More than 30 percent of wood used by Indonesia's massive pulp and paper companies and other forest-sector industries is illegal and likely comes from unreported clearing of natural forest, researchers said.
Indonesia has the world's fastest rate of tropical deforestation, with losses of virgin forest totalling 60,000 sq kms (23,000 sq miles) from 2000 to 2012, partly to make way for palm oil plantations and farms, according to a 2014 study.
In a paper released this week, researchers compared Ministry of Forestry data on wood supply with production volumes reported by the industrial forestry sector. They found the raw material used by mills exceeded the legal supply by 20 million cubic metres - enough to fill 1.5 million logging trucks.
Instead of using sustainably harvested trees from plantations, the industry is using wood from land clearance, "which by definition is unsustainable", said Art Blundell, an author of the paper and researcher with the Washington-based conservation group Forest Trends.
"Once the forests are gone, there will be nothing left to harvest," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The paper - produced by Forest Trends and the Anti Forest Mafia Coalition of Indonesian civil society groups - said that if the pulp and paper industry built more mills as planned and operated at full capacity, the legal wood supply would have to double in order to meet demand.
"Before any new mills are built, the sector needs to provide timely, independent, public reporting to confirm that sufficient legal supply from plantations exist," Michael Jenkins, president and CEO of Forest Trends, said in a statement.
Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the industry's largest companies, said an assessment by the Forest Trust and Ata Marie found that if the company made yield improvements by 2020, it would have enough plantation supply to meet current demand and that of a planned $2.6 billion mill in South Sumatra.
"Legality of fibre supply is a serious problem for wood-based industries globally, which is why APP has gone to great lengths to tackle it," Aida Greenbury, APP's managing director of sustainability, wrote in an email.
"All of our mills have Indonesia's... legality certification, and all wood coming into the mills is independently monitored and verified," she added.
Herman Khaeron, vice chairman of the Indonesian parliamentary committee for agriculture, forestry, fisheries and maritime, said lawmakers would ensure closer examination of illegal logging in relation to the pulp and paper industry.
The authors acknowledge their wood balance calculations are based on government data which many researchers say lack credibility.
"The official data from the Ministry of Forestry is corrupt, unreliable, fragmentary, available for some years, not available for others," said Krystof Obidzinski, a scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research.
Nonetheless, researchers still use it to make comparisons, he said, adding he believed the illegal wood gap may be less than 30 percent.
Source : http://www.reuters.com/