Natural teak forests in decline
Natural teak forests grow in only four countries in the world: India, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. In 2010 their combined area of natural teak forest was estimated at about 29 million hectares (ha), almost half of it growing in Myanmar. Myanmar is the only country that currently produces quality teak from natural forests — India, Lao PDR and Thailand have bans on logging in natural forests or on log exports in place.
According to the survey, natural teak forests declined in area by 385,000 ha globally, or by 1.3 percent, between 1992 and 2010. Substantial declines have been particularly notable in Laos (down by 68,500 ha), India (down 2.1 million ha), and Myanmar (down 1.1 million ha). In Thailand, a complete ban on logging in natural forests introduced in 1989 may have contributed to the recovery of natural teak forests, which are reported to have increased by 2.9 million ha, according to FAO's report.
"Although there is no better up-to-date information on teak resources available at the moment, data provided by the survey must be handled with care," said Walter Kollert, FAO Forestry Officer. "It is difficult to obtain precise figures on teak forest loss, because teak trees do not grow in pure stands in nature. Natural teak forests are mixed deciduous or tropical evergreen forests which have a share of teak of between 4 and 35 percent."
Planted teak - a globally emerging forest resource
Teak is one of the most important and valuable hardwoods in the world, and planted teak forests have attracted large private sector investments in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a result, the planted teak area has increased in Africa (Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania), Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama), South America (Ecuador, Brazil) and Asia (India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos).
"Although the time until trees reach harvestable dimensions is comparatively long and on average takes between 20 and 80 years, teak planting serves local communities as a savings account and in the long run helps smallholders improve their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their children," added Kollert.
Genetic resources conservation is needed
In the future it can be expected that sustained production of teak logs from natural forests will be further limited due to continuing deforestation and competition for environmental services, according to Kollert. "Supply trend points to a continuing decline in the volume and quality of natural teak, which results in progressive loss of genetic resources. This is why it is essential in the near future to plan, organize and implement a programme for the genetic conservation of native teak resources in the four countries with natural teak forests," he stressed.
Global teak market trends
Asia holds more than 90 percent of the world's teak resources, and India alone manages 38 percent of the world's planted teak forests. The major teak trade flows worldwide are directed towards India, while its own considerable teak production is processed within the country. Eleven out of fourteen reporting countries named India as their number one importer, absorbing 70 to 100 percent of global teak exports, including shipments of plantation logs and sawn timber from Africa and Latin America. Myanmar, India and Indonesia are expected to maintain their market position on premium quality teak though this market is limited by supply.