Of all the tropical hardwood species - and perhaps all tree species - teak exudes a particular fascination, somewhat like gold among the precious metals. Appreciated for more than 2 000 years as an extraordinarily durable building timber in its native range in Asia, teak is now coveted worldwide. Its extremely good dimensional stability and aesthetic qualities have led to its use, for example, in shipbuilding, fine furniture and door and window frames.
Teak, native to India, Myanmar, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Thailand, has been introduced to numerous countries in tropical Asia, Africa and the Americas. However, management of the resource has not kept pace with demand, and supplies of teak wood from natural forests have dwindled. Today, harvesting of teak from natural forests is banned or severely restricted in all the countries within teak's natural range, except Myanmar.
Although teak plantations date back as far as 150 years in India and Myanmar, plantation establishment has accelerated over the past 20 years. Although teak plantations have demonstrated good potential, questions remain, particularly concerning feasible growth rates and environmental impacts (especially erosion). Nonetheless, in the future, plantations will probably be the most important sources of teak.
This issue of Unasylva considers the future for teak, with an emphasis on plantation management. In the opening article, D. Pandey and C. Brown give an overview of global teak resources and issues affecting their future outlook. Topics covered include ecology, management of natural forests, plantations, production and trade, policies and legislation and environmental issues.
With the decreasing availability of teak from natural forests, plantations are an increasingly important source of timber to meet the demand. B. Krishnapillay looks at the potential of teak as a plantation species, focusing on management strategies, ecological requirements and growth performance, with emphasis on the Malaysian experience.
As demand for plantation-grown teak grows, the private sector has increasingly become involved in plantations. Schemes for investment in teak have sometimes been based on unlikely growth and yield projections and unrealistic pricing scenarios. K. Balooni examines the growing importance of teak investment programmes in India and the obstacle posed by the unscrupulous practices of some companies.
K.H. Schmincke presents a positive example of private-sector planting in an article on the teak plantations founded a little over a decade ago in Costa Rica by Precious Woods. The enterprise seeks to respect the values of natural forests, biological diversity and social considerations along with its economic goals.
The growth in international demand has broadened the trad-itional teak supply base to include plantation-grown small-diameter logs, especially from Africa and Latin America. Côte d'Ivoire occupies first place among the new producers in terms of exports. G. Maldonado and D. Louppe analyse the choices made by Côte d'Ivoire with regard to teak production, relevant forestry policy and international trade.
C.T.S. Nair and O. Souvannavong summarize the emerging research issues in the management of teak in the context of changing management scenarios and increasing involvement of the private sector. The authors also examine institutional arrangements for research on teak, including networks such as TEAKNET and TEAK 2000.
To address inadequacies in knowledge of available technologies and potential yields, TEAKNET and FAO's Forestry Research Support Programme for Asia and the Pacific (FORSPA) organized a regional seminar "Site, technology and productivity of teak plantations in Southeast Asia" in Thailand in early 1999. The seminar, as summarized by T. Enters, assessed the current state of teak plantation management and identified strategies for its improvement.
Teak is also suitable for planting in integrated farming systems which can help farmers meet both their short- and long-term needs. A. Mittelman describes a Save the Children/US project which facilitated production of teak by smallholders in northern Thailand. The project helped farmers overcome constraints posed by laws restricting the harvest, transport and marketing of teak, a protected species in Thailand.
In the final article in this issue, stepping slightly away from teak, W. Killmann and L.T. Hong show how, through resolution of technical problems in processing and utilization and through effective marketing, rubberwood has become an Asian success story. This inexpensive wood, effectively an agricultural by-product, is now being used and marketed in many applications traditionally associated with higher-value, less available hardwoods such as teak.
Although this issue focuses almost entirely on a single species, many of the lessons that can be drawn from teak are relevant also to other tropical hardwood species such as mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), red cedar (Cedrela odorata) and rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo). All of these compete in high-value niche markets, have longer growing cycles than many softwoods, and present similar environmental concerns associated with harvesting from tropical forests.