4.1 and 4.4; Ghana 4.5; Cameroon 4.1).
Guyana is an example where CSM is a legal and important subsector of the forest
industry that supports rural livelihoods. The government has set up a relatively simple
and workable regulatory system for small-scale producers (Office of Climate Change 3.5;
Marshall and Kerrett 3.6).
In Bolivia illegal CSM activities decreased significantly after the introduction of the
1996 forest law. The legislation offered chainsaw millers a legal framework and gave
land-owners the chance to benefit from their forest resource. This access allowed for the
development of small-scale processing of logs transported by tractors. The processing
requires less capital than conventional logging and is more efficient and less strenuous
than CSM (Benneker 3.1).
In some countries (Liberia, Nigeria), CSM is not allowed but is considered quasi-legal and
is tolerated in practice, because of the lack of economic incentive to invest in the formal
sawmill industry due to the depletion of timber resources (Nigeria) and the unavailability
of other sources of timber (Liberia).
Main drivers of chainsaw milling
Demand for cheap wood in local markets
The local demand for cheap lumber was identified as the main driver of CSM in each
country covered in this ETFRN News. This demand is not being met by other sources of
In countries where CSM is illegal, it is still viewed as a legitimate practice by the majority
of the stakeholders involved in the wood-based industry at the local level (Andrianto,
Obidzinski and Komarudin 2.2; Marfo 4.5; Kamara et al. 4.8). Consumers accept low-
quality chainsawn lumber because of its low price (Palacios and Malessa 3.4; Quartey 4.6;
Kambugu, Banana and Odokonyero 4.11). The lack of incentives — such as price premiums
for legal, higher-quality timber on the local market — and the abundance of logs keep
CSM prices low and discourage people from using milling attachments (Pasiecznik 1.1;
Palacios and Malessa 3.4). It remains unknown whether higher requirements would result
in a sustained demand for better quality products or just foster more illegal harvesting, as
in Cameroon (Lescuyer et al. 4.1).
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
In some cases, low timber prices are a major disincentive for export-oriented formal
sawmills to supply the local market. Klassen (2.1) calculated that timber prices on the
domestic market in Indonesia are less than half of the timber production costs in the
formal sawmill industry. Domestic prices are also far lower than export prices: in Liberia
the domestic price for CSM lumber ranges from 26–54% of the export price; and in
Cameroon CSM prices are 80% lower than export prices (see also Appendix 2).
Economic decline and other external calamities
In some countries (e.g., DRC, Nigeria) economic decline made the poor rural population
turn to CSM as a source of income. In Peru, reduced activity from formal sawmills — a
downturn associated with the international financial crisis — led to a lower availability
of rejected lumber from formal sawmills on the market, increasing the occurrence of
CSM (Brotto 3.8). The opposite trend could be seen in Cameroon, Ghana, Central African
Republic, Congo and Gabon, where economic growth boosted the building sector and
greatly increased the urban demand for lumber.
Beyond economic factors, several authors reported natural calamities as a factor that
contributed to the rise of CSM. In many countries in the hurricane belt, CSM was
introduced after heavy storms. When hurricanes toppled large numbers of trees and
destroyed houses, an immediate demand for construction timber was created (Eckelmann
et al. 3.7). The devastation prompted governments to issue chainsaw permits to salvage
any available timber.
Similarly, armed conflicts in Suriname, DRC, and Liberia prompted the expansion of CSM
to satisfy lumber demands in the face of the collapse of the formal sawmill industry and
post-war reconstruction needs (van Kanten and Matai 3.9; Vundu dia Masamba and Kiyulu
N’yanga 4.4; Kamara et al. 4.8).
Inadequate policies, policy restrictions and bans
In most countries local timber demand is not being adequately met by the formal industry,
because it prefers to sell to the export market. Often, the regulatory framework is
insufficient to regulate domestic timber production and trade in such a way as to satisfy
the local demand for timber (e.g., in Indonesia, Ghana, Cameroon and Uganda). In Ghana,
the government has directed sawmills to reserve 20% of their production for the local
market, part of a policy intended to ban CSM and supply the local market from the formal
industry. In Cameroon and in Gabon, community forests are supposed to supply the local
timber market. Even if these quota are supplied, it would not be enough to satisfy the
local demand in these countries, leaving a large gap to be filled by CSM.
A common response to CSM is to ban it, but banning can have mixed results. In Kenya,
CSM increased after a ban on wood harvesting in government plantations resulted in
acute timber shortages (Muthike et al. 4.7). The export-oriented timber industry in Liberia
collapsed as a result of the international ban on Liberian timber products in 2003 and
the subsequent cancellation of concession agreements by the government in 2006. This
created a gap in the local timber supply. As a result, CSM is currently the only source of
chaiNsaw milliNg: suppliER To local maRkETsa syNThEsis
lumber in the Liberian local market (Kamara et al. 4.8). The CSM ban in Ghana coincided
with a log export ban, which unintentionally created a favourable environment for CSM;
an increase in CSM capacity and profitability due to an excess supply of logs resulted in
decreasing domestic prices (Quartey 4.6). The log surplus on the Indonesian market — due
to the decentralization of issuing logging licences — drove down domestic log prices to
the point where most concessions could no longer operate economically within the law
(Klassen 2.1).
In Uganda the effectiveness of the CSM ban varied across forest types; on plantations
and in natural forest reserves the policy has been largely successful in reducing CSM, but
on private lands it has been compromised by corruption, political interference and lack of
enforcement capacity (Kambugu, Banana and Odokonyero 4.11). In Cameroon the 1994
forest policy reform caused formal forest companies to shut down or to reduce their legal
and sustainable production, and as the national economy improved, informal chainsaw
operations filled the timber gap (Lescuyer et al. 4.1, Langbour and Koffi 4.2).
Corruption and political interference
Corruption and weak institutional governance have been cited in many cases as factors
that foster CSM (Lescuyer et al. 4.1; Marfo 4.5; Kamara et al. 4.8; Kambugu, Banana and
Odokonyero 4.11). In various cases, CSM is banned or discouraged on paper but tolerated,
or even indirectly promoted, in practice.
In Ghana (Marfo 4.5), there is overwhelming evidence that corruption is prevalent
among the frontline staff of law enforcement agencies. Corrupt practices and weak law
enforcement have facilitated illegal chainsaw milling and made it attractive. Political
interference has also greatly facilitated the drivers of chainsaw milling in Ghana.
Enforcement of the ban at the operational level has not been effective due to political
interference, particularly by chiefs and local politicians. Informal payments to government
officials in Ghana were estimated to be US$ 1.2 million in 2007. This is, however, only a
portion of the amount that the government may be losing (estimated at up to US$ 18
million per year) by not collecting stumpage fees from chainsaw operators (Marfo 4.5).
Tenure arrangements and inequitable benefit sharing of forest resources
Several articles mention insecure tree tenure as one of the main factors that prevents
customary owners from protecting, replanting or regenerating trees (Cameroon, Ghana).
In Ghana, for example, the tree tenure system effectively vests tree ownership and
management rights in the state. This alienates farmers and communities from income
from timber even though they decide the fate of trees on their lands. In addition, timber
revenue accrues exclusively to district assemblies and traditional authorities (chiefs), not
farmers. These factors have served as the impetus for farmers and community members to
connive with CSM operators who pay for the right to harvest trees on farms (Marfo 4.5).
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
In Kenya farmers own the trees, which provide them with additional income. Trees
outside forests have become important in meeting local timber demand. Farmers are now
negotiating with operators over price, depending on tree quality and accessibility, urgency
of cash need, and knowledge of the farmer about the value of the species (Muthike et al.
The 1996 forest law in Bolivia is a good example of legislation that provides improved
access and benefit sharing to local people, which in turn decreases illegal logging
(Benneker 3.1).
Socio-economic impacts
Profitability of chainsaw milling
In many countries there is a considerable scope for profits from CSM due to the strong
demand for lumber. The main determinants of profitability are market prices, investment
costs, productivity, recovery, distance to market, resource characteristics, type of
ownership and the nature of the market (Andrianto, Obidzinski and Komarudin 2.2;
Eckelmann et al. 3.7; Popoola 4.9). CSM profit margins range from 15% to more than
50%. The evasion of taxes makes chainsaw milled lumber cheaper, although unofficial
charges often increase production costs (Lescuyer et al. 4.1; Marfo 4.5). Appendix 2
provides an overview of production costs, market prices and profitability of CSM as cited
in the case studies in this issue.
Adding value to rough-sawn lumber is frequently proposed as a way to increase profits
and retain them at lower levels in the product chain. In Papua New Guinea (PNG),
Keenan, Grigoriou and Yosi (2.5) show, however, that value adding is not always an
option in mobile sawmill production; it is profitable only at a certain scale of production.
Production for the local market with limited processing requirements proved to be
more lucrative for owners of small sawmills than for export markets, with their higher
Employment opportunities
The possibility of making a reasonable living from CSM and the scarcity or lack of
other viable livelihood alternatives in rural areas are cited by many authors as powerful
drivers for people to get involved in the practice (Andrianto, Obidzinski and Komarudin
2.2; Terrazas and Gutierrez 3.2; Palacios and Malessa 3.4; Marshall and Kerrett 3.6; van
Kanten and Matai 3.9; Marfo 4.5). Chainsaw milling is often seen as a means to quickly
earn cash income in areas where this is scarce.
Employment figures for CSM are not readily available since in most countries it is
practised in an informal way. For some countries, CSM employment is estimated to
form a substantial part of the total forestry workforce (Table 1). A great deal of indirect
employment is also created through CSM employment.
chaiNsaw milliNg: suppliER To local maRkETsa syNThEsis
Table 1. Estimated CSM employment in four countries
country estimated
note article
Cameroon 45,000 three times as much as in the industrial timber sector 4.1
Ghana 97,000 comparable to the formal industry 4.5
Guyana 8,000 one third of total forestry work force 3.6
Liberia 1,500–3,850 4.8
Income generation for local people
CSM generates income for a range of participants in the trade chain, including rural
people, transporters and urban traders. In some cases, the income from chainsaw
operations represents a substantial proportion of household income; many examples
provided by the authors show that it may be much higher than income from alternative
work. In Ghana it can be as much as 24 times higher than the income from traditional
agriculture (Marfo 4.5). In Cameroon the CSM revenue that remains in rural economies
is four times as high as that provided by the area fee, a tax paid by industrial loggers
and redistributed to local councils and communities (Lescuyer et al. 4.1). The favourable
wages of CSM activities compared to other employment activities are also mentioned in
the case of Liberia, the Caribbean islands, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The income generated by CSM activities also stimulates a secondary economy and can
help communities purchase new chainsaws or mobile mills (e.g., in Suriname). In most
countries CSM income has led to the development of services and trade in manufactured
goods. In Liberia, for example, the presence of chainsaw millers has promoted the
construction and repair of schools, town halls and roads. Alternatively, this income can be
spent in other ways, such as on alcohol, tobacco and prostitutes (van der Ploeg 2.6).
Very often communities have limited organizational capacity to collaborate in harvesting,
processing and marketing timber; this is a basic requirement for increasing local
benefits from CSM and access to forest resources. As illustrated by the example of a
CSM cooperative on Dominica, forming an effective collaborative organization — one
that supports improved harvesting, processing and fair trade of wood — can be a real
challenge. This initiative failed because of internal disputes and the dumping of low-
quality timber through the cooperation (Eckelmann et al. 3.7).
The impact of CSM on indigenous communities varies according to differences in market
access. Better market access may weaken traditional social structures and distribute
revenues more widely in the community (Roda, Langbour and Shantiko 2.3).
Revenue distribution
It is believed that the benefits generated by chainsaw milling are distributed more widely
within communities than those provided by conventional logging. This notwithstanding,
from stump to market, the trading, financing, transportation and marketing processes
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
in the chainsaw timber supply chain can be exploitative, skewing the distribution of
profits towards the urban timber dealers who sponsor the operations (Ghana, Philippines,
Guyana). Customary tree owners tend to get less than 10% of the value of the timber
from the standing trees they sell (Uganda, Ghana, Cameroon and Gabon).
Roda, Langbour and Shantiko (2.3) mention that CSM activities in communities do not
guarantee equitable distribution; in their example, the savings and profits are not shared
among the workers of the whole community, but are kept by the chainsaw owner.
In some cases the rural poor do not benefit much from chainsaw milling activities. In the
Philippines (van der Ploeg 2.6) financiers, in collusion with government officials, reap the
most benefits, while in DRC local chainsaw bosses, not the local people, benefit most (dia
Massamba and Kiyulu N’yanga 4.4).
Income lost to government
Since CSM activities are very often practised in an informal context, substantive potential
tax revenues are being lost by the state. In some countries the government may be losing
more from CSM than they collect from the formal industry. The amount of foregone taxes
has been estimated for several countries (Table 2).
Table 2. Lost stumpage revenue (US$) due to illegality of CSM
country lost stumpage revenue article
Cameroon 13.1 million 4.1
Gabon 2.4 million 4.1
Ghana 18.0 million 4.5
Liberia 18.0–42.0 million 4.8
Health and safety
Freehand CSM is generally viewed as unhealthy and dangerous for operators. Several
authors (Pasiecznik 1.1; Palacios and Malessa 3.4; Marshall and Kerrett 3.6; Eckelmann
et al. 3.7; Muthike et al. 4.7; Kambugu, Banana and Odokonyero 4.11) acknowledge
the need for training to increase operators’ health and safety and improve quality and
efficiency. Chainsaw operators do not always apply the techniques they have learned,
however. Examples are given from Ecuador (Palacios and Malessa 3.4) and the Caribbean
(Eckelmann et al. 3.7), where operators do not apply improved techniques even when they
risk contractual infringements. Several reasons are given for this reluctance: changing
habits is difficult (Palacios and Malessa 3.4); it costs more to pay the assistant needed for
improved production methods (Palacios and Malessa 3.4); chainsaw operators think that
freehand milling is faster and as precise as using a guide bar (Eckelmann et al. 3.7); and
appropriate safety and milling equipment is not always available (Pasiecznik 1.1). In many
cases, ignorance about improved techniques (e.g. reduced-impact logging), technologies
and the illegal status of CSM are the drivers for not improving practices.
chaiNsaw milliNg: suppliER To local maRkETsa syNThEsis
In many countries CSM is associated with conflict. Conflicts arise because chainsaw
activities involve a multiplicity of overlapping interests and a complex network of actors
in the CSM and marketing chain.
Frequently, conflicts are closely related to restrictions or bans on CSM. Forestry officials
in Ghana, for example, face violence when enforcing the CSM ban. Conversely, in Ghana,
Cameroon and Gabon chainsaw millers and timber dealers complain about administrative
harassment and abuses of power by authorities.
The informal nature of CSM activities stimulates the development of exploitative business
relations by means of which a large proportion of the revenues remains with the timber
dealers or chainsaw owners; see Uganda (Kambugu, Banana and Odokonyero 4.11), DRC
(Lescuyer et al. 4.1, Vundu dia Massamba and Kiyulu N’yanga 4.4), Ghana (Marfo 4.5),
Indonesia (Roda, Langbour and Shantiko 2.3) and the Philippines (van der Ploeg 2.6). This
imbalance may give rise to conflicts about payments. In Cameroon the relations between
communities and small-scale operators are mentioned as being often unequal and difficult
(Smith 4.3).
Conflicts also arise between chainsaw millers and the formal industry. In Guyana
(Marshall and Kerrett 3.6) some conventional sawmillers feel that CSM has created unfair
competition, given that the operating costs of conventional sawmills are much higher
than those of chainsaw millers. On the other hand, many conventional sawmillers are
purchasing chainsawn lumber to reprocess and export.
The case study in Merauke, Indonesia (Andrianto, Obidzinski and Komarudin 2.2)
indicates that there are fewer conflicts in areas with chainsaw milling than in those
with conventional logging operations, because customary land-owners are in a stronger
position to negotiate with operators than when dealing with managers of large companies.
Conflicts in this region are mainly due to technical issues and are easily resolved.
Environmental impacts
The impacts of CSM on the environment are mixed. The lightweight equipment used
in CSM causes less damage than the equipment used in regular logging operations (no
skidding trails are needed and waste wood is left in the forest), but uncontrolled or illegal
CSM harvesting can lead to overharvesting, depletion of timber species, intrusion into
protected areas and other adverse effects.
In Merauke, Indonesia, CSM operations have had relatively slight environmental impacts
compared to the extensive deforestation and degradation associated with large-scale
forest concessions in the region. In other areas, such as the Tanimbar Islands of Indonesia
and Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria and Bolivia, chainsaw millers harvest selectively, searching for
the best trees; this is said to lead to genetic depletion. Depending on the circumstances
(e.g., level of enforcement, resource availability, accessibility of the terrain), on-site
processing can have less ecological impact than other forms of logging.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Chainsaw milling can be carried out in areas that are not suitable for mechanized
logging, such as steep slopes (e.g., in the Caribbean and Bolivia) and swamps (Indonesia).
Chainsaw millers are, however, also entering areas that are off-limits to logging, such as
buffer zones, protected areas and areas with protected tree species.
Recovery and waste
Freehand CSM is generally considered inefficient. The lumber quality is poor and the
process produces large amounts of wood waste. There are several reasons for this
inefficiency: the width of the kerf; the allowance for planing; and the fact that usable
parts of the trees are left behind if lumber is cut to order. In addition, trees may be cut
at night, which increases inaccuracy; and boards may be left behind due to interruption
of illegal activities. Several authors list recovery data for CSM (Table 3). The figures vary
greatly; recovery data are difficult to compare because of the variation in dimensions,
species and methodologies used.
Table 3. CSM recovery rate (%)
country recovery rate article
Bolivia 33 3.2
Cameroon 34 4.1
Caribbean Islands 40 3.7
Ghana 27–40 4.5
Guyana 19–44 3.6
Kenya 23.3 (untrained) – 30.2 (trained) 4.7
Liberia 31–35 4.8
Nigeria 46 4.9
Uganda 20–25 4.11
Although figures vary greatly, timber recovery appears to increase when milling
attachments are used, especially carriage mills (Pasciecznik 1.1). If CSM operators used
improved techniques and technologies, they might substantially increase production
efficiency and quality, and reduce the health and safety risks associated with freehand
CSM. In Uganda (Kambugu, Banana and Odokonyero 4.11) a pilot project using a
chainsaw mill with a frame showed that improved CSM increased the recovery rate from
25 to 55%. In Kenya, recovery rates increased by 7% after operators were trained in
improved CSM (Muthike et al. 4.7). In PNG (Keenan, Grigoriou and Yosi 2.5) the average
return on sales of lumber from portable mills increased from 0.4 to 8.15%, with an
increase in productivity of 6% (from 44 to 50%).
The portable sawmill as used in PNG and Suriname is clearly a more technically advanced
successor to CSM. Governments and other institutions very often see this technology as
chaiNsaw milliNg: suppliER To local maRkETsa syNThEsis
an alternative to CSM. In general, CSM production capacity averages 0.5 to 1.0 m3 per
day, while the output of a portable sawmill is 3 to 5 m3 per day (Keenan, Grigoriou and
Yosi 2.5).
Some standard specifications used in the timber industry (e.g., the 4.2-metre board
length in Uganda and Liberia) add to the inefficiency of timber production. In Liberia this
requirement reduces the conversion rate from logs to planks from 35% to about 31%.
Impact of international policies on chainsaw milling
The domestic timber trade is primarily seen as a national concern and international
policies pay little attention to it. To date, international initiatives have had a limited
effect on domestic trade. Two recent international developments could change this:
the European Union (EU) Action Plan for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and
Trade (FLEGT) and (future) climate change agreements (through REDD+). Both
initiatives address the same underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation
that could affect the domestic timber trade; the domestic trade in timber can also
affect deforestation and forest degradation. Small-scale timber harvesting needs to be
considered in these forest governance initiatives in order for them to lead to sustainable
forest management.
FLEGT, the EU’s response to illegal logging, aims to facilitate trade in legal timber and
improve forest governance. Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between the EU and
timber-exporting countries are being developed to implement FLEGT. In the three VPAs
that have been signed so far (with Cameroon, Ghana and the Republic of Congo), the
producing countries decided to include production and trade for the domestic market in
their Legality Assurance System that will be put in place.
Apart from addressing illegal logging through law enforcement activities, FLEGT can put
pressure on governments to recognize, legalize and organize the informal timber sector
(Lescuyer et al. 4.1). The consequences of a strict VPA implementation for local forest
dwellers and small entrepreneurs whose livelihoods depend on informal forest use may be
Wiersum (5.1) argues that current programmes to stimulate legality in the formal forestry
sector may have negative consequences on chainsaw lumber producers, because the latter
very often operate under informal, and sometimes illegal, arrangements. Tightening the
rules also leads to stricter technical and administrative requirements, which demand more
of the administrative and organizational capacities of forestry operations. This acts as a
bias against small loggers, even if they operate legally. Wiersum advocates a change in
focus on legality from “hard” law enforcement, based on strict legal considerations, to
“soft” enforcement, with a stronger focus on social aspects and decentralized governance.
Social safeguards will be needed to mitigate the potential adverse social impacts of
enforcing the present laws on people who depend on CSM.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
The implementation of FLEGT/VPAs depends on an effective and legitimate system
for timber legality assurance. Irregularities in the domestic market might affect the
export trade when they compromise the integrity of forest law enforcement (Marfo 4.5;
Andrianto, Obidzinski and Komarudin 2.2). Shifts in trade patterns of illegal CSM have
been observed in Indonesia in response to the government’s efforts to curb illegal trade;
the market for Tanimbar Islands timber shifted from Java to other destinations such as
the Philippines, Vietnam and South China (Roda, Langbour and Shantiko 2.3).
REDD+ is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
mechanism to lower carbon emissions through reducing deforestation and degradation.
In this way, REDD+ promotes sustainable forest management and governance and may
therefore lead to changes in timber production and trade, with likely impacts on both
formal and informal economies. Brotto (3.8) gives a clear example of how REDD+ projects
have an impact on timber harvesting, particularly on CSM. He concludes that neglecting
the local demand for timber jeopardizes the implementation of REDD+ projects, and
that timber harvesting needs to be incorporated in any REDD+ programme. Harvesting
restrictions within REDD+ project areas could increase illegal CSM activities if they result
in less timber being available from formal sawmills. In order to maintain benefits and
forest resources for forest users in the long term, forests must be managed for multiple
products and services and forest managers need to be prevented from focusing exclusively
on carbon subsidies (Brotto 3.8).
When practiced efficiently and administered effectively, CSM could be a low-carbon
subsector of the forestry industry and contribute to climate change mitigation. Guyana’s
Low Carbon Development Strategy considers CSM to have a potentially smaller carbon
footprint than conventional milling (Office of Climate Change 3.5). In the Caribbean,
CSM is seen to be an important part of supporting sustainable forest management, and as
being easily integrated into a national REDD+ concept (Eckelmann et al. 3.7).
Reflections on how to address chainsaw milling
The articles in this issue demonstrate that CSM is widespread in developing countries and
that it supplies domestic and regional timber markets. It offers socio-economic benefits
to local people by providing low-cost lumber and livelihood opportunities in areas where
employment is scarce. The low capital investment requirements of CSM make it an easily
accessible business. Limited access to forest resources by small operators — coupled with
limited enforcement capacity in most countries — invites illegality. CSM can be profitable,
at least to some participants in the production chain; its profit margin is estimated by
some authors to range from 15 to more than 50%.
In some countries forest cover has decreased to such a level that large-scale milling and
logging have become inefficient and small-scale logging and milling, including CSM, are
the best alternatives for processing trees into timber.
chaiNsaw milliNg: suppliER To local maRkETsa syNThEsis
This issue demonstrates that CSM can make a considerable contribution to local
economies, although its benefits are not always equitably distributed. Despite its
importance, CSM is unaccounted for in international and, to some extent, national
National policies: how to manage local demand for cheap timber
Governments of tropical countries have struggled to deal with the CSM subsector, and
policy responses that effectively address CSM are rare. Where the practice is legalized, it
is often associated with abuse and illegalities. Where it is banned, it still flourishes and
control is difficult and compromised. Enforcement tends to be more effective in cases
where CSM has been legalized. Because of CSM’s mobility, the commitment of local
communities would be key to an effective control system, provided that tree tenure was
Most national timber production policies and legislation are primarily concerned with
regulating logging and processing for exports, and forestry is regulated for foreign
currency earnings and job generation. But how can an export-oriented activity satisfy the
local timber demand? In many countries, timber production for local purposes is as high
or higher than that for export. National governments need to start addressing this local
demand. Ignoring it will lead to distortion of the market and domestic timber prices, and
to an increase in illegal activities, conflicts, unsafe practices, loss of revenue to the state,
corruption and a loss of forest resources.
In most cases better regulation is needed that considers local access rights to forest
resources (tree tenure), taxation, enactment of legislation and policies that are perceived
as fair by stakeholders, effective law enforcement, the organization of chainsaw millers,
use of improved CSM technologies, and the equitable distribution of revenues. Procedures
need to be simple so that local people are able to comply with their requirements.
Policies addressing domestic timber trade can have adverse effects that need to be
acknowledged. Timber traders look for options that maximize their benefits, and
increasingly restrictive regulations can operate as a disincentive that will cause traders
to shift their markets rather than reduce their illegal practices. It is important that
any policy addressing domestic timber trade be designed in a comprehensive way.
The main challenge is to design an effective set of incentives for stakeholders (civil
servants, sawyers, traders) to comply with the law. Regulations must be simple and easily
enforceable, but incentives should be put in place to convince stakeholders that they will
earn more from legal activities over the long term than from illegal practices.
Tenure and benefit sharing
National forest authorities need to put a system in place to improve the process of
resource allocation. Cases presented in this ETFRN News show that secure forms of access
to forest resources — at a reasonable cost and with equitable sharing of benefits — are
needed so that forest communities and small-scale loggers can develop sustainable
resource-based livelihoods and avoid unsustainable short-term logging practices.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Addressing corruption
Corruption is viewed as a key factor fostering illegal chainsaw milling practices. What
would make actors in the chain change to legal practices? Chainsaw loggers will switch to
legality only if the cost of doing business legally will not be significantly higher than the
costs they currently incur.
Many options exist to reduce the possibility of corrupt behaviour in the chainsaw milling
production chain. Chainsaw loggers must be provided with legal and financial incentives
to make them switch from informality to formality and legality. Access to timber needs to
be simplified with legal logging titles that do not burden the bureaucracy, and eventually
formal taxes must be applied. Technical innovations will prove ineffective unless they
are coupled with strong political messages that corrupt behaviour on the part of public
officials will not be tolerated and will be effectively sanctioned. This will only work when
it is combined with other measures, such as decent salaries for government officials and
effective monitoring of law enforcement officers.
Low recovery rates
Freehand milling is a widely used technique that is inefficient as well as unhealthy and
dangerous. Several authors acknowledge the need for training in improved chainsaw
milling techniques to improve the health and safety of operators and increase efficiency.
But how can the practice of chainsaw milling be improved when the market does not
demand better quality timber? Buyers need to be convinced to pay more money for
better and legal timber. Governments could play a role in this through initiatives such
as procurement policies and a code of practice. It is open to question whether buyers
would actually pay more for legal timber, or if a rise in price and quality would create an
incentive for illegal logging.
Although the low recovery rate and wastefulness of CSM are often used as reasons to ban
it, recovery data are not unambiguous. Pasiecznik (1.1) recommends more research that
compares CSM with other techniques, including portable mills, while considering available
capital, availability of sawmilling equipment, accessibility of the site, environmental
considerations, operators’ health and safety, desired productivity and end products.
But, again: as long as the market does not demand higher quality lumber and resources
are freely available, it will be difficult to change production methods. Furthermore,
Eckelmann et al. (3.7) state that waste in processing is normally the result of low timber
prices, and that establishing higher prices for raw material is likely to be more successful
in reducing waste than any recommendation issued by the national forest authorities. The
standard specifications used in the timber sector could also be adapted to allow shorter
board lengths, so that more timber can be recovered from a log.
International policies addressing local timber production
Domestic timber production has important impacts on local economies, rural livelihoods,
forest resources and forest governance. These facts merit more attention from national
and international policy-makers. As long as there is no clear framework that regulates
domestic timber production and trade to satisfy demand for timber, there is little hope
chaiNsaw milliNg: suppliER To local maRkETsa syNThEsis
that the illegal timber trade can be eliminated. Pressure from outside — e.g., through
international agreements such as VPAs or REDD+ — is needed to support efforts to
regulate the local timber trade. Pressure can include providing incentives for governance
reforms and reducing illegal timber trade.
The three existing VPAs, in Cameroon, Ghana and the Republic of Congo, include timber
production for the domestic market. Although it is good that these trade agreements
address the whole timber sector, it also poses a challenge; studies have shown that
illegal chainsawn timber supplies the majority of the domestic market in these countries
(Appendix 1).
A strict application of VPA measures, without providing equivalent alternatives for
local lumber consumption and livelihoods, could lead to the end of informal but well-
established CSM. Bridging the numerous conflicting local and global interests that
characterise CSM requires a meaningful and inclusive dialogue among all stakeholders.
The voices of weaker and illegal actors easily go unheard when decisions are made, in
spite of the influence they exert over what happens in the forest.
A multi-stakeholder dialogue will not solve all the problems associated with illegal logging
and the domestic market, but it is critical for negotiating agreements over the difficult
trade-offs between livelihoods and forest management and for introducing additional
measures on capacity building and local governance — besides strict enforcement — to
solve underlying problems of illegality and inefficiency. Ignorance of these factors only
forces CSM further into illegality.
This is also true for REDD measures. If applied efficiently CSM could qualify as a low
carbon activity, but if not, it could lead to forest degradation and have serious socio-
economic impacts that would jeopardize attempts to establish a sustainable timber
industry. All stakeholders need to be ready to openly and transparently debate the costs
and benefits of a transition to low carbon development, and to jointly agree on scenarios
to make the best use of the opportunities available.
The articles in this ETFRN News show that addressing CSM adequately is a challenge due
to the multiplicity of overlapping interests and the wide range of actors involved. When
these characteristics are effectively addressed, however, CSM can generate substantial
socio-economic benefits to local people, while sustaining forests resources.
1. REDD+ = Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries;
and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon
stocks in developing countries.
2. Information from the articles in this ETFRN News is referenced through the name of the author and
article number or the country name and article number.
3. In most countries more advanced technologies, such as portable sawmills, are also used to convert
timber for the domestic market. This issue does not consider mobile milling, except in a few
specific cases.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Section 1
A technical overview
Photo credits
p.1 Processing sawn timber at the logging site. R. Nasi
p.3 A rail mill (Beam Machine). Nick Pasiecznik
p.5 A carriage mill (Jober J100). Nick Pasiecznik
p.8. A frame mill (Granberg Mark III). Nick Pasiecznik
1.1 Sawmilling with
chainsaws: a technical
Freehand sawmilling with chainsaws is increasingly common in tropical forests and
elsewhere, as chainsaws are now relatively cheap and widely available. The technique is
especially suitable for exploitation of single trees by people living in or near forests who
do not have the capital to invest in more expensive sawmilling equipment. Many of the
people doing the sawing do not own the chainsaw they use; they hire, rent or borrow one,
or use one as a paid labourer. Many of them save up in hope of one day becoming an
owner-operator, or being able to buy and rent out a saw without having to do the hard
work themselves.
The availability of chainsaws has been a boon to many people. Chainsaw millers in devel-
oping countries say they are better off than before they began using a chainsaw, when
many did not have regular paid work.
However, besides issues related to illegal harvesting of timber, freehand chainsaw mill-
ing has a high risk of injury and fatigue. Safety clothing is rarely used in the tropics and
even basic safety precautions are largely ignored.
Removing chain depth gauges to increase cutting
speed is common practice, but it increases the risk
of chainsaw kickback, and other long-term health
impacts from poor posture and high levels of
vibration and noise.
Chainsaw milling attachments, which are commer-
cially available and relatively inexpensive, greatly
reduce these problems, and produce high-quality
timber safely and efficiently. They are also especially suitable where trees are few or
scattered, inaccessible, or have poor form or small size (Pasiecznik 2006). In addition,
they can be more easily regulated than chainsaws (Pasiecznik 2007). However, they are
hardly known and almost entirely unavailable in tropical forest regions.
There is a clear need
To ensure adequaTe
Training in chainsaw
use and mainTenance,
boTh To improve
operaTor healTh and safeTy and
increase efficiency.
Nick Pasiecznik works for Agroforestry Enterprises, France.
This article is aimed at those involved in making and implementing policies in the forestry
and wood processing sectors, and companies involved in manufacturing and selling chain-
saws, accessories and milling equipment. There is a need to ensure and promote adequate
training in chainsaw use, make available appropriate safety and milling equipment, and
develop markets for value-added end products.
A brief history of chainsaw milling
The first records of the use of toothed saws are from Egypt at least 5000 years ago. Long
one- and two-handled saws became common tools for felling, cross-cutting and milling,
and designs have changed little over time. The continued use of handsaws for sawmill-
ing should not be underestimated, although they are being rapidly replaced by freehand
chainsaws. The blade is used vertically, with logs that are either raised onto specially
constructed frames, or more commonly as pitsaws, where a pit is dug under one end of
a felled tree. The person on top of the log was once known as the top dog, and the one
underneath, continuously covered in sweat and sawdust, the underdog, which is thought
to be the origin of this word in English.
A revolution in sawmilling technology came with the invention of the circular saw blade
in 1777, though more primitive versions were available before. It was not fully adapted
for sawmilling timber until the early 1800s, coinciding with the invention of the first band
saw. Both types of saw could be powered by water, though their evolution in the 1800s
paralleled the rapid development of steam power applications.
However, no mill before 1900 could be described as portable. The advent of petrol-driven
engines and the increasing demand for timber finally provided the incentive to develop
appropriate machines for use within forests. Portable circular saws developed in the early
1900s, although these were made redundant by the arrival of the modern petrol chainsaw
in 1929. The use of a continuously linked chain for cutting had been invented a century
earlier in 1830 for cutting bones during surgery; it took 50 years to be adapted to cutting
timber, and another 50 years of various unwieldy prototypes before Andreas Stihl came up
with the chainsaw design that we recognize today.
Chainsaws were principally designed for felling and cross-cutting, and not for ripsawing
(cutting logs into timber along the grain or length of a log). However, chainsaws were
used in other types of less portable milling systems by the 1950s, if not earlier. The first
milling attachments were frame mills; the Granberg Alaskan Mill (Granberg, USA) was
commercialized in 1962, followed by the Gruminette (Zimmer, France) and others. These
models have changed little in half a century. Around the same time, the first ripping chain
specially designed for chainsaw milling was invented and patented. It is now manufac-
tured by several companies, notably Granberg, Oregon and Stihl. Rail mills followed, such
as the Mini Mill in 1973 (Granberg, USA) and the Beam Machine in 1982 (Quadra Tools,
Canada). Carriage mills are the most recent development. They include the M7 (Logosol,
Sweden) and the J100 (Jober, Canada), which use chainsaws or bandsaw cutting heads, and
a bandsaw head powered by a single chainsaw engine (the Ripsaw, SIR, USA).
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Two main user groups practise chainsaw milling today:
The first group is forest-dependent people living in or near natural forests, mainly in
moist tropical and sub-tropical regions. They usually mill freehand, part time or full
time, and mainly but not exclusively, for local, national and regional markets.
The second group includes woodworkers, artisans, hobbyists and farmers, living in,
near to or far from forests, mostly in temperate and subarctic regions, milling part
time only, with frames or other attachments, mainly but not exclusively for their own
use. The latter are largely responsible for the development of
chainsaw milling attachments, which have the potential to greatly
improve the livelihoods of the former.
Chainsaws and accessories
Chainsaws cost US$200–2,000 and are manufactured by many compa-
nies. Stihl and Husqvarna tend to dominate the global market, al-
though a large number of other makes are widely used in specific coun-
tries or regions, but rarely seen elsewhere. Operators prefer chainsaws
with a capacity of at least 50 cubic centimetres (cc) for milling free-
hand or with milling attachments, costing at least US$500. Smaller
chainsaws can be used, but they have a much reduced cutting rate. A
rule of thumb is that the size of the chainsaw engine in cc should be
greater than the log diameter in cm. Chainsaws of 90 cc are preferred
by regular chainsaw millers. The most commonly recommended models
by chainsaw mill manufacturers are the Stihl 660MS (92 cc), the Husqvarna 395XP (94
cc), and the Jonsered CS2186 (85 cc); costing US$1,000 or more. For freehand milling in
tropical forests, even larger chainsaws are common, such as the Stihl MS076 (111 cc),
MS880 (122 cc) and 090; costing US$1,500 or more.
To increase cutting speed in freehand chainsaw milling, depth gauges are commonly filed
down or cut off. This, however, increases vibration, the chance of kickback, operator injury
and wear of the bar and chainsaw. Instead of modifying the chain, regular chisel chains
can be used. Reducing the angle of the top plate from the usual 30 degrees to 0–15
degrees increases the smoothness of the cut and thus board quality. These are called
ripping chains; they can be purchased (Table 1) or regular chains can be filed down as
required. The Granberg ripping chain has an additional feature whereby half the teeth
are reduced to “scorers,” further increasing board finish and cutting speed. Reduced-kerf
chains are also available, such as the Micro-Lite (Oregon) and PMX (Stihl), for use with
special thinner “picco” bars. These decrease the width of each cut to seven mm from the
usual nine mm, reduce fuel use and increase cutting speed, but are more likely to break
and should not be used with large chainsaws.
1.1 sawmilliNg wiTh chaiNsaws: a TEchNical ovERviEw
Table 1. Chainsaw mill and accessory manufacturers and suppliers and factory gate prices
Model Manufacturer Cost
Web site
Rail mills
Beam Machine Quadra Tools, Canada 40
Boardmaster Hud-son, USA 40
Mini Mill II Granberg, USA 80
Lumbermaker Haddon Tools, USA 90
TimberJig Logosol, Sweden 170
Micro-Mill Accutech, Canada 200
Headcutter Big Foot Tools, USA 210
EDM Tracer Schroeder, USA 240
Miter Mill Accutech, Canada 600
Big Mill Basic Logosol, Sweden 750
Frame mills
Alaskan Small Log Mill Granberg, USA 140
Alaskan Mark III 24” Granberg, USA 180
Slabbing Mill 24” Westford, Australia 290
Stihl LSG 450 Logosol, Sweden 360
Alaskan Mark III 84” Granberg, USA 390
La Gruminette Zimmer, France 420
Slabbing Mill 66” Westford, Australia 430
Big Mill LSG Pro Logosol, Sweden 500
Stihl LSG 600 Logosol, Sweden 520
Alaskan Mark III C2 Granberg, USA 640
Carriage mills
“Make your own” Procut, Canada 1,000
Rail Mill Westford, Australia 1,140
J100 Jobber Jober, Canada 1,500
Baby Bug 10XB Wood Bug, Canada 1,560
Chain Saw Mill Hud-son, USA 1,800
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Woodworkers’ Sawmill Logosol, Sweden 2000
Woodbug 20XB Wood Bug, Canada 2,260
SM2186 Chainsaw Mill Lennartsfors, Sweden 2,310
M7 Sawmill Logosol, Sweden 2,400
Chainsaw mill EcoSaw, Australia 3,500
Milling accessories
Winch Westford, Australia 30
Supplemental oiler Granberg, USA 50
Helper handle Granberg, USA 50
EZ slabbing rails Granberg, USA 140
Bar Stinger (handle) Schroeder, USA 170
Double-ended bars Granberg, USA 230
Weatherboard guide Westford, Australia 180
Log Wizard debarker Log Wizard, Canada 290
Log House molder Logosol, Sweden 1,450
The Ripsaw SIR, USA 1,590
Ripping chains
Granberg chain Granberg, USA
Granberg-type chain Laser, Canada
Various, + Micro-Lite Oregon, USA
Various, + PMX Stihl, Germany
Source: Pasiecznik et al. (2006). This table compiles all the commercially available chainsaw milling equipment
identified in 2006. It is arranged in approximate retail price order by mill type, but gives no indication of quality,
technical characteristics or maximum/minimum log size that can be sawn. The author has no commercial interest
in any of the makes/models listed.
Two-stroke oil should be added to fuel at a ratio of approximately 1:25 (i.e., 200 cl of oil
per 5 litres of fuel). However, some operators add at least twice this amount, believing
that it increases efficiency; in fact, it significantly increases overall running costs
(Pasiecznik and Carsan 2006). Oil is also required as a chain lubricant. Special synthetic
chain oils are not commercially available in many countries or are prohibitively expensive.
Used engine oil is sometimes used, but the small particles of metal it contains can
damage the oil pump. The best alternative is any type of vegetable oil, the thinner the
better, that is locally available, relatively cheap and biodegradable.
1.1 sawmilliNg wiTh chaiNsaws: a TEchNical ovERviEw
Chainsaw milling attachments
The following is a summary description of equipment that is currently commercially avail-
able, classified into frame mills, rail mills and carriage mills. For more information on
chainsaws, accessories and different mill types, see Pasiecznik et al. (2006), and/or the
companies’ websites included in Table 1 of mill manufacturers.
Frame mills
Frame mills cost US$140–640. They are probably the best known and most commonly
available of all chainsaw milling attachments. Often called Alaskan mills or slabbing mills,
they are also referred to by the manufacturer’s name, especially where these are used
exclusively, such as Granberg, Logosol or Stihl mills or frames. Frame mills are simple
guides that are fixed parallel to the chainsaw bar. They are used with the bar and frame
positioned horizontally for “live,” “slab” or “through and through” sawing, and can be
adjusted to cut various thicknesses. They are made of square tubular steel or aluminium,
with or without rollers. Some manufacturers produce various sizes to accommodate differ-
ent lengths of chainsaw bar, and the corresponding log diameters. In using a frame mill,
operators must use slabbing rails, slabbing boards or similar
attachments when making the first cut.
Rail mills
Rail mills cost US$40–240. They are the cheapest and most
simple type of mill, comprising of a small attachment that
fixes onto the chainsaw bar and rides along a rail attached
to the length of the log. They help chainsaw millers make
straight cuts through a log, usually vertical. Some models
require the bar to be pre-drilled to allow the attachment to
be bolted on, in other models the attachment simply clamps
on. Rails may be specially supplied metal units (strips, bars,
angle iron, etc.) or pieces of wood, typically in common sizes such as 10 by 5 cm or 15
by 5 cm (4 by 2 inch or 6 by 2 inch), for nailing or screwing on to the log. Some rail mills
have additional features such as an ability to set the chainsaw at angles other than 90
degrees (vertical), or to cut mitres, control the depth of cut or cut curved lines. They allow
operators to produce custom timber, and many models have been specially designed for
making log cabins and timber-frame housing.
Carriage mills
Carriage mills cost US$1,000–3,500. The chainsaw is fixed on or into a carriage that rides
along a frame or set of rails. Most carriage mills make horizontal cuts, though some make
vertical (or near-vertical) cuts. These mills are larger, heavier, more expensive and require
more set-up time than the rail or frame mills, but they increase productivity, reduce
muscular stress and strain, and entirely eliminate the risk of accidents. When assembled,
carriage mills cannot be carried by a single person, however, and share many similarities
with portable band saw and circular saw mills. Several models of carriage mills have
specially designed band saw heads that can be used instead of a chainsaw.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
When chainsaw milling makes sense
The few studies comparing chainsaw milling with portable bandsaws and circular saws
have identified conditions where milling logs with chainsaws is the most appropriate;
some have also compared freehand milling with the use of milling attachments. Criteria
that need to be considered are available capital, availability of sawmilling equipment, site
accessibility, labour considerations, desired productivity and end products (Pasiecznik et
al. 2006). Additional criteria include environmental considerations and operator health
and safety.
Table 2 presents a review of results from studies on productivity and timber recovery from
freehand milling and chainsaw milling with attachments. Although figures vary greatly,
there appears to be an increase in timber recovery when using milling attachments,
especially carriage mills. Productivity (per working team) was potentially higher with
freehand milling, though carriage mills were comparable, and rail and frame mills were
the least productive.
Table 2. Productivity and timber recovery from freehand chainsaw milling and chainsaw
milling with attachments
country notes productivity
Freehand chainsaw
Brazil Various hardwoods 4.8 41–61% D’Oliveira et al. 1998
Guyana Various hardwoods 4.2 10–25% Grisley 1998
Indonesia Various hardwoods 2.0 <5% Roda 2005
Philippines Coconut 1.5 27% Arancon 1997
Guyana Locust and greenheart 1.2–1.8 19–22% Clarke 2005a
DR Congo Grevillea and eucalyptus 0.8 37–55% Samuel, Pasiecznik and
Fehr 2007
Ghana Various hardwoods 40% Tropenbos 2003
Kenya Grevillea 28–39% Onchieku 2001
Frame and rail mills
Kenya Granberg Mark III —
1.45 45–55% Samuel, Pasiecznik and
Fehr 2007
Australia 5 assorted mills (mean)21.1 35% Stewart and Hanson,
DR Congo Stihl LSG 450 -
1.0 41–54% Samuel, Pasiecznik and
Fehr 2007
Mexico Rail mill (unspecified) 1.0 40% Richards et al. 2001
1.1 sawmilliNg wiTh chaiNsaws: a TEchNical ovERviEw
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
USA Granberg Mark III – oak 0.6–1.2 Henderson and Krier,
Kenya Granberg Mark III -
0.27 25% Samuel, Pasiecznik and
Fehr 2007
Australia Frame and rail mills 55% Smorfitt et al. 2004
Carriage mills
Sweden Logosol M7 – softwood 2.3—3.5 50—60% Company website
Canada Procut “make your own”31.8—3.6 Company website
UK Jonsered 600+4
Douglas fir
1.6—2.9 26—66% Jones, 1998
Canada Procut “make your own”
— softwoods
1.2—2.4 Company website
UK Jonsered 600+4 – oak 1.1 56% Jones, 1998
New Zealand FRI mill – rimu 1.0 52% James, 1985
Canada Procut “make your own”
— hardwoods
0.6—1.2 Company website
Source: adapted from Samuel, Pasiecznik and Fehr 2007
1. For source references, please refer to Samuel, Pasiecznik and Fehr (2007), Table 1.2 (page 8).
2. Including: Granberg Mark III, Westford Rail Mill, Beerwah Ripper Mk IV, MacQuarrie Chain Mill, Logosol.
3. Using a Stihl 090, one man helping, averaged over seven years (
4. Now marketed as the Lennartsfors SM 2196.
A study in DR Congo (in Samuel, Pasiecznik and Fehr 2007) compared the economic
viability of producing timber freehand and with a frame mill. It found that, although
timber from a frame mill was of higher quality, that there was no local market for such
timber, and the price premium that could be obtained in the non-local market was largely
spent on transport. Although frame mills had a higher rate of recovery, logs were abun-
dant, and thus there was little motivation for using milling attachments in the region.
The literature on this topic is sparse, however, and more site-specific research is required
in various forest and non-forest regions.
Each milling attachment has its own advantages in different situations. Table 3 summa-
rizes these related to the type of timber required and logs available. Rail mills provide
a simple means for an infrequent user to guarantee a straight board, and are used for
edging timber or producing beams. These mills can be purchased very cheaply (less than
US$50), but there are benefits in using a rail and frame mill in combination. Frame mills
have a wide range of uses, are able to process both very small and very large diameter and
even crooked logs, and they are also relatively cheap and very efficient with medium-size
logs. Although the Gruminette and Westford Slabbing Mill have certain advantages,
Granberg’s range of frame mills generally offers a good choice at a reasonable cost.
1.1 sawmilliNg wiTh chaiNsaws: a TEchNical ovERviEw
Carriage mills such as the Jober J100, Logosol M7 and the two Woodbug mills are very
efficient in processing large numbers of small-diameter logs, such as forest thinnings.
Table 3. Suitability of chainsaw milling techniques for different products and types of logs
rail milling frame milling carriage
Type of timber produced
Slabs √ √ √ √
Edged timber
Quartersawn boards x x x
Extra long lengths x
Type of log to be milled
Small diameter logs x x
Short logs
Crooked logs x x x
Tapered logs
Oversized logs x x
Side slabs x x x
Defective logs
Speciality cutting x x x
Portable by one man x
Approximate mill cost (US$) 0 40–240 140–640 1,000–3,500
Source: adapted from Pasiecznik et al. 2006
Chainsaw attachments can also cut firewood into timber (e.g., Pasiecznik and Harvey
2006, poster No. 6), and process logs that static sawmills and larger portable sawmills
would not accept. Logs as small as 30 cm long and 15 cm in diameter can be milled,
making it possible to produce marketable timber from branches, bent, damaged or under-
sized logs, off cuts, reclaimed building timber, and street and fence trees likely to contain
There is a clear need to ensure adequate training in chainsaw use and maintenance, both
to improve operator health and safety and to increase efficiency. Training should be
provided through widely accessible courses, and should make available appropriate safety
and milling equipment, including the range of attachments discussed above. Initial
courses undertaken in Kenya indicate that there is a great interest in them — operators
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
were willing to pay for training — with potential benefits to be gained. Economic, social
and environmental advantages would all increase with further investment in providing
improved skills and better equipment to chainsaw operators. Such training should be
included as a requirement in all timber certification schemes as a start, and expanded
For more information
See for many publications detailing the chainsaw milling
technologies covered in this article, resulting from a DFID-funded project and related
activities. The chainsaw milling manual (Pasiecznik et al. 2006) is the definitive and inde-
pendent guide to the equipment described and their use. It is summarized in a series of
eight A4 posters; these, along with the manual, are available from the website in English,
French and Spanish. They are supported by an economic and policy case study from East
Africa (Samuel, Pasiecznik and Fehr 2007), a series of four policy briefs, and additional
articles and training course reports.
Pasiecznik, N.M. 2007. “Does regulation of chainsaws curb illegal logging?” INECE Newsletter 15
(Summer 2007).
Pasiecznik, N.M. 2006. Chainsaw milling – improving timber production and rural livelihoods on farms
and in drylands. Policy brief. HDRA, Coventry, UK. 2pp.
Pasiecznik, N.M. and S. Carsan. 2006. Turning trees to timber: a chainsaw demonstration/training course.
Kaguru Farmers’ Training Centre, Meru, Kenya, February 6–7 2006. HDRA, Coventry, UK. 8 pp. http://
Pasiecznik, N.M. and M. Harvey. 2006. Turning trees to timber. Chainsaw milling poster series, Nos. 1–8.
HDRA, Coventry, UK.
Pasiecznik, N.M., M.C.M. Brewer, C. Fehr and J.H. Samuel. 2006. Turning Trees to Timber: A Chainsaw
Milling Manual. HDRA, Coventry, UK. 40 pp.
Samuel J.H., N.M. Pasiecznik and C. Fehr. 2007. The Potential of Chainsaw Milling Outside Forests.
Summary report with economic and policy case studies from East Africa. HDRA, Coventry, UK. 66
Section 2
Country studies
from Asia
Photo credits
p.13 Remaining log and planks after processing at the logging site. J.M. Roda
p.15 One of hundreds of illegal sawmills on a Kalimantan river. TFF/A.W. Klassen
p.16 A typical building material shop in Jakarta. TFF/A.W. Klassen
p.17 Off-loading rough-sawn lumber in Sunda Kelapa, port of Jakarta. TFF/A.W. Klassen
p.18 A traditional Kapal Layar taking on lumber on a Kalimantan river. TFF/A.W. Klassen
p.21 A typical building material shop in Jakarta. TFF/A.W. Klassen
p.23 Illegal timber, Indonesia. TBI Indonesia
p.25 Typical riverine forest around 100 km from Merauke City. Agus Andrianto
p.28 Illegal timber, Indonesia. TBI Indonesia
p.31 View of Ilngei village, Indonesia. J.M. Roda
p.32 View of Wermatan. J.M. Roda
p.34 The track in the forest from Ilngei. R. Nasi
p.36 Stock of sawn timber in the riverside, before transportation to the village. J.M. Roda
p.38 Manual transport of small teak logs over distances of up to 500 m, Lao PDR. Richard Laity
p.40 Sawing timber in the forest, Lao PDR. Richard Laity
p.42 A portable sawmill operated by the Kgwan community project, Papua New Guinea. Julian Fox
p.50 Transporting lumber on the Abuan River, the Philippines. L. Nagtegaal
p.51 Logging trucks using farm-to-market roads, San Mariano, the Philippines. T. Budde
p.54 Furniture maker, Alinguiga, the Philippines. Merlijn van Weerd
p.55 A farmer assesses the damage from a flash flood in Ibuhan. Jan van der Ploeg
Arthur W. Klassen is Regional Director, Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF), SE Asia-Pacific in Jakarta, Indonesia.
2.1 Domestic demand:
the black hole in
Indonesia’s forest policy
For more than 30 years, Indonesia’s natural forests have been industrialized under a
concession system. Under this arrangement, companies are granted the right to harvest;
in return, they must comply with a complex and
costly set of regulations and pay all government
royalties and taxes. This system of forest admin-
istration was specifically designed with the intent
to develop an export-orientated manufacturing
industry. Due to the system’s cost structure, the
international export market is practically the only
economically viable alternative for the sale of the
country’s forest products.
Domestic lumber prices are only approximately
half as high as the production costs under which a
legally licensed concession and sawmill have to
operate. The obvious conclusion is that very little of the lumber sold in the domestic
market comes from legally licensed or regulated forest management units.
Unregulated production is produced by various methods, including chainsaw milling.
By far the majority of the domestically available lumber from the natural forests of
Indonesia is produced at small, unlicensed and unregulated mills located along the many
rivers of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
The policy implications are clear. As long as there is no regulatory framework under which
the domestic demand for mixed tropical hardwood can be met, there is little hope for
sustainable forest management or eliminating illegal logging and illegal land conversion.
Development of the concession system
Indonesia prepared the groundwork for the industrialization of its natural forest resources
in 1967 with the passage of the Domestic (1968) and Foreign (1967) Investment acts and
the creation of the forest concession system. Soon afterward, the country embarked on a
rapid expansion in the number of forest concession licences. In the early days of this
development, most production was in the form of log exports destined mainly for
countries such as Japan and Korea.
as long as The
governmenT ignores
The need To regulaTe
and susTainably
manage The foresTs ThaT supply wood
To The domesTic markeT, indonesias
foresTs will conTinue To shrink and
susTainable foresT managemenT will
remain an unachievable goal.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
By 1985-86, the government had introduced a prohibitively high tariff on log export,
making it economically unfeasible. This, along with a number of other measures such as
the banning of sawn timber exports in 1989, forced Indonesia’s forest industries to invest
in manufacturing facilities. Within a few years, Indonesia had become the world’s largest
producer of tropical plywood. The industry peaked by 1989–90, when more than 500
concession companies were operating in Indonesia’s natural forests and harvesting more
than 27 million m3 of logs per year.
The development of a regulatory framework paralleled the expansion of the concession
system. The TPT1 silviculture and administration system, introduced in 1970, gradually
changed into the TPTI2 system in 1993 and became the centrepiece of the regulatory
framework. Successive forest ministers introduced additional laws, regulations and guide-
lines. By the mid-1990s, forest concessions had to comply with complex procedures arising
from an estimated 69 forestry laws, decrees and regulations governing the management
and administration of natural forests (Bennett 2001).
This rapid expansion of the regulatory framework did not ensure the sustainable manage-
ment of the country’s natural forests. During the decade from 1985 to 1995, while the
number of concession forest regulations more than doubled, forest cover declined by 16%
(Bennett 2001). By 2005, the number of concessions had
declined to approximately 259, fewer than 100 of which
were known to be actively managing their concession areas.
Most of this decline resulted from companies exhausting
their concessions and pulling out of the timber business or
having their licences revoked for failing to conform to even
the most basic principles of sustainability.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s forests have shrunk rapidly. Some of
this reduction in forest area has been deliberately planned;
for example, government policies aim to convert most of Sumatra’s lowland forests to
pulp plantations, oil palm or other uses. The transmigration programme,3 together with a
rapidly increasing population, rapidly consumed much of the country’s remaining lowland
forest areas. Unregulated logging and poor practices added to the rapid loss of natural
Log supply
At the peak of production in 1989–90, annual cutting targets from the country’s natural
forests were more than 20 million m3/year. By 2002, the annual harvested volume had
been reduced to approximately 12 million m3/year in an indirect attempt to downsize the
industrial overcapacity in the forestry sector and to establish the basis for a more sustain-
able industry. The biggest single reduction in annual cutting targets came in 2003 when
the government slashed the annual quota from 12 million to 6.89 million m3 in a single
year. It was further reduced to 5.74 million m3 in the following year. There was much talk
of this being a positive step, although it is difficult to see how anyone, either the govern-
ment or the industry, benefited from this dramatic reduction.
2.1 DomEsTic DEmaND: ThE black holE iN iNDoNEsias FoREsT policy
Measures to devolve Indonesia’s highly centralized administration, including the admin-
istration of much of its forest resources, came into effect in 2001. Almost immediately,
district and provincial governments began issuing licences and cutting permits without
any consideration of silviculture or sustainability concerns or the existence of federally
granted concession licences.
The empowerment of district and provincial governments to issue logging permits had
the noticeable and almost immediate effect of creating a log surplus and driving down
domestic log prices to the point where most concessions could no longer operate economi-
cally within the law. The excess log supply also benefited traders, who welcomed the op-
portunity to supply neighbouring countries with cheap logs. This further undermined the
ability of the Indonesian plywood producers to compete in
the international markets.
Efforts to address domestic demand
There seems to have been some awareness in the past
decades that the issue of domestic wood demand needed to
be addressed. In 1994, an attempt was made to force conces-
sions to set aside 5% of their production to stimulate small-
scale businesses. Predictably, this effort failed since it was
not based on economic realities.
Decentralizing the issuing of various licences and cutting
permits to district and provincial governments could be
viewed as an effort to generate a supply of wood for domestic consumption. This move is,
however, more widely recognized as a measure to enable local governments to generate
their own revenue from the natural forest resource.
In 2002, recognizing the instability that decentralization had caused for the country’s
forest sector, the central government repealed the right of district governments to issue
cutting permits. Under a phasing-out period, all locally issued cutting permits should have
been finished by September 2004.
More recently, the government has launched countrywide initiatives to deal with the most
rampant aspects of illegal logging, with a considerable measure of success.
Domestic demand and local lumber prices
Indonesia, with a population of over 240 million people, consumes a lot of wood, although
no one really knows how much. More significantly, no one seems to have given much
thought as to where this wood comes from.
A number of studies have attempted to estimate domestic wood consumption (Brown
2000; Tacconi, Obidzinski and Agung 2004). In syntheses of available data, URS Forestry
(2002) and the World Bank (2005) estimated the round log volume to be approximately 10
million m3.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Somewhat surprisingly, the repeal of locally issued cutting permits and the recent curtail-
ment of illegal logging has had little impact on lumber prices for the domestic consumer.
This indicates that the informal lines of supply to the domestic market existed long before
the upheavals of the decentralization initiatives of 1999–2002 and the more recent crack-
down on illegal logging. More significantly, it indicates that these lines of supply are still
in place.
In rural Indonesia, outside the island of Java, lumber does not seem to be in short supply
and most houses are made of wood. In the Javanese countryside, wood is often not the
preferred house construction material, probably because
suitable lumber is not readily available. In the major cities
of Jakarta, however, thousands of small material supply
shops are well stocked with the major timber species that
are found only in the natural forests of Kalimantan and
In order to better understand where this wood comes from,
the Tropical Forest Foundation (TFF) collected some sample
prices from wholesalers in the old port area of Sunda
Kelapa,4 where the traditional kapal kayu boats off-load
rough-sawn lumber from Kalimantan and Sumatra. TFF also
collected price data from a sampling of retail building material supply shops throughout
West, South and East Jakarta. It is the wholesale prices that are of the greater interest
since they are closest to what a concession-based sawmill could expect to receive on the
local market from its sale of lumber.
On Jalan Khalibaru, in the old port of Jakarta, wholesale prices of meranti, bankirai and
keruing rough-sawn lumber varies from around Rp 1,150,000 to Rp 1,250,000 per m3,
depending on dimensions. Kamper lumber prices were almost double this amount. Using
an exchange rate of Rp 9,800: US$1 and a median price of Rp 1,250,000, we can assume
that the wholesale price for mixed tropical hardwood at the port of Jakarta is approxi-
mately US$127/m3.5
Logging costs
The basic question now is whether a legally licensed concession, operating within the
country’s regulatory framework and paying all taxes, royalties and fees, can produce
lumber to be sold domestically at a profit, at the wholesale price of US$127/m3.
Two studies examined the production costs of an average sized concession and its affiliat-
ed sawmill. In 2002, the World Bank commissioned a study implemented by URS Forestry
consultants (URS Forestry 2002). In 2003, the Association of Indonesian Concession Hold-
ers (APHI), together with the Faculty of Forestry at the Institut Pertamian Bogor (Bogor
Agricultural University), conducted a questionnaire-based study involving more than 20
2.1 DomEsTic DEmaND: ThE black holE iN iNDoNEsias FoREsT policy
Although cost categories are not all directly comparable, the total cost estimates in the
two studies are quite similar. Averaging the totals from the two studies and allowing for a
conservative 5% cost increase over time provides an average delivered log cost of
approximately US$88.6/m3 at the mill gate.
Table 1. Cost of log production from two studies (US$/m3)
component World Bank, 2002 APHI, 2003*
harvest planning 0.28 1.10
pre-harvest operations 0.63 0
infrastructure construction and maintenance 8.22 13.53
harvesting 28.46 30.59
post-harvest operations 4.29 1.66
administration (monitoring and security) 2.78 0.27
formal taxes 23.87 36.12
informal taxes 16.94
total 85.47 83.27
*Note: APHI and World Bank values were converted to US$ at the exchange rate at the time of the study (Rp 8,500).
Sawmilling costs
During TFF’s sampling of lumber prices in Jakarta, both at the wholesaler and retailer
level, it was noted that both chainsaw milled and sawmill cut lumber were available. Since
regulations do not permit chainsaw milling, at least half of the lumber can be considered
to come from unregulated sources.
Chainsaw-milled lumber is much cheaper to produce. Furthermore, conventional sawmill
costs are readily available, whereas chainsaw milling costs have not been studied in Indo-
nesia. It was, therefore, considered more relevant to do an analysis based on conventional
sawmill technology.
Few sawmills achieve more than a 40% recovery rate for rough-sawn lumber. Given a 40%
conversion return for the delivered round log cost of US$88.6/m3, the equivalent cost for
the sawn lumber is US$221.5/m3.
Sawmilling costs are conservatively estimated at US$25/m3. Table 2 provides a summary
of production costs, allowing for a 10% profit margin and a nominal transportation cost
from Kalimantan to Jakarta.
Given that the actual wholesale selling price of rough-sawn lumber in the Port of Jakarta
is approximately $127/m3 and, assuming that production cost estimates are reasonably
accurate, only one conclusion is possible: tropical hardwood lumber that is readily avail-
able in the major cities of Indonesia cannot possibly originate from the country’s legally
licensed forest concessions and their associated industries. For legally sourced and pro-
duced lumber to be available in Jakarta, the selling price would have to be at least $273/
m3. In other words, the existing lumber price would have to increase by at least 114%.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Table 2. Summary of production costs, conventional sawmill (US$/m3)
cost amount note
delivered log cost 221.48 converted to sawn wood equivalent
sawmilling cost 25.00
total production cost 246.48
10% profit margin 24.65
shipping cost 2.00
indicated selling price 273.13 wholesale at Port of Jakarta
A similar analysis could be performed for the plywood export industry. Given the much
higher prices of plywood on the international markets and the higher recovery rates,
it is clear that the country’s plywood factories, which utilize logs from legally licensed
concessions, can stay in business only if they export the majority of their production at
international prices.
Policy implications
This analysis leads to several policy implications:
The Ministry of Forests has now effectively reclaimed the sole right to issue
concession licences and set annual cutting quotas. Very little of the country’s log
supply can now be legally harvested without a licence issued by the Ministry of
The government has designated almost the entire annual harvesting quota in the
country’s natural forests for conversion into finished products for export.
The domestic demand is approximately 10 million m3 of roundwood per year (Brown
There is no regulatory mechanism in place for lumber produced for the domestic
market and no attempt to ensure that this timber is being harvested according to
any principles of sustainability. In fact, according to the government’s own legal
arrangements, most of the domestic consumption originating from the country’s
natural forests is being harvested outside of the regulatory framework.
For more than 30 years, the Government of Indonesia6 has ignored this “black hole” of
domestic wood production in the context of the regulatory framework. Although the
government has recently started moving towards sustainable forest management, the
country’s natural production forests have shrunk from 64 million ha to an estimated 43.9
million hectares.7
2.1 DomEsTic DEmaND: ThE black holE iN iNDoNEsias FoREsT policy
As long as the government ignores the need to regulate and sustainably manage the
forests that supply wood to the domestic market, Indonesia’s forests will continue to
shrink and sustainable forest management will remain an unachievable goal. Furthermore,
any effort to control illegal logging will meet strong resistance when it affects the wood
demand and supply lines that feed the local market.
The financial resources required to develop solutions should not be the major constraining
factor. Institutions, responsible private sector companies and local administrations and
communities are willing to explore different approaches in order to develop mechanisms
that will allow natural forest areas to be managed and harvested sustainably while supply-
ing the domestic demand for lumber.
It is clear that the existing regulations and fees are
inappropriate. They cannot be used as the basis for
exploring new models of forest management and
regulations to sustainably manage natural forests for the
domestic market.
Although the export-orientated forest concession system
will, and should remain, as the core of Indonesia’s natural forest management, new
models need to be explored if the country is to achieve any semblance of overall
sustainability for its natural forests.
The Ministry of Forests needs to encourage experimentation in this field and should allow
different approaches to be applied commensurate with local situations. This will require
a great deal of flexibility in terms of easing the existing regulatory framework. It will also
require innovative partnerships between private sector companies, NGOs, government and
international donors to monitor outcomes and apply lessons learned.
At this stage, there must be a willingness to find solutions, and the flexibility to allow
such solutions to evolve. There are ample willing partners.
For more information
For information on the issues raised by this article, contact
For an overview of the Tropical Forest Foundation’s work in Indonesia, visit
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
1. TPT is Tebang Pilih Tanaman/Selective Cutting System.
2. TPTI is Tebang Pilih Tanaman Indonesia, a selective cutting and planting system.
3. Indonesia’s transmigration program was used to settle landless farmers, mainly from Java, to the
less developed outer islands.
4. Data for this article was collected by the Tropical Forest Foundation in 2005. Although costs and
prices have changed since then, the underlying premise of the article remains valid.
5. A survey of prices and costs was carried out by TFF in 2005. Although current prices have risen, the
overall imbalance between cost and selling price on the domestic market is still relevant today.
6. The Ministry of Forests issues the concession licences and the Ministry of Industry and Trade issues
the licence to establish a manufacturing industry.
7. Data from 2003 were published in Data strategis Kehutanan, Department Kehutanan, 2004.
Bennett, C.P.A. 2001. Outcome-based Regulations to Encourage Reduced Impact Logging. Published
in the compendium of conference papers for the International Conference on the Application of
Reduced Impact Logging to advance Sustainable Forest Management: Constraints, Challenges and
Opportunities, February 26–March 1, 2001.
Brown, D. 2000. Analysis of Timber Supply and Demand in Indonesia. Report prepared for the World Bank-
Tacconi L., K. Obidzinski and F. Agung. 2004. Learning Lessons to Promote Certification and Control Illegal
Logging in Indonesia. Report for the WWF/TNC Alliance to Promote Forest Certification and Combat
Illegal Logging in Indonesia, CIFOR.
URS Forestry. 2002. Review of Formal and Informal Costs and Revenues Related to Timber Harvesting,
Transporting and Trading in Indonesia. Draft report, Jakarta, World Bank.
World Bank. 2005. A background to illegal logging and law enforcement in Indonesia and a
systemic 10-step program to tackle illegal logging. Draft of May 13, 2005.
chainsaw milling is
widespread because
wood-based foresT
resources are in
limiTed supply, infrasTrucTure is
lacking and geTTing a permiT oTher
Than iphhk is complicaTed.
2.2 Local timber demand
and chainsaw milling in
Papua, Indonesia
The forestry sector in Papua has experienced rapid changes since the fall of the New
Order Regime in Indonesia in 1997, the establishment of Special Autonomy in Papua in
2001 and the creation of four regencies from the existing Merauke Regency in 2002. Most
forest logging companies, operating under Hak Pengusahaan Hutan (HPH) licences, had
suspended or terminated operations due to lack of capital, conflicts with local people or
failure to pay timber royalties (Papua Provincial
Forestry Agency 2005). The vacuum created by the
absence of HPH logging was filled by small-scale
logging licences (IPK-MA) issued by the Governor
of Papua (Papua Provincial Forestry Agency 2006).
The rapid proliferation of IPK-MA logging, associ-
ated smuggling of timber to China (Telapak 2005),
and growth in small-scale chainsawing for local use
caused the Ministry of Forestry and the national
police to undertake security sweeps to curb illegal
logging practices; these were part of Operasi Hutan Lestari (OHL, Sustainable Forest
Operations). The government faces a dilemma: eradicating illegal practices restricts the
supply of timber for local development.
The data used in this article originate from research carried out in cooperation with WWF-
Indonesia, Almamater Foundation, Merauke Regency Forestry Agency and Tropenbos
International-Indonesia. Additional data come from interviews and surveys conducted by
CIFOR between 2006 and 2008.
Forestry sector in Merauke Regency
In 2004, forests in the Merauke Regency cover 4.7 million hectares (ha), comprising 1.3
million ha production forests, 1.5 million ha nature reserve, 1.4 million ha conversion
forest, 0.3 million ha protection forest and 0.2 million ha for other purposes (Regional Of-
fice of Forestry Planning Agency 2005).
Agus Andrianto, Krystof Obidzinski and Heru Komarudi work for the Forests and Governance Programme,
Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Indonesia.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Before Merauke Regency was divided in 2002 into four regencies (Asmat, Boven Digoel,
Mappi and Merauke), the forestry sector was the main source of its income (Merauke
Regency Planning Agency 2008). There were 11 logging concessions in natural forest,
covering 2,663,400 ha, from which the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) was set at 1.3
million m3/year. Ten industrial timber plantations (Hutan Tanaman Industri, or HTI) covered
1.3 million ha, although none of them were fully established. Before the onset of Special
Autonomy in 2001, Merauke Regency had two plywood mills with combined capacity of
200,000 m3/year1 and many sawmills. In 2002, all HPH concessions and plywood mills were
located outside the Merauke Regency and most of the inactive HTI plantations remained
in the smaller Merauke regency.
In 2005, Merauke Regency produced 1,050 m3 of sawn wood. Just one year later, in 2006,
only 440 m3 of sawnwood was recorded (Merauke Regency Forestry Agency 2007). Agency
staff explained that this was a result of the OHL operation, which reduced the supply of
raw material. In the same year the police confiscated 8,580 m3 of illegal timber. This is an
enormous increase in comparison to 2004, when the police seized only 16 m3 (Merauke
Regency Forestry Agency 2007).
During this period the population of Merauke Regency is continuously increasing, particu-
larly as a result of incoming migration. This contributes to a steadily increasing demand
for wood for housing. A large gap exists between the rising demand for wood and the lack
of sources of legal wood, exacerbated by a lack of response or planning by government
policy-makers to ensure an adequate supply of legal wood.
Legal framework
Chainsaw operations have been carried out in Merauke for a long time to meet local
needs, especially in areas where no HPH forest companies operate. Forestry regulations
specify two types of licences for chainsaw operations: commercial and non-commercial.
Commercial activities
The following permits cover commercial activities:
the Permit for the Right to Harvest Resources from Customary Law Forests (Hak
Pemungutan Hasil Hutan Masyarakat Hukum Adat, or HPHMHA),2 which is known in
Papua as the Permit to Harvest Customary Law Forest Timber (IPK-MA);3 and
the Permit for Use of Timber from Privately Owned Forests (Ijin Pemanfaatan Kayu
Rakyat, or IPK-R).4
IPK-MA permits were intended for harvesting of wood for no more than one year from a
forested area no larger than 1,000 ha. These permits have not been issued since 2005.
IPK-R permits are issued for harvesting and using wood from forested areas that have
been made available for non-forestry purposes by the Forestry Department. The permit
is valid for one year and can be extended. Both types of permit generally involve timber
companies or logging contractors partnering with local communities.
2.2 local TimbER DEmaND aND chaiNsaw milliNg iN papua, iNDoNEsia
Non-commercial activities
Non-commercial use of wood resources is covered by a Forest Resource Harvesting Permit
(Ijin Pemungutan Hasil Hutan Kayu, or IPHHK).5 The permit has two conditions: no more
than 20 m3 of wood can be harvested within a one-year
period and the harvested wood must be for personal use and
cannot be sold. In practice, however, it is commonly accepted
that timber extracted under this permit is sold and traded
locally. In addition, loggers often surpass the 20-m3
maximum; their surplus is illegal timber.
The most common forms of illegal practices associated with
timber harvesting and processing under these permits are
extraction in excess of the volume allowed and repeated use
of the same documents for timber extraction.
The Ministry of Forestry has recently put into effect a new regulation6 intended to provide
local government with legal ways to meet the local demand for timber. The regulation
requires concessions to allocate timber for local needs. It reconfirms the need for regency
heads to make an inventory of local timber needs and issue appropriate permits, particu-
larly areas having no natural forest logging concessions, such as Merauke. It also allows
certain regencies to source or supply timber from/to neighbouring regencies in case of
surplus or shortage.
Supplying local sawmills
Chainsaw operators work with two main parties: land-owners and wood buyers. They are
mostly individuals, but can also be furniture producers or sawmill operators. Chainsaw
operators usually work for bosses based in Merauke who have established relations with
sawmills and construction contractors. As hired labourers, chainsaw operators work with
businesses that possess IPHHK permits, so that they do not have to obtain these permits
Before they can start felling trees, chainsaw operators must report the results of an area
survey to their bosses. If the operation is feasible, based on harvest potential and ease of
log transport, the chainsaw operator approaches the customary land-owners for permis-
sion and establishes a contract with them to log the timber for an agreed payment. The
boss then arranges permits at the Forestry Agency and coordinates with other parties to
transport the timber from the forest to Merauke City. The IPHHK is issued in the name of
the land-owners.
At the logging location, the chainsaw operator cuts the type and size of trees stipulated
in the order from Merauke. Chainsaw operators usually work in groups of two or three
loggers assisted by a helper. They camp for several days in the forest until they meet their
target. Only those logs covered by an authorization letter from the Merauke Forestry
Agency can be transported legally. These logs are usually destined for legally registered
industrial sawmills in Merauke.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
The demand for wood in Merauke
The wood coming into Merauke City originates from chainsaw operations in Jagebob,
Kurik, Semayam and Sota sub-regencies. A 2006 survey of local sawmills and other timber
consumers7 estimated that 100 chainsaw operators linked to IPHHK permits were working
in the forest to produce logs, boards and blocks of various sizes to supply the city’s needs.
The survey also found that Merauke Regency needed 3,627 m3 of sawn wood annually to
meet the local demand (WWF 2007; Almamater 2007). The largest demand came from
18 sawmills in Merauke; they produced 2,551m3 of timber products per year. The timber
demand for construction was estimated at 700 m3 per year, and the woodworking industry
required another 376 m3 annually (Table 1).
Table 1. Domestic demand for sawn wood in Merauke City 2006
demand number source of timber quantity of
lumber (m3)
18 chainsaw and delivery operator 1,785
chainsaw operators 434
authorities 332
furniture-making and
14 sawmill 195
chainsaw operator 83
chainsaw and delivery operator 98
4 sawmill 50
chainsaw operator 50
individual use: housing,
school and military
dormitory construction
n/a sawmill, chainsaw operator, chainsaw
and delivery operator
total 3,627
Source: Survey by Sahul office of WWF Indonesia, 2006.
The survey produced more extensive data than that available from the Forestry Agency,
mainly because the sawmills report only the lumber they mill from legal sources. Since
OHL operations began, however, Merauke sawmills have primarily sourced their raw
materials from chainsaw operators operating under IPHHKs, which are dispersed and do
not appear in official statistics. The sawmills likewise do not report orders for sawn wood
or lumber from other parties, or profits from these milling services and storage. The
Forestry Agency assumes that the volume of timber used for construction in Merauke
roughly corresponds to the volume of timber allowed under IPHHK permits. They do
not receive or record any data on sawn timber used for government projects or the
construction of private houses.
2.2 local TimbER DEmaND aND chaiNsaw milliNg iN papua, iNDoNEsia
Drivers and impacts of chainsaw operations
Merauke’s rapid development requires a large amount of wood, especially for construction
and furniture making. The lack of forest concessions and plantation forest operations in
Merauke motivates wood processing industries in Merauke to source wood from chainsaw
operations through collaboration with local community land-owners.
Wood-based enterprise owners in Merauke say that chainsaw milling is the only solu-
tion to meet timber demand since the IPHHK is the single permit available in the area.
They do not want to invest in developing forest concessions and plantation forests due to
comparatively low commercial timber stock, marshy forests with high precipitation rates,
inadequate infrastructure and difficulties they have encountered gaining access to forest
land that is owned under customary law. They perceive exploitation costs as too high and
the potential for adequate supplies of quality wood as too low.
Because wood-based forest resources are in limited supply, infrastructure is lacking and
getting a permit other than IPHHK is complicated, chainsaw milling is widespread. Since
the implementation of OHL security operations, however, which seek to control the misuse
of IPHHK permits, the number of chainsaw operations, which had been the solution to the
high demand for wood has declined.
Chainsaw milling has many social and economic impacts. Indigenous groups have in-
creased income from compensation agreements with operators. The customary private
land-owners are in a relatively strong position to negotiate with operators; conflicts arise
mainly from technical issues and are easily resolved. This is often not the case when deal-
ing with managers of capital-intensive undertakings such as forest concessions, which
can cover thousands of hectares and may involve government officers. In Boven Digoel
Regency, for example, where forest concessions and wood-use permits (IPK) operations
are located, conflicts between communal landowners, forest concessions and IPK holders
occur frequently (Kontras 2004).
The IPHHK, which serves as a legal framework for chainsaw operations, does contribute
to state income, although the process is burdensome for the operators. The formal
costs of legal chainsaw operations under IPHHK consist of permit processing costs of
Rp 35,000 (US$4.2) per permit; Forest Resource Provision costs of Rp 26,500/m3 (US$3.2);
and transportation costs of Rp 10,000 (US$1.2) per trip. According to the
report of the Merauke Forestry Agency, sawn wood production reached 400 m3 in 2006.
This contrasts sharply with the survey data obtained by WWF-Indonesia and Almamater
Foundation, which indicates that sawn timber production was 3,380 m3. This means
substantive potential tax revenue losses.
So far, chainsaw operations in Merauke have had relatively minor environmental impacts,
far less than the extensive deforestation and degradation associated with HPH logging
concessions and IPK-MA operations in the Merauke region. Only specific tree species and
trees of a certain size are taken. Also, no heavy equipment is used to transport the cut
wood from the forest.
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
However, chainsaw milling is inefficient and wasteful for two reasons: the quality of the
wood produced is poor; and wood waste left behind in the forest can exceed 50% of total
volume cut.8 Chainsaw operations under IPHHK permits are not required to replant or
preserve the remaining trees, which has potentially serious long-term implications for
sustainability. Due to the rising demand for wood and the resulting expansion of uncon-
trolled chainsaw operation activities, the remaining natural forest will likely come under
increasing pressure.
Conclusions and recommendations
So what are the options for fixing the current flawed situation, considering that chainsaw
operations are an important part of fulfilling the demand for wood in Merauke Regency
and since other sources remain unavailable?
Chainsaw milling is a proven way to meet local needs. Although it is authorized only for
domestic use under the IPHHK, chainsawn lumber is being sold commercially. Despite the
permit’s misapplication, the local government maintains it because there are no forest
concessions or plantation forests in Merauke Regency to address the
local timber demand. Albeit inappropriate, chainsaw milling is the
only way to meet timber demand and is supported by the majority of
stakeholders involved in wood-based industries at the local level.
At every point, harvesters, transporters from forest to city and the
sawmills have patrons who take care of the administrative aspects
and ensure their operations are secured.
The Merauke government has paid little attention to the local
demand for timber. It needs to formulate a comprehensive plan on
how to meet this demand. The process should include identifying
and inventorying all land owned under customary law that has the
potential to be covered by the IPHHK. Assistance should be provided
to empower the communities who exercise customary law to engage
in more effective collective action through business cooperatives and
associated institutions. The local government should also seek to procure timber from
neighbouring regencies such as Boven Digoel or Mappi.
A deeply rooted long-running problem such as this is not easily overcome. Solving the
problem will require a comprehensive policy that does not give rise to new problems. In
the short term, we recommend that licensing continue under the IPHHK (which to some
extent may be allowed for commercial purposes) but that its implementation practices are
better controlled. All activities by logging teams need to be registered, as does all wood
removed from the forest. The amount of sawn wood from sawmills needs to be regularly
recorded. With thorough documentation, for example, the current practice of using the
same permit for several logging locations can be curbed and periodic forestry law enforce-
ment checks conducted.
2.2 local TimbER DEmaND aND chaiNsaw milliNg iN papua, iNDoNEsia
Over the long term, stipulations in the IPHHK can be expanded to include mandatory
replanting and cultivating trees in all logged areas. This is particularly important in
degraded areas where most of the timber comes from. At the same time, government
authorities in Merauke need to establish and enforce additional regulations for the local
wood-based industry governing timber quality standards, pricing and production methods.
The difficulties with managing and monitoring the IPHHK system will have important
implications for the implementation of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and
Trade (FLEGT)-Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) in Indonesia. The integrity of
FLEGT-VPA depends on an effective implementation of the timber legality verification
ystem. Irregularities with IPHHK identified in Merauke are widespread elsewhere in
Indonesia and therefore constitute a serious challenge to the VPA. Steps must be taken to
ensure that IPHHK and related logging operations do not undermine FLEGT-VPA.
1. See also the list of primary forest industries in Papua Province as of January 2010 at
2. Ministry of Forestry and Plantations Decision Letter No. 327/Kpts-II/1999 (SK 327) provided
customary law communities with the right (HPHH-MHA) to cut, transport and sell wood.
3. The issuance of the Permit to Harvest Customary Law Forest Wood (IPK-MA) was based on Papua
Province Governor’s Decision Letter No. 22.2/3386/SET, 2002, and the Papua Province Forestry
Agency Head Decision No. Kep. 522.1/1648 Tahun 2002. In this case the IPK-MA is defined as a
permit to harvest the specific types of wood in the specific amounts stipulated in the permit issued
to the holders of communal land under customary law that is intended to curtail environmental
damage and preserve the basic function of the forest.
4. The Permit for Use of Timber from Privately Owned Forests (IPK-R) is based on Papua Province
Forestry Agency Decision Letter No. 522.5/1401, issued in 2001.
5. The Forest Resource Harvesting Permit (IPHHK) is authorized by the Ministry of Forestry Decision
Letter No. 6886/KPTS-II/2002.
6. The Ministry of Forestry’s Regulation No P. 7/Menhut-II/2009 concerning the guidelines for
meeting local demand for timber
7. The survey was carried out from July to September 2006 by WWF-Indonesia and the Almamater
Merauke Foundation. See WWF 2007 and Almamater Foundation 2007.
8. See
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Almamater Foundation. 2007. Exploitasi dan Pemanfaatan Hasil Hutan Sebagai Sumber Ekonomi
Masyarakat di wilayah Papua Selatan [Exploitation and use of forestry resources as a community
economic resource in South Papua], Unpublished report, Almamater Foundation, Merauke.
BPS. 2007. Merauke dalam Angka 2007 [Merauke in Figures in 2007]. Badan Pusat Statistik Kabupaten
Merauke. Merauke.
Kontras. 2004. Laporan Penelitian Bisnis Militer di Boven Digoel Papua [Research report on military
businesses in Boven Digoel, Papua]. Komisi untuk Orang Hilang dan Korban Tindak Kekerasan (Kontras).
Merauke Regency Forestry Agency. 2007. Laporan Tahunan Dinas Kehutanan Kabupaten Merauke [Annual
Forestry Report]. Dinas Kehutanan Kabupaten Merauke. Merauke.
Papua Province Forestry Agency. 2007. Statistik Dinas Kehutanan Provinsi Papua Tahun 2007 [Provincial
Forestry Statistics Book]. Dinas Kehutanan Papua. Jayapura.
Papua Province Forestry Agency. 2006. Statistik Dinas Kehutanan Provinsi Papua Tahun 2006 [Regency
Forestry Statistics Book]. Dinas Kehutanan Papua. Jayapura.
Papua Province Forestry Agency. 2005. Statistik Dinas Kehutanan Provinsi Papua Tahun 2005 [Regency
Forestry Statistics Book]. Dinas Kehutanan Papua. Jayapura.
Regional Office of Forestry Planning Agency. 2005. Statistik Kehutanan Papua dan Irian Jaya Barat tahun
2005 [Forestry Statistics for Papua and West Irian Jaya for 2005]. Balai Pemantapan Kawasan Hutan X
Provinsi Papua. Jayapura.
Telapak. 2005. The Last Frontier: illegal logging in Papua and China’s massive timber theft.
WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature). 2007. Reducing the Loss of Forests and Minimizing Conflicts over
Forests in the South Papua Region. World Wide Fund for Nature, Merauke, Indonesia.
in The absence of
formal resource
managemenT, noThing
prevenTs The over-
exploiTaTion of The more profiTable
2.3 The chainsaw
economy in Tanimbar
Archipelago, Indonesia
The Tanimbar Islands are of great interest for their biodiversity (Lidon and Kartiwa 2005).
Located in the Province of Maluku, Indonesia, their main city, Saumlaki, is also a district
capital. The islands were extensively studied during
the Tanimbar Land-use Planning Project, funded by
the European Commission, which covered land-use
planning, biodiversity protection and biodiversity
enhancement through participatory approaches
(Jewell et al. 2006; Astawa et al. 2006).
The project team analyzed the wood production
system in the southern part of Yamdena Island
(Lidon and Kartiwa 2005), where chainsaw activi-
ties supply most of the wood to local villages, Saumlaki, other Indonesian islands, and
abroad. Two villages of South Yamdena, Wermatan and Ilngei, specialize in chainsaw
milling, although at a very rudimentary level. Wermatan is accessible only by sea and has
an economy shaped by its traditional social structure. Ilngei, which is very close to Saum-
laki and connected to it by a paved road, has a comparatively advanced state of economic
development that is reflected in its wood production system (Shantiko et al. 2004).
How tradition shapes the chainsaw economy
The wood activities in Wermatan basically consist of community-based chainsaw milling.
Trees are felled with chainsaws and processed on site into beams or planks. The process
is not efficient; the recovery rate1 is less than 5%. A typical work team consists of one
chainsaw operator and two assistants. Usually the chainsaw operator owns the machine.
Sometimes a relative borrows a chainsaw; in that case, the owner and operator share the
income. A team usually spends a working week2 in the forest harvesting trees, processing
the timber, and carrying it to the river. A team produces about 10 m3 of sawn timber per
Jean-Marc Roda works for CIRAD, Kepong, Malaysia; Patrick Langbour works for CIRAD, Montpellier, France
and Bayuni Shantiko works for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
The sawn timber is transported to the village by boat along the rivers, the only routes
available, and stored along the seashore. Later, the timber is transported by a bigger boat
to Saumlaki, where it is sold.
Development of chainsaw milling
Compared to the other villages of Yamdena, Wermatan’s chainsaw milling is recent; that
is, less than a generation old. Its introduction follows some of the common stages of
localized industrial development: introduction by a pioneer; innovation; and cooperation
among actors and diffusion of know-how.
In Wermatan, the pioneer (Mateus) had worked in the timber industries in Irian Jaya. He
demonstrated that buying or borrowing a chainsaw in Saumlaki was profitable since the
sawn timber could be used in the village or sold at a good
price. Chainsaw teams do not usually produce more than 20
m3 per year. Chainsaw milling is perceived by the villagers
as complementary to their subsistence work to quickly earn
some cash to buy goods such as electric generators or boat
The innovation process was also introduced by Mateus, who
taught people how to use a tinted and tensed wire to mark
a straight line on the wood before cutting it with the chainsaw. This method, although
simple, was previously not known to the villagers and allowed them to produce straight-
sawn timber. For more specific uses, the timber must be resawn or planed with industrial
tools such as planers or circular saws, which are available in Saumlaki.
Skills are progressively transferred. Assistants work for a chainsaw operator for several
months, and when they feel that they know enough, they acquire a chainsaw and become
operators themselves. They in turn hire new assistants, and so on.
Financial cooperation exists; operators form alliances to obtain cash in order to acquire
more production tools. For example, a villager wanting to buy a chainsaw3 would establish
a joint harvesting operation with a relative who already owns one. The first person
provides the fuel and the two share the work and the income from timber sales.
In this structure, around 25 to 78 m3 of sawn timber need to be produced in order to
pay for a new chainsaw, depending on the harvested species (Table 1).
The interests of the assistants differ from those of the chainsaw owner for several rea-
sons. First, as shown in Table 2, the income of the assistants is the same for all species,
while the work is easier with more diverse species.4 Second, cash flow (Table 3) is not
equal for all members of the community according to the different species. The higher
income from the more valuable species does not benefit the assistants; they earn more
from species that are less valuable but easier to process. This apparent inequity gives
advantages to some actors in the value chain.
2.3 ThE chaiNsaw EcoNomy iN TaNimbaR aRchipElago, iNDoNEsia
Social structure and capitalization ability
In Wermatan, the society is divided into seven groups representing ancestors who arrived
on the island in a mythical canoe in some distant past and founded the village. This type
of traditional social structure is widespread in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.5
Table 1. Production costs for different wood species in Wermatan (Rp/m3)
wood species
item Intsia sp Pterocarpus
chainsaw costs 157,500 157,500 157,500 94,500
labour costs 200,000 200,000 200,000 200,000
boat transportation cost 200,000 200,000 200,000 200,000
income of chainsaw owner 342,500 642,500 442,500 205,500
price paid by retailer in Saumlaki 900,000 1,200,000 1,000,000 700,000
retail costs 450,000 300,000 500,000 150,000
price paid by final consumer in Saumlaki 1,350,000 1,500,000 1,500,000 850,000
Note: As of June 2006, US$1 = Rp 9500
The chiefs of the seven groups are ranked according to their place inside the canoe, from
the bow to the stern. Each group and its members have specific traditional roles, and
different access rights to land and timber. Not surprisingly, the two groups with decision-
making power on use of the land and the forest own the most chainsaws (Figure 1).
Table 2. Production costs for different wood species in Ilngei (Rp/m3)
Wood species
item Intsia sp Pterocarpus
chainsaw costs 157,500 157,500 157,500 94,500
workforce transport to the forest 8,333 8,333 8,333 8,333
workforce costs 83,333 83,333 83,333 83,333
income of the chainsaw owner 500,833 900,833 600,833 313,833
price paid by the retailer on roadside 900,000 1,300,000 1,000,000 650,000
retail costs 450,000 200,000 500,000 200,000
price paid by final consumer in Saumlaki 1,350,000 1,500,000 1,500,000 850,000
Ironically, the group to which Mateus the pioneer belonged owns few if any chainsaws.
Since the group had limited influence over land use, it did not develop timber skills;
Mateus’s know-how essentially benefited two other groups.
Chainsaw milling is a diversification
activity that allows households to capital-
ize on and increase their income beyond
traditional subsistence activities. The
households that can diversify their
activities are those that already have the
“symbolic capital” provided by access and
rights to forest resources, and that have
accumulated money over the years.
How market access changes the
economy and social structure
Ilngei is a village on the eastern coast of
the Island, ten km from Saumlaki. It is
less traditional than Wermatan, and its
traditional social structure is no longer
evident in the timber production system.
Its economic development is more advanced. There are two major structural differences in
the wood production systems of Ilngei and Wermatan:
Ilngei’s proximity to the Saumlaki market increases the potential for further
development of the timber activity; and
There is a track for vehicles that extends well into the forest (see photo, below). This
extends the villagers’ range in the forest, but only in the direction of the road. In the
other direction, operators have to walk; in that case they do not travel further than
the Wermatan villagers do from their river system.
This track allows for the development of other services, too. For example, a minibus now
brings the workers to their work site. This allows villagers to diversify their activities.
While Wermatan villagers typically have to spend a whole week in the forest to harvest
trees and process timber, the Ilngei villagers spend only three days a week in the forest.
This leaves two days for other activities.
The great number of villagers involved in chainsaw milling
has led to the over-exploitation of the most valuable tree
species in the area. This has resulted in the harvesting of
more Kayu putih (white wood), which are diverse and less
valuable species.
Another impact of road access is the ease of selling to
the market. The villagers can either bring the sawn timber to Saumlaki or just wait for
traders to come along the track, with their own lorries, to buy it. For the villagers, this is
an advantage, as they do not have to pay transportation costs.
Figure 1. Number of chainsaws owned by
each social group in Wermatan village
ETFRN NEws 52: DEcEmbER 2010
Group Fujebun
Group Rolmur: 2 chainsaws
Group Eblan: 1 chainsaw
Group Olinger: 1 chainsaw
Group Oduk: 10 chainsaws
Group Rumked: 16 chainsaws
Group Lauran
2.3 ThE chaiNsaw EcoNomy iN TaNimbaR aRchipElago, iNDoNEsia
Development of chainsaw milling
The development of the timber industry began at least ten years earlier than in Wermatan
and is more widespread. With more time available, tasks have become more specialized
and the work force is now divided into several categories. Although the typical team still
exists (chainsaw operator and one or two assistants), many teams have a chainsaw owner
and/or operator, a skilled and specialized assistant, and two or three basic assistants or
carriers. Wages vary according to tasks.
In the cost structure in IIngei, a larger part of the income goes to the chainsaw owner
than in Wermatan. Economies of scale at the village level do not mean equity, and the
savings in