At the Sonam sawmill in Babesa Thimphu, grass has grown around the stacked logs and the machines are locked up. The place is oddly quiet for an otherwise noisy area.
Never in his 30 years as manager Madhan Kumar Rai has remained closed.
Since February, the sawmill’s only skilled Indian worker was stranded in India due to Covid-19 and the sawmill could not produce important materials such as doors, windows, shutters and paneling timber for the sawmill industry. building.
“Except for menial jobs, Bhutanese lack the skills to deliver the products,” Madhan Kumar said.
According to him, there is no drop in demand for furniture but the company could not meet the demand.
The company has nine Bhutanese workers who receive free accommodation and a monthly salary. The salary ranges from Nu 12,000 to Nu 25,000.
If the situation continues, Madhan Kumar said, a huge loss was inevitable. At present, the company’s business is down 80%.
But demand in the construction sector has also dropped drastically due to the shortage of labor or raw materials.
Before Covid-19, the sawmill’s daily income was Nu 50,000, but in three months it suffered a loss of Nu 130,000, not including payments to workers.
Asked about the possibility of importing Indian workers as announced by the immigration department, Madhan Kumar said there were risks as they might want to come back if the situation got worse. “This pandemic is a global problem and times are uncertain.”
However, by the end of this month, Madhan hopes to hire a former employee who is currently at Samtse.
The manager of the Phubgyel sawmill in Ramtokto, Bir Man Gurung, also has a similar story. The demand has decreased due to the pandemic and the revenues are half the amount compared to the pre-pandemic period. “We barely make 15,000 these days.”
In a month, the sawmill could only sell building materials once. There are 17 workers of which three are Indians and three are temporary workers. The monthly salary of workers ranges from Nu 7,500 to over Nu 12,000.
Resources such as blue pine and hemlock are sourced from Thimphu, Bumthang and Natural Resource Development Corporation limited (NRDCL). Most furniture requests come from Paro and Haa.
NRDCL branch manager in Ramtokto, Ngawang Tenzin, said there was a drop in demand due to reduced activities in the construction sector. Those who put in the requisition earlier are also withdrawing notably from government projects to reduce the cost of labor and capital.
He said the company had encountered problems importing the sawing machine parts imported from Europe, the United States and India. “Due to lockdown in different areas, coins are blocked in different countries.”
The financial loss incurred has however been recovered since NRDCL obtained the construction project for the temporary shelters from His Majesty the Kings.
There are 45 workers at Ramtokto. Resources are plentiful since most of the country’s sawmills are closed, he said.
NRDCL Managing Director Sonam Wangchuk said there were concerns due to the unavailability of the market for the products. He said that if there were no raw timber buyers, NRDCL would explore opportunities to produce different types of products through value addition.
At the depot, as of April of this year, the ending timber inventory balance is 507,248.84 cubic feet.
Sawmills have been unable to export timber since the 2000 ban, but the country imports eight times more timber and timber products than it exports according to records.