Cheku Dorji, a contractor from Pemagatshel, recently bagged a small construction work in Yurung gewog. His primary concern now is finding timber at a reasonable price, which has always been a big issue not only in the gewog but, in Pemagatshel dzongkhag as a whole.
“Yurung always had timber scarcity with not much of the area under forest cover. The existing forests in the gewog do not have abundant trees as continued extractions for constructions over many years have almost depleted the forests of trees,” said Cheku Dorji.
He said that what little forest cover remains in the gewog have now been converted to community forest (CF) making it even harder to find this basic construction material. Timber from CF can only be made available for commercial purpose outside the community only in accordance with the CF management plans which clearly states that local requirements must first be met before allowing sale outside the community.
Like Cheku, most contractors in Pemagatshel say that availability of timber for constructions have now become not only dearer in some places but difficult in others with most of what little forest cover remains converted into CFs.
Another contractor said that, some CFs charge exorbitant rates that ultimately become dearer than those that commercial sawmill charge. “There is no uniformity in the rates between different CFs for timber,” said Kinzang Yeshi, a contractor.
“We acknowledge that, there was no uniformity between CFs for timber sale made outside their communities until now. What we want is a uniform floor price for various categories of trees across CFs. This was one of our major issue discussed during the last management workshop and CF office bearers have been circulated with the floor prices fixed by Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL),” said the dzongkhag forest officer (DZFO) Sonam Zangpo.
He added that, there will now be a uniform floor prices for various categories of trees across CFs but the actual price could vary among the CFs. “But even this must not be construed as CF having obligation to supply timber for commercial purposes like constructions. The interests of the CF members must first be secured and individual CF management teams can operate within their plans,” said he.
He said he received reports of contractors pressurizing CFs to meet timber needs of their constructions from the nearest CFs which they are not obliged to. “Contractors are commercial entities who will have made informed decisions about how their needs can be met at commercial rates and not depend on CFs which are for communities.”
DZFO explained that contractors are expected to avail timber for their needs from sawmills at commercial rates for any constructions but should the nearest CF decide to make timber available within the management plan, they can do so but the rates will depend on the decision of CF management groups above the minimum floor price fixed from time to time.
Community forests are allowed to make adjustments of their timber usage within the five year period of their management plans based on their needs. Commercial exploitations can only be made within this management framework and the office bearers are expected to make informed decisions based on the health of their CFs.
Some CFs have healthy stock of standing trees that allow limited commercial extractions each year generating revenues for their communities. And some CFs are reportedly looking ways to make only finished products available in the market to generate maximum benefits, according to the DZFO.
“We have harvested about two truckloads of sawn timbers and supplied outside the dzongkhag. We can still make some more available to needy contractors,” said Tashi Phuntsho, a beneficiary of CF at Gamung village. But he said, it will come at commercial rates only.
A member of Tshelingore CF under Zobel gewog said that government constructions in their village will be provided with good quality timber from their CFs so that, the community structure built for them lasts for many years. He said that, often government constructions used timber of almost all trees mostly inferior ones resulting in short life.
“We are going to have a government built community lhakhang soon in our village and we will monitor constantly on what kind of timber the contractor uses if he opts to use timber from other sources. Otherwise we will supply quality timber at existing commercial rates,” said Sonam, a local resident.
Jigme Tenzin, the chairman of Pangthang CF under Chhimoong gewog also said that, although they can increase the rates from the floor prize, they are willing to abide by the floor prize of NRDCL. He added that, theirs is a restricted CF meant especially to protect the village’s only water source, but have decided to make limited number of trees available for commercial purposes.
While timber is becoming scarce by the day, the establishment of CFs in almost all the villages meant that contractors who are used to cutting down trees at their free will in remote villages at a minimal cost are beginning to feel the unpleasant realities now.
Not only have the CFs restored community ownership of forest within their close proximity, it has brought some degree of uniformity in timber prices for all commercial purposes reducing pressure on community forests. And for contractors, they have to abide by the new realities that the interests of communities must prevail over their individual’s commercial ones.