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Bali Handicraft Makers Face Wood Shortage

Diminishing Silk Tree Plantations Leave Local Carvers with Little to Chisel.

(9/20/2004) With tighter controls on the inter-island shipment of timber stocks, Balinese handicraft and furniture makers are increasingly dependent on the wood of the locally grown Albizia procera - a fast-growing tree that thrives in tropical conditions. Also known as the silk tree or mimosa tree, due to the silky thread-like filaments of it annual flowering, the tree achieves full growth in it 10-20 year life cycle with its numerous seed pods ensuring rapid self-propagation.

Local craftsmen, however, are complaining that the popular and easily worked albizia wood is becoming increasing difficult to come by. The Chairman of the Association of Indonesian Handicraft exporters and Producers (ASEPHI), Ngurah Pratama Citra, recently warned that if corrective action was not taken soon a number of handicraft producers would go bankrupt.

The demand for Balinese stocks of albizia by furniture and handicraft makers in Java in combination with government regulations forbidding the planting of albizia have made the wood in short supply, increasing the cost of a cubic meter from Rp. 800,000 (approximately US$ 89) to Rp. 1.5 million (approximately US$ 167).

Local government authorities have forbidden the planting of new albizia stocks, claiming the trees destroy soil fertility; a claim denied by many local farmers and wood stock consumers who say little scientific proof exists to support the Government's ban.

Faced with limited supplies of wood, higher prices and increased low-cost competition from handicraft suppliers in overseas markets, such as China and Vietnam Balinese handicraft and furniture makers are feeling themselves slowly squeezed out of business.

ASEPHI has called on the government to take definite steps to ensure a constant supply of wood to local producers, including again allowing the planting of new albizia forests.