Burapha Agro-Forestry is one of the earliest Swedish foreign invested forestry companies in the Laos PDR. Started back in 1989 as a plantation company, today Burapha is one of the largest vertical intergraded forestry companies in Laos with its own plantations, state-of-the-art plywood mill, and woodworking factory.

Interview with Anton Muravev, Sales Specialist at Burapha Agro-Forestry Co. Ltd.

Easy Engineering: What are the main areas of activity of the company

Anton Muravev: Our plantations cover approximately 4,200 ha of private land acquired under various land lease agreements with farmers and village cooperations, and close to 1,600 ha of concession land from the Government of Laos (GoL), and additional 60,000 ha concession granted by the Lao Government in 2022.

In 2021, we completed construction and commissioning of a state-of-the-art composite wood panels mill at Hin Heup, Vientiane Province, strategically located at the center of our plantation area, and within the route of the newly built Laos China railway and the only highway leading to the capital city of Vientiane. The main export point for the mill is Laem Chabang port in Thailand.

Important to note that all our plantations and manufacturing facilities are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. Nowadays FSC is not only certification of the wood legality, but also the mark of responsible business, operating in compliance with globally recognized standards of sustainability and corporate social and environmental responsibility.

The major species we are planting, Eucalyptus K7 (clone of Eucalyptus camaldulensis and Eucalyptus deglupta), is a versatile and fast-growing tree that is ideal for use in paper and plywood. And the 100% Eucalyptus panels we produce have density and mechanical properties similar to those of Birch. These excellent properties were first proven in early 2022 when we obtained certification to supply AS/NZS 2269.0:2012 Structural Plywood to the Australian and New Zealand market.

E.E: What are the ranges of products

A.M: Burapha has developed four panel products under the “Elefant” brand name, including uncoated, 100% Eucalyptus Plywood, LVL, and LVB. Currently, we are working on extending the product range with the addition of Film-Faced and Anti-slip panels for the formwork and trailer industries. We also have several research projects under consideration and in development. An important focus for the company is obtaining CARB and EPA certifications.  

E.E: At what stage is the market where you are currently active

A.M: The plywood market in Europe is generally highly developed and is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 8.6% from 2023 to 2030. However, the European Wood-Based Panel Market is currently facing inflation and increased production costs. Traditionally, Europe is most active in early Autumn, but this year we have not observed an increase in order volume from European customers. Meanwhile, our company has a stable demand for structural plywood from Australia, which helps maintain our position stability.

E.E: What can you tell us about market trends

A.M: In view of the current deficit of Birch Plywood caused by the restriction of wood supplies from Russia and Belarus, European importers are forced to seek for alternatives.  And we strongly believe that our Eucalyptus Plywood is ideal choice for those seeking birch-like parameters, high quality, and legality of the product. Even though there are many mills from South America and South-East Asia supplying eucalyptus products to Europe, Burapha is an outstanding manufacturer, and our premium products have been recognized by numerous customers.

E.E: What are the most innovative products marketed

A.M: Our plantation is operated based on an innovative agroforestry model. Under the 7-year rotation plantation cycle of the model, local villagers are given the option to practice intercropping with annual crops such as rice during year 1, and cattle-grazing from years 3 to 7. The cycle continues throughout the lease period, and when the lease expires, the land is returned to the local communities. The 7-year rotation follows the farmer’s normal cycle for shifting cultivation, ensuring that it does not interrupt their traditional food production. 

Another aspect of our responsible environmental and business practices is that we do not clear natural forest for our plantation, rather we help reforestation by planting on land that was degraded years ago. By doing so, we improve soil’s infiltration capacity, condition and biodiversity of these degraded lands.

In addition, we protect any forest remnants, tall trees, wetlands and stream buffers in our plantation areas under our Special Management Area Policy. As a result, our plantations are interspersed with SMAs for conservation, which provide important ecological and social benefits. And we aim to reduce land degradation by ending the destructive cycle of slash-and-burn and training farmers on best practices that can maintain crop productivity over longer periods.

We aim to develop new products in addition to the existing as well as to improve species. We have our own nursery to produce tree seedlings. Several species are grown for commercial use and some for research. In the nursery, there are seedlings of Eucalypts, Mai Du (Rosewood), Teak and Acacia. The production capacity of the nursery is 3 000 000 seedlings per year. The Research and Development department at Burapha is continuously working on improvement of the clones for future plantations. Cooperation research is also done together with the Institute of Forest Tree Improvement and Biotechnology (IFTIB) in Vietnam.

E.E: What can you tell us about market trends

A.M: The most significant trend today is Sustainability and Environmental responsibility, Legality of the wood, arising from the fight against climate change. From this perspective, Burapha has a very strong position, as we are the company built in accordance with European Standards. Our mission includes compliance with the principles of sustainability and environmental responsibility in all our operations, including Land Acquisition, Forestry and Production Facilities. We regularly publish audited Sustainability reports, where we highlight key milestones and actions taken to comply with the best global Corporate, Social, Environmental, Safety and Operational standards. 

And, as a responsible business, we are committed to cooperating with local communities and bring them the benefits of our presence. We engage with our partner villages throughout the entire operational cycle from land acquisition to plywood production. Our land acquisition process is in compliance with UN FAO Free Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). From 2022 we paid the first installments of Village Development Funds (VDF) to partner villages. The VDF is a voluntary financial contribution paid to partner villages for plantations on a per hectare basis and can be used for infrastructure upgrades or other discretionary projects.

E.E: What estimations do you have for the rest of 2023

A.M: There are many tasks to be completed by the end of 2023, including fulfilment of planting plan and production plan. As of today, we believe our schedule is on track, and the KPIs are secured. At the same time, our major target in terms of the European market is to educate our customers about our products. As was mentioned before, our product is made of Eucalyptus, however the species (K7 clone) is not well known in Europe and differs from the common Eucalyptus species supplied to Europe. Our K7 clone has higher mechanical properties than Eucalyptus Grandis and can easily replace birch in the majority of applications.

We are sure of the bright future for the company as we have an excellent sustainable product, unique in combination of its properties and cost efficiency.

Anton MURAVEV, Sales – Anton Muravev | LinkedIn