The fiscal 2006 annual report on the nation’s forestry shows that self-sufficiency in the wood supply has stopped falling due to conditions abroad that make wood imports to Japan difficult. The government can use this opportunity to revitalize Japan’s forestry.

According to the Annual Report on the Trends of Forest and Forestry prepared by the Forestry Agency, the total output of the nation’s forestry in 2005 was worth 41.68 billion yen, less than 40 percent of the peak achieved in 1980. The self-sufficiency ratio, which was around 90 percent in 1955, came down to around 70 percent in 1965 and then to 18.4 percent in 2004. But it climbed back to 20 percent in 2005.

It was Japan’s reliance on cheap wood imports from Asia and North America that lowered the self-sufficiency ratio. The latest rise in the ratio is caused by various factors. A lower yen value and increased shipping costs due to rising oil prices have pushed up import prices. The overseas supply has also become tight because of construction booms in China, the Middle East and the United States.

The tight supply overseas should be used as a chance to increase domestic wood production. The forestry cycle now is such that sugi (Japanese cedar) planted immediately after World War II are in a stage suitable for felling. But the white paper says that even though such trees are entering a suitable period for felling, many forest owners refrain from felling them because of declining profitability.

The government needs to secure a sufficient number of young forestry workers, which have been decreasing in a long run. An encouraging sign is that the Forestry New-Employment Training Project, which started in fiscal 2003, added 5,300 new workers in three years. The government needs to take measures to help them remain in forestry. Of the nation’s private forest areas, 24 percent is owned by people living elsewhere. The central and local governments and forestry associations need to cooperate in helping such forest owners become interested in forestry and take good care of their forests.

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