Future Role of Paper Industry in Pakistan!

From the desk of editor in chief, Meher Kashif Younis: 

Historically speaking, traditions have it that the paper was first used in AD 105 by Ta’ai Lun, a eunuch attached to the Eastern Han Court of Chinese Emperor Ho Ti. The material used was most probably the bark of the mulberry tree, and the paper was made on a mold of bamboo strips.

The earliest known paper still in existence was made from rags about AD 150, for approximately 500 years the art of papermaking somehow remained confined to China. But in AD 610 it was introduced in Japan and into the Central Asia about AD 750 as a result of the attack of the Arabs to China. Paper made its appearance in Egypt about AD 800 but was manufactured there until AD 900.

The use of paper was introduced in Europe by the Moors, and the first papermaking mill was established in Spain about AD 1150 and the man behind was Tariq bin Ziyad.

In succeeding centuries, the craft spread to most of the European countries. The introduction of movable type about the middle of the 15th century made book printing practical and greatly stimulated papermaking. The first paper mill in England was established in 1495, and the such mill was set up in America in 1690.

The increasing use of paper in the 17th and 18th centuries created shortage of rags, which were the only satisfactory raw material known to the European papermakers. As a result, many attempts were made to devise substitutes, but none was commercially satisfactory. At the same time attempts were also made to reduce the cost of paper by developing a machine to supplement the hand-molding process in paper manufacturing. The first practical machine was as such made in 1798 by the French inventor Nicholas Louis Robert. His machine was then improved by the British stationers and Brothers Henry Fourdrinier and Sealy Fourdrinier, who I 1803 produced the first of the machines that bore their name.

The solution of the problem of making paper from some cheap raw material was achieved by with the introduction of the ground wood process of pulp making in about 1840 and the first of the chemical pulp processes approximately ten years later.

With the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, the technology was then moved to the US where it flourished to its peak and it became the leading country in paper industry not only in its manufacturing but also in its consumption i.e. 350 kg paper per capita consumption presently, whereas in the case of Pakistan, the rate of consumption is only about 4 kg paper per capita consumption.

Paper industry in Pakistan is not among the prime industries of the country and is in developing stage yet so to say. Consumption of paper in Pakistan is in far access of the domestic production capacity. And, obviously the local demand in view of this met through imports. Pakistan’s imports of paper and paper board, articles of pulp and board amounted to US $ 506.34 million in 2019 according to data based on international trade figures.

In 1947 when Pakistan came into existence, there was not a single plant to manufacture paper in the country. All the requirement for the paper in the country as such had to be met through imports.

Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) was established for the establishment of different industries including paper mill in the public sector. PIDC established the first paper mill in Chandargona in East Pakistan followed by a high-grade papers Adamjee Paper and Board Mill in NWFP and a newsprint mill at Khulna in East Pakistan in 1959. However, Adamjee Paper and Board closed down its operation later on.

With the separation of East Pakistan in 1971 and becoming Bangladesh, a serious shortage of writing and printing paper as well as newsprint was created in remainder Pakistan i.e. West Pakistan, as the supplies of these products were completely cut off from Bangladesh.

Over the years, number of units were established producing various grades of papers using local and imported raw materials. Unfortunately, due to poor planning in the 1980s and 1990s, many units were closed down due to various reasons.

Though exact number is not known, there are around 100 units in Pakistan in the organized and unorganized sectors. These units produce writing and printing paper, wrapping and packing paper, white duplex coated, uncoated board, chip board and other boards.

The position with regard to newsprint is, however, altogether different as no newsprint plant has so far been established in Pakistan with the result that the country imports all its requirements of newsprint from abroad. The demand for newsprint has enormously increased following mushroom growth of newspapers, magazines and journals in all part of the country.

In later part of 1970s, Punjab Industrial Board (PIDB), headquartered in Lahore, planned to establish a sugarcane bagasse-based newsprint mill in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab. The project remained in the planning and approval process in Islamabad for many years. The project finally was Okayed at the appropriate level in Islamabad after more than a decade and newsprint element was dropped and it was reduced to ordinary paper making mill only. The foundation stone of the paper mill so approved was laid by General Muhammad Zia ul Haq prior to his tragic demise in plane crash in August 1988 but the project construction was shelved without making any feasible progress as the PIDB itself was disbanded in the subsequent subsequently. So, the country continues to import newsprint from foreign countries. A number of factors are directly and indirectly responsible for the tribulations of Pulp and Paper industry and its thriving in Pakistan.

Paper and pulp industry in Pakistan face a number of problems and the climate risks it faces is ontop of the list.

Paper and pulp industry are a multi-faceted sector that provides quite a wide range of raw material, diverse process stage and many different products. Pulp may be created from virgin fiber e.g. wood pulp or wheat straw by mechanical or chemical means or it may be produced by the repulping of recycled paper, Paper is effectively a sheet of fibers with and number of added chemicals, manufacturing of pulp and paper requires a large amount of process water and energy in the form of steam and electric power. Consequently, the issues associated with pulp and paper production are emissions to water, emissions to air and energy consumption.

A paper mill may simply purchase pulp made elsewhere but in integrated pulp and paper risks the activities of pulp and paper making if undertaken onthe same site.

Among other factors, low forest cover, old machinery in most of the existing units and shortage raw materials are discussed briefly here.

The condition of forest covers | Pakistan is derisory which just about 5.2 per centis only and the canopy cover counseled for any country is supposed to be greater than 20 per cent. Majority of these forests lie in the important catchment areas which, in any circumstances, cannot be felled. As such, the only trees available for paper [production are from agro-forestry.

Of all the factors responsible for the depletion of forest cover is the major one and that is 1.5 per cent. According to a report of IUCN if this rate of deforestation persisted then we will be having no forest cover after 16 years.

Population, as itis said, is one of the main rationales behind the depletion of forest cover. If itis so then why forest cover in China and India is not dwindling instead of escalating?

Afforestation can be helpful in upsurge the forest cover in the country. Yet again we are lacking two important resources, explicitly water and land, which are essential in this regard. Majority of the country is in Sub-Tropical Ecoregion where land is of Xerosere nature and drought prevails for most part of the year. And rest of the major part i.e. 6.2 million hectare which is about one-third area of the country, is facing the problem of salinity and waterlogging.

The planting of salt tolerant trees like Eucalyptus is the best step in this direction. Since it is a salt tolerant species even it can tolerate a pH of 10 so it will not only help in solving the problem but also it is one of the best species used in the production of paper.

Presently around 100 pulp and paper mills which are working in Pakistan cannot go through with the demands of the country. Of these, more than 70 per cent are located in Punjab province, 20 per cent in Sindh province and 10 per cent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Besides the machines are small and old having very low efficiency in most cases. The operating efficiency is just about 60 per cent.

In the case of US, if the operating efficiency of any machine comes below than 80 per cent, it is just closed down. The reason behind this is the proportionality between the cost and efficiency of the machine. Greater the efficiency of the machine, lower will be the costs and vice versa.

Written by: M.Z. RIFAT

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