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Teak in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic - Department of Forests

Department of Forests

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao PDR.

Small scale teak planting work by farmers in Luang Prabang province, Lao PDR.


Teak is one of the country’s most valuable timber species. The natural teak stands are a continuation of the teak forests of Myanmar and Thailand covering 10,000 ha in Xayaboury Province and 6,000 ha in Bokeo Province - approximately 15% of the total forest area. Area and stocking have been rapidly depleted due to population pressure, shifting cultivation and forest fires. Teak is found discontinuous in the Mixed Deciduous Forest. Forest management is one of a selection system (Modified Uniform System) with felling by quota; casual felling is prohibited. The system is intended to convert the forest through clear felling by stages, encouraging regeneration, and retaining high quality immature trees. Later, defective trees are felled with thinning of dense saplings carried out and bamboo (especially) cut back. Harvesting is carried out by the State Forest Enterprise, controlled by the Department of Forestry and only old logs from past felling and by shifting cultivation are taken; annual harvest is some 500 m3, however harvesting does not take place every year. Teak plantations of 6,250 ha were reported but the real area is only about 2,500 ha. Teak plantations are raised by taungya, with Government assistance of subsidised seedlings. Important plantation activities are weeding and thinning. Increment figures are reported. A Teak Improvement Center is established dealing with selection and propagation of plus trees and clonal seed orchards. The Government has a strategy to rehabilitate 1,999,000 ha of natural forest and establish 41,000 ha of plantations during 1993-2000.

Key words: Tectona grandis, Lao PDR, natural forest, taungya, teak improvement.


Lao PDR is a mountainous land locked country of 236,800 km2 bordered by China and Myanmar to the northwest, Vietnam to the north and east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. The population was estimated to be 4,170,000 in 1990 and increases about 2.9% per year.


Natural teak forest

Teak (Tectona grandis) is one of the most valuable timber tree species. As the price of teak is relatively high and its supply is limited, the species has been introduced into large scale planting programmes in countries in the tropics. In Lao, the natural teak forest occurs throughout the north west and these stands are a continuation of the teak forest of Myanmar and Thailand where the ecological conditions are similar. The natural teak forest covers an area of about 14,000-20,000 ha in Xayaboury Province (west of the Mekong river on the Thailand border) and 10,000 ha in Bokeo Province (east of the Mekong river). Because of the rapidly increasing population in the shifting cultivation communities and associated forest fires, both the stock and area of natural teak forest have been rapidly depleted. At present the remaining natural teak forest is approximately 10,000 ha in Xayaboury Province and 6,000 ha in Bokeo Province - about 15% of the total forest area of Lao.

Teak in Lao is mostly found in Mixed Deciduous Forest associated with the species of bamboo and genus, Lagerstroemia, Hopea, Dipterocarpus and Shorea. The teak distribution pattern is discontinuous and bamboo may interfere with the natural regeneration and distribution pattern. Teak trees may be found scattered individually or in groups forming pure stands. The teak forests in the Paklay District, Sayaboury Province are at 18°05'N latitude and 101°05'E longitude at altitude 250 m. The climate is seasonal, rainy from April to October and dry November to March. The maximum rainfall is in July and August with 373.4 mm; the minimum is in January and February; the annual average is 1,035 mm. An average temperature is 24-25°C.

Teak plantations

Teak plantations have been established in the south since 1942. These plantations are of interest to local and international organizations especially those concerned with forestry development projects. Most teak plantations were established using the taungya system of combining with agricultural crops, such as upland rice, maize, sesame, pigeon pea, etc., which are cultivated between teak trees. This system is popular with farmers as it is easy to maintain activities as weeding with the agricultural crop. The reported teak plantation area had been 6,250 ha of which 1,140 ha were established before 1976. However, inquiries in the provinces and field checks concluded that the real planting area was only about 2,500 ha in total (survey by Forest Inventory and Management Office, 1991). Among about 30 different tree species, nearly 50% is teak as shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Proportions of tree planting areas and species in Lao PDR

Species in:

Estimated area

Scientific name

Local name



Tectona grandis

May Sack



Pterocarpus macrocarpus

May Dou



Afzeleia xylocarpa

May Theka



Eucalyptus spp

May Vick



Alstonia scholaris

May Tinpet









Note: The latest estimate of teak plantations in 1995 is more than 5,000 ha.

Growth in teak plantations

Table 2 shows that the annual increments in height, diameter at breast high, and basal area are fastest in the initial stage up to about 25 years. As the plantation ages, these increments gradually decrease. It should be noted that these collated, presented figures represent different plantations on different sites with different treatments; conclusions on growth are therefore uncertain. The clear reduction in increment from age 35 years can probably, to some extent, be explained by poor maintenance and lack of thinning operations. Observations made during field visits to some of these plantations confirm the impression that thinning has been neglected.

Table 2. Teak increment over the period of 1-40 years age

Age class (years)









Height increment (m)









DBH increment (cm)









Basal area increment (cm2)










It is expected under the Government policies that shifting cultivation areas must be reduced and replaced by teak. The Government encourages farmers to participate in teak planting by providing teak seedlings at subsidised prices. Farmers are also encouraged to establish nurseries for self supply of seedlings and for sale. Current demand by farmers to establish teak plantations is very high.


The forest area of Lao has gradually been destroyed. The estimated forest area in 1940 covered 70% of the total land area. By 1973 the estimated forest area dropped to 54%, and by 1981 the estimate further dropped to 11.2 million ha or only 47% of the total land area. During the 1960s, the forest was mainly destroyed by the war which devastated a great quantity of flora and fauna. These areas are still dangerous to access and bomb splinters in trees have reduced their value. There is further decline and in the last ten years the forest area is still being destroyed by shifting cultivation. In summary, the main causes of deforestation and degradation of natural forest in Lao are recognised primarily as: the intensified shifting cultivation, forest fires, commercial exploitation, illegal logging, rural use and war damages.

Forest areas are under a heavy pressure by encroachment and shifting cultivation by people lacking alternatives for survival. It is estimated that at present there are 277,000 families (1.6 million people) practicing shifting cultivation. Some 300,000 ha of forest land are used in this farming system, of which some 100,000 ha is cleared for the first time. There may be a net reduction of forest area of 0.42% annually. If half this area has a forest cover of commercial value, a loss of 10 m3/ha of very conservative value of US$50/m3 shows that there is an annual loss of US$25 million.


The current Government policies and objectives relate to the need to reduce shifting cultivation and control deforestation. The policies on the utilisation and management of natural resources were reviewed at the first National Conference on Forestry, held in Vientiane in May 1989. The forest conservation, development strategies, and targets adopted to the year 2000 were to:

1. Protect the biological resources of existing forests and to develop and rehabilitate these resources, especially by improving the forest management and protection system presently operating.

2. Effectively maintain the economic utility of the forest resources and to ensure forest utilisation to appropriate use.

3. Link reforestation, forest protection and other forest development programmes to the creation of fixed locality settlements and food supply needs of the upland people, especially of those living in the northern region.

To achieve these goals the Government has directed activities to:

Strategic plan for forest plantation/rehabilitation during 1993-2000

Targets areas are shown in Table 3. The plan operates through district plans; each district has to arrange nursery establishment to provide teak seedlings to farmers - and to encourage farmers to establish their own nurseries. These farmer established plantations will be their own property and farmers have the right to sell produce and to transfer them to their younger generations. Further the government has to increase people’s awareness of forest protection, particularly in older fallow or secondary forest.

Table 3. Targets for forest rehabilitation and plantation establishment (Unit: 1,000 ha)










Forest rehabilitation



























Total areas: Forest rehabilitation 1,999,000 ha; Plantation 41,000 ha


A number of constraints affect the management of the natural teak resource. There is a limited knowledge of natural forest rehabilitation, silvicultural, forest management and protection techniques. There is also an urgent need to establish standard permanent sample plots to monitor forest dynamics, growth and yield prior to and after harvesting. The rate of deforestation, or severe degradation of cutover forest in production areas is not known.

Management of natural teak forest

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry limits the felling of teak by quota, as teak is a prohibited species. Felling is controlled by the Department of Forestry and at present harvesting is the collection of old logs in the forest from past felling, and from shifting cultivation areas. Collection is done by the State Forest Enterprise, which has its own concessions including teak stands. The average annual collection of teak logs is 500 m3 but cutting of teak does not take place every year. Some attempt is made to ensure teak regeneration; management of teak stands is by silvicultural management.

Selection system

Mature or defective trees are cut, often improvement felling follows, i.e. trees shading teak are removed.

Modified uniform system

This method aims to convert natural forest to uniform stands through clear felling by stages to induce natural regeneration. Two or three years before treatment, bamboo suppressing teak advance growth is felled and burnt. Teak is logged in September/October; mature trees are logged and groups of fast growing and high quality immature trees are retained. Later treatment involves thinning of dense groups of saplings, felling of defective trees, climber and bamboo cutting as soon as it is necessary; bamboo especially must be restrained.

Management of teak plantations

Weeding: This activity is essential to the successful establishment of teak plantations and must be carried out until teak is large enough to self suppress weeds. In taungya teak establishment, weeding is done at the same time as rice (or crop) weeding and thereafter for three or four years, depending on the site situation. In plantations, weeding takes place generally three times in the first year, twice in the second year and once or twice in the third year. Weeding includes several activities as climber cutting, removal of double leaders, removal of bamboo and cutting of Imperata grass at ground level.

Thinning: Thinning practices are an essential tool of teak plantation management. Both mechanical and selection thinning are utilised. Mechanical thinning aims to remove about 50% of the stems as a first thinning; in later selection thinning - in effect a silvicultural thinning - this removes trees with harmful impact on their neighbors depressing their growth; defective, i.e. topless, malformed, diseased and bent trees, etc. A 22 year old plantation thinning in Xayaboury Province yielded the information of Table 4.

Table 4. Thinning data (before/after) from a 22 year old teak plantation, Xayaboury Province

Thinning data

Site Quality 1

Site Quality 2





Number of trees thinned/ha





Average dbh (cm)





Volume/ha (m3)





Net volume to be cut (m3)



% in volume to be cut



Mean annual increment (MAI) (m3)




A Teak Improvement Centre was established at Keng Ben, Luang Prabang Province in 1991 and commenced work in 1992. The objectives of the improvement programme are to:

Activities include:

Selection of plus trees: Plus trees have been comparatively selected on: growth (height and diameter), stem quality, straightness, clear bole, wood qualities and health etc. These trees are located in plantations in Luang Prabang Province.

Propagation of plus trees: Selected plus trees were propagated vegetatively by bud, bark and cleft grafting. The easiest is bud grafting; the buds (scions) can be grafted on stock either in field conditions or onto one year old nursery stumps. The most suitable time is February-April and success in this time can be 95-100%. Scions are collected by climbing plus trees, removing branches and these are quickly transported to the Centre for grafting; material is carried in moist bags with protection from the sun at all times.

Clonal testing: Clone tests were established at 3 × 3 m to investigate relative performance of the selections with regard to characteristics as: growth rate, form, flowering, pest resistance, etc. Results will guide later genetic thinning.

Teak clonal seed orchard: All selected plus trees were vegetatively reproduced and planted in line clone plots at 6 × 6 m spacing. Future expectations are a superior gain in volume production compared to that of stands established from natural teak forest seed.


Logging in natural forest

Logging of commercial timber in the natural forest is primarily carried out by: the State Forest Enterprise, Provincial Forest Enterprises and as well by some private and military organizations. Reliable production data are not available but legitimate registered operations may produce 250,000-300,000 m3 of logs per year. Apart from these, there are illicit logging operations by encroaching farmers and logging companies who are estimated to produce 10,000-150,000 m3 per year. The majority of the logged volume is supplied to domestic forest industries and fluctuating amounts for log exports to Thailand, and Taiwan and Japan through Vietnam.

The current situation of forest industry and trade

The forest industry provides an important contribution to the economy of Lao PDR, e.g. for 1989 it is estimated that 42% of the export earnings were generated by the forest sector. A sound development of the sector is of great importance for the economic development of the country as a whole.

Before 1989 teak logs were from the natural teak forest in Sayaboury Province, of which some 10,000 m3/year were exported to Thailand. This year in 1995, 5,000 m3 of teak production from the thinning operations in plantations and felling in natural forests is expected. The main part of this quota is exported for use in luxury production of sawn wood, veneer, plywood and furniture. The volume of the quantity exported is difficult to quantify on account of illicit trade, confusion with transit logs and a cumbersome and complex monitoring system.

The export of logs and timber products to countries other than Thailand and Vietnam has a freight disadvantage of about US$65/m3, so exports are internationally not competitive. However, exports to northern Thailand and southwest China provide commercial opportunities.

Government forest policy has stressed the need to develop in the country a wood processing industry to supply both domestic needs and to export, with as much value added as possible. However, in July 1989, export and resource tax initiatives in combination with Government statements on the role of forestry (as expressed at the first National Forestry Conference in May 1989) put more emphasis on conservation and rehabilitation than on economic utilisation.


These include the allocation of forest land, both bare and forested, to local people on a household basis to manage and protect. The real effect of this policy is that local people receive security of land tenure, allowing them to use it for a long term and to transmit this inheritance to the younger generation. Hence, they are willing to protect “their forest” and their land.

This establishes an important task for the forestry unit at local levels. The Forest Enterprises or other forestry units will act as the servicing units for the local people. The servicing includes both the support of technical assistance in extension techniques for farming, forest and fruit tree planting, seed and fertilizer supply, etc., and also a marketing servicing in buying the agricultural and forest products of the people. The District Protection Unit must send an officer to work directly in the commune, in charge of forest management and protection at this level. Policy results expected are: 1) good quality forests; 2) quality seed collection for plantations; and 3) to encourage the Provincial Governments and their agriculture and forestry offices in future practical work.

However, it is considered that more practical field training for the forestry officers and technicians is needed for the extension work of teak forest in the provincial and district levels.

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