Forest Industries were very much insignificant during the British period. During the 1950s, some small-scale developments took place in the private sector. The government of Pakistan established the Forest Industries Development Corporation (FIDC) in the 1960s to carry out extraction of forest resources from remote areas and for developing wood processing and modern industries. Mechanical lifting of large logs was adopted to supplement the traditional employment of elephants. Experiments for obtaining logs and wood were carried out with quick-growing exotic trees such as Albizia, Acacia, pine and eucalyptus. FIDC established commercial rubber plantations in some 400 acres near Ramu at cox's bazar and in about same amount of land at Raozan of chittagong. Some other small plots for plantation of rubber were also established in Sylhet and Madhupur of tangail. The total number of rubber gardens owned by FIDC is 18. Development of paper and board industries, including extraction of wood and bamboo for use in mills, remains the responsibility of FIDC. In 1972 the Paper and Board Industries Corporation was established. It was later merged with the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation in 1976. In between 1980s and 1990s many new forest-based industries, in both private and public sectors, were developed gradually and they turned out to be a substantial economic base for the country.
The most important forest industry is the extraction of timber. There are considerable timber areas in the reserve forests of chittagong hill tracts (Kassalong, kaptai and Rainkyong), Dhaka-Mymensingh forests, Sylhet-Sreemangal forests and sundarbans forests. Through FIDC, the government operates solid wood enterprises, one in wood extraction, and the other 13 in saw milling, seasoning, treatment, cabinets, windows and doors, and panel products. There is a training center Forest Development and Traning Centre (FDTC) in Kaptai. Facilities here are confined to logging, mechanical, maintenance and saw doctoring.
Principal forest industries include those of saw milling, pulp and paper, plywood/veneer, match and panel boards. An important group of secondary forest industries comprises furniture making, seasoning and treatment. A minor industry is one of non-wood forest products consisting of a wide range of small industrial activities. handicrafts based on cane and bamboo, natural pharmaceutical supplies, shellac, gum and tannin materials for condiments and dyeing industries are also considered to be forest industries.
At present, installed sawn wood capacity is nearly 6 million m3, compared to the production level of 2.7 million m3. The total paper and pulp production capacity is about 150 million air-dry tons but industries operate at a combined average capacity of 83%. The combined production capacity of hard board, particle and plywood mills is 8 million m2, but actual production is about 70%. Sawn timber production is now the principal industrial wood used in Bangladesh. There are about 5,000 mills in the country, producing about 2.8 million m3 of sawn wood. These mills employ about 35,000 persons. Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chittagong, Khulna, Barisal, Sylhet and Rajshahi are important milling centres. Almost all types of tree species are used for this industry.
In terms of value added, the pulp and paper industry ranks second in economic importance in the country's wood industry. These industries are located in Khuna (Khalishpur), Chittagong (Chandraghona), Sylhet (Chattak), and recently, in various places in Dhaka also. Principal raw materials are different species of bamboo and softwood of Albizia spp. and gewa. Plywood and veneer industries are the next most important industries and are mainly located in Chittagong and they mostly produce tea chests. The principal plant sources for these industries are civit, shimul, chundul, mango and kalahuza (Cordia dichotoma).
Matches are one of the most expanded but oldest established wood industries. Bangladesh has five big match manufacturing units in Chittagong, Dhaka and Khulna, which account for about 95% of the market. Some small industries (18 of reasonable size and 200 small) supply the rest. They are mostly located in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Barisal, comilla, bogra and Sylhet. Recently, the demands of matches have declined because of increased use of petroleum-fuelled lighters. Major soft woods used in match industry are shimul, civit, gewa, kadarn, pitaly (Trewia polycarpa), karai, passur and chatim. The total raw material requirement is about 90,000 m3.
There are two types of composite panel products manufactured in Bangladesh - wet process hard board and particle board. Typically, these products use fuel wood and wood industry residues as raw material. There are at least 67 enterprises, most of which manufacture goods from 19 mm thick primary products of 7 primary producers who have a total installed capacity of 5.5 million m2. These units mostly operate in Chittagong, Narayanganj and Khulna. Khulna hardboard mills use only sundari trees as raw material.
Furniture-making small-scale industries or cottage industries is a flourishing industry, which has developed side by side with the saw milling industries. There are approximately 40,000 large and small furniture-making establishments with about 150,000 employees throughout the country. About 30% of the units operate in six divisional cities. Plants for sawn wood seasoning can meet only 0.3% of the total demand. The total dry kiln capacity of the 3 mills is about 20,000 m3/A. The principal natural saw log species used for furniture making are gorjan, teak, jam, chapalish, telsur, champa, raintree, karai, jackfruit, jarul, gamar and keora.
BFIDC manages rubber plantations and developed forests at Ramu, Madhupur and Raozan. There are some private rubber plantations in Chittagong and Sylhet divisions, where rubber industries that produce only rubber sheets were developed. The annual production of rubber is about 5,000 MT, which was only 2,000 metric tons a few years back.
A large number of unorganised enterprises manufacture wooden products. All are in the private sector and at the small and cottage industry level. Their products include a wide variety of goods like rickshaw body, toys, sports goods, agricultural implements, brushes, tool handles, cart wheels, musical instruments, domestic utensils, jute twine bobbins, boat building, and paper boards. The number of households running such units is about a million, of which about 220,000 are involved in bamboo and cane works. [Mostafa Kamal Pasha]