By Nelson Mandela Muhoozi
For the first time in the history of commercial forestry in Uganda, pine forests are being subjected to intensive resin tapping for commercial purposes.
This, according to a joint report on resin tapping by European Union, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and The Government of Uganda, comes as a relief to pine tree growers who were already facing prospects of low timber prices and a long rotation period (18 years) for sawlog production.
Resin tapping thus provides an additional income stream to pine tree growers before final harvesting can take place, says Peter Mulondo, a forestry expert at Uganda Tree Growers Association (UTGA), adding that currently, tree growers across the country are being paid an annual rental fee equivalent to sh1.6m ($ 420) per hectare per year, paid in two instalments.
On the contrary, big commercial forest companies such as Global Woods AG and Nile Ply Woods Limited, which are involved in resin tapping, are exporting resin tapped from their own plantations, directly.
Increased demand for natural resin in China has pushed up prices to approximately $650 per ton and several Ugandan tree farmers, previously reluctant to participate, are engaging or expressing interest in resin tapping.
According to Mulondo, the resin tapping business in Uganda is currently dominated by Chinese investors who export it to mainland China.
However, Mulondo warns that although resin taping is an opportunity that can supplement the incomes of pine plantation owners, at the wood level, this activity could exploit the most commercially valuable part of the stem if not done professionally and sustainably.
Questions from foresters that continue to arise are whether resin tapping changes the characteristics of wood and if those changes imply any limitations to its use, devaluing it.
However, comparing the anatomical, physical, chemical, and mechanical characteristics of wood from resin-tapped and non-tapped trees, research confirms that resin tapping does not induce significant anatomical changes in the width of the growth ring and in the resin channel area.
What is resin
Resin is a fluid (a hydrocarbon) that is secreted from certain plants, particularly coniferous trees such as pine, as a result of injury to the tree.
Through different industrial processes, resin is converted into gum rosin, turpentine and their derivatives.
These renewable products are used for example in the manufacture of adhesives, printing inks, coatings and emulsifiers, to mention a few of the wide range of applications they find in our daily life.
More than 90% of the pine resin production in the world is concentrated in three countries: China, Brazil and Indonesia.
The top producer of pine resin is China, with an annual production of 830,000 metric tons. In 2010, the total world production of pine resin reached the amount of 1,114,000 metric tons.
Almost three-quarters of it are produced from natural pine stands mainly from P. massoniana, P. unnanensis and P. Merkussii.