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Chapter 24. Southeast Asia

Figure 24-1. Southeast Asia: forest cover map

The subregion consists of the countries of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam[40] (Figure 24-1).

Forests of Southeast Asia are known for their high biodiversity, arguably among the greatest in the world. They have been the subject of much international attention over the past decades.

The subregion is a major player in the tropical timber trade. Meranti timber from the dipterocarp forests and teak from Java, Myanmar and Thailand are among the better-known tropical timbers of the world. Plantation forestry is widely practised; the teak plantations of Java and the rubber plantations of Malaysia are prime examples. Special management systems for tropical natural forests have been developed in the subregion.


The quality and age of data differ among countries, as do methodologies. For some countries forest cover has been estimated separately for different parts so data quality and age can differ considerably within a country. This requires adjustments to put all the data on a common basis.

Brunei Darussalam's data are based on a survey made in 1979 using aerial photos and ground surveys. This data set is kept up to date through internal reporting. Data for Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand are based on remote sensing. The Lao People's Democratic Republic data are rather old (reference year 1989). The estimate for East Timor is based on 1985 data for Indonesia and the change estimate given for that country. Indonesian data for the Kalimantan, Maluku, Sulawesi and Sumatra provinces are based on remote sensing (1985 and 1997). Estimates for Java, Bali and Nusa Tenggara have been calculated using 1985 data and the rate of change estimates made from them. East Timor has been excluded from these analyses. For Malaysia, separate data sets for Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak were used to generate the estimates. The data sets are of varying age. Secondary sources were also used for Sabah and Sarawak since the original methodologies were unclear. Singapore's data were a sample survey of its forest area. For Viet Nam, secondary sources were used.

Table 24-1. Southeast Asia: forest resources and management

Country / Area

Land area

Forest area 2000

Area change 1990-2000 (total forest)

Volume and above-ground biomass (total forest)

Forest under management plan

Natural forest

Forest plantation

Total forest

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha

000 ha


ha/ capita

000 ha/ year




000 ha


Brunei Darussalam














17 652

9 245


9 335









East Timor

1 479













181 157

95 116

9 871

104 986



-1 312






Lao People's Dem. Rep.

23 080

12 507


12 561










32 855

17 543

1 750

19 292







14 020



65 755

33 598


34 419










29 817

5 036


5 789







6 935
















51 089

9 842

4 920

14 762









Viet Nam

32 550

8 108

1 711

9 819









Total Southeast Asia

436 022

191 942

19 972

211 914



-2 329






Total Asia

3 084 746

431 946

115 847

547 793










13 063 900

3 682 722

186 733

3 869 455



-9 391






Source: Appendix 3, Tables 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9.
*Partial result only. National figure not available.
The countries of the subregion vary widely in size, population and economy. Forest cover and its annual rate of change also vary widely, typically as a function of country size. Most countries have forest cover of at least 50 percent (Table 24-1). East Timor, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam have forest cover ranging between 20 and about 30 percent. Singapore has the least forest cover of the subregion with only 3 percent.

The total annual reduction of forest cover is greatest in Indonesia and Myanmar (Figure 24-2). In fact, new evidence from Indonesia indicates an annual loss of 1.8 million hectares per year (Indonesia FLB 2001), an increase of 500 000 ha over the present estimate. The only country with a positive forest cover change is Viet Nam. Brunei Darussalam and Singapore have annual change rates of zero or close to zero.

Biomass, in terms of both volume and tonnes per hectare, is somewhat lower than in tropical moist Africa and America and far lower than the international average. The reason is unclear but it should be noted that countries with the lower figures are generally countries with large areas of degraded forest.

Plantation forestry is important in the subregion. Indonesia, Thailand and Viet Nam have the largest forest plantations. Rubber (Hevea spp.) is the most common species. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand together have an area of about 7 million hectares planted to rubber. Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand have a long tradition of raising teak (Tectona grandis) in plantations and these cover more than 2.5 million hectares in those countries. More recently, acacias (particularly Acacia mangium and A. mearnsii) have been planted to supply fibre for pulp mills. Some 5 million hectares are planted to miscellaneous broad-leaved species. Except for pine on Java, softwoods play a modest role.


Three of the 11 countries and areas in Southeast Asia provided national-level information for FRA 2000 on the forest area covered by a formal, nationally approved forest management plan (Table 24-1). Malaysia reported that 14 million hectares of forest, or 73 percent of its total forest area, were covered by a formal plan. Singapore reported that all of its forest area (approximately 2 000 ha) was covered by a plan. The Philippines reported that forest management plans covered a total area of 6 935 000 ha of forestland, equivalent to 120 percent of the area classified as forest according to FRA 2000. It was confirmed that some plans included areas which were not classified as forest by FRA 2000. Indonesia, which has the largest forest area in the subregion, did not provide national-level information, but partial information was available in the form of the forest area which had obtained third party certification by the end of 2000. Information was unavailable from Myanmar where old working plans were in the process of being substituted by District Management Plans. These plans had yet to be approved at the time of reporting. Forest management practices and policies were undergoing change in Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic and Viet Nam and updated information was not available at the time of reporting.

A recent ITTO study (Poore and Thang 2000) thus reported that Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar were among the six ITTO tropical producer countries which appeared to have established all the conditions that make it likely that they can manage their forests sustainably.

Forests are generally State-owned. Different concession systems are used, ranging from long-term leases to logging permits for specific compartments. The subregion has long been a major supplier of tropical wood, a position it still holds. Logging early last century was very selective and restricted to accessible areas. Well into the century trade was restricted to high-quality speciality timbers. Extraction levels were modest and harvesting was done using manual methods. The environmental impact was low (Walton 1954). After the Second World War, technical advances were made in wood preservation and in the use of concrete, metal and synthetic materials for construction. These advances largely eliminated the advantage of natural wood durability. However, the market for general-purpose timbers improved, fuelled by economic development. The decades following the Second World War also saw the introduction of mechanized harvesting. The natural forest resources have been increasingly depleted, while greater reliance for timber production is now placed on plantation forestry.

Figure 24-2. Southeast Asia: natural forest and forest plantation areas 2000 and net area changes 1990-2000

Forestry in Brunei Darussalam is strictly controlled and conservation plays a prominent role. Management and silvicultural systems have been developed. Production forests account for 65 percent of the forest estate, and the rest enjoys some form of protection.

In Cambodia, concessionaires are required to develop and follow management plans. However, no information on the size of the area actually covered by forest management plans was provided. There is a code of practice for harvesting. Protected areas make up about 18 percent of the land area. A framework for sustainable forestry practices is currently under development.

In Indonesia, colonial forest management is focused on Java. Large-scale forestry on the outer islands started upon the passage of forest legislation in 1967 when concessions were introduced. Three management systems have been developed for natural forests on the outer islands but the polycyclic TPTI (Tebang Philih Tanam Indonesia - the Indonesian Selective Cutting and Planting System) dominates. Java has teak and pine plantations with a long management history. In the early 1980s fast-growing species were introduced to provide the pulp and paper industry with raw material. Some concessions, called HTI (Hutan Tanaman Industri), have been granted where natural forest is to be replaced by plantations. Protected areas account for 44 percent of the forested area. A new Forestry Act was passed in 1999 to substitute the previous 1967 Basic Forestry Law. Recent years have seen much reorganization of the forest authorities in Indonesia, a process that has yet to be concluded. The role of local communities in forest management is receiving increasing encouragement. Forest fires are a serious concern at present, as is illegal logging.

Large-scale forestry started rather recently in Lao People's Democratic Republic. A forestry law, passed in 1996, emphasizes popular participation. Concessionaires are required to develop and operate under management plans. However, few plans exist today and there are no national guidelines for management plans. The most common form of management is selective cutting. A framework for sustainable forest management in the concessions is under development. Plans for the development of plantation forestry envisage a major community forestry component. Protected areas cover 12.5 percent of the national area. Encroachment by shifting cultivators and wild fires are constraints.

Malaysia is a federation of 13 states (including Sabah and Sarawak) and two federal territories. Forests are State-owned. Every state has its own forest department. The forest departments of Peninsular Malaysia are organized with a central department. Sabah and Sarawak have their own departments. Forest policy aims at maintaining a sustainably managed permanent forest estate while maximizing the social, economic and environmental benefits of the forest. The country has a long and impressive history of research and development in forest management. At present the Selective Management System (SMS) is used in Peninsular Malaysia. SMS prescribes a set of procedures used to determine the best silvicultural course of action for areas to be logged (Appanah and Weinland 1990). The management system in Sabah is a modification of the monocyclic Malayan Uniform System (MUS). Sarawak employs a polycyclic system based on selective logging. Considerable efforts are made to control logging damage in natural forests. Some 5.8 million hectares enjoy some form of protection. In plantation forestry, the country is best known for its rubber estates. Plantations of fast-growing species have been established in Sabah and Sarawak to supply raw material for pulp mills.

In Myanmar, a new forestry law was passed in 1992. A forest policy was formulated in 1995. The policy focuses on socio-economic, development and ecological stability. The State-owned Myanmar Timber Enterprise (MTE) is responsible for harvesting and marketing timber. MTE is engaged in a number of joint ventures with the private sector. Forest management dates back many years. The country is known for a classical selection system for management of natural forests of teak, formulated in the late 1800s, which is still in force. The taungya system for regenerating plantations was formulated in Myanmar. A programme to modernize management plans at the district level is in progress, which explains the lack of information on area of forest under approved plans. Protected forests make up 1.1 percent of the land area. Illegal logging along national borders is a problem. Illegal shifting cultivation is common.

A 25-year master plan for the forestry sector was adopted by the Philippines in 1990. The plan stipulates a mixture of management modes (community, private and State). Logging in virgin forest is not allowed, nor is logging of second-growth forests on steep terrain. The country has suffered a rapid depletion of timber stocks since the 1970s. The focus of management has now shifted from timber production to protection and rehabilitation. Popular participation is encouraged, and management plans are required. Some 2.7 million hectares of forest land are protected. Export of logs and lumber is not permitted. Fires and illegal logging occur. Policies to promote sustainable forestry have been implemented, e.g. through tax incentives.

Singapore's forests are mostly protected. Forests are managed under general environmental legislation. Forests are State-owned. Management chiefly relates to the needs of urban forestry. The major threat to the forest is their use for recreation. There are programmes to create more green corridors.

Thai forestry is regulated by the Forest Act of 1941, the National Park Act of 1961, the National Reserved Forest Act of 1964, the Wildlife Reservation and Protection Act of 1992 and the Forest Plantation Act of 1992. Current forest policy was adopted in 1997. The policy is based on a forest sector master plan. The master plan is implemented through local plans using a bottom-up approach. Earlier focus on harvesting has largely been replaced by protection. All forest is State-owned. The latter half of the last century saw a major depletion of forest area. Plantation forestry is on the increase. Popular participation in forestry is encouraged. A complete ban on logging in natural forests was introduced in 1989. Teak plays a major role in both natural and plantation forests. Eucalypt species have recently been used to rehabilitate degraded forests. It is a national goal to have 40 percent of the country in forest; today's cover is 25 percent. Protected areas (National Parks, Forest Parks and Wildlife Conservation Areas) cover 16 percent. Fire, encroachment and illegal logging are serious problems (Thailand RFD 2000).

The current forest legislation in Viet Nam was adopted in 1991. Forest land shall be allocated to organizations, households and individuals for long-term use following formal procedures and the issuing of land use certificates. The allocation of forest land shall be carried out taking into account: the availability of forest land in different localities; and the management and investment policies and projects to be approved by the competent State authorities. Popular participation is central to the national forest policy. The industrial plantations programme is another important component of forest policy. The programme aims at establishing 5 million hectares of plantations by 2010. The plantations are to meet economic demand as well as environmental concerns. Forests under State agencies are required to have management plans. Large tracts are not owned by such agencies, and may or may not have management plans. Silvicultural focus is on plantations and rehabilitation of natural forests. About 4.8 million hectares are protected in one form or another. Many protected areas are small and have been established rather recently. Shifting cultivation, encroachment and fire are problems. Timber exports are banned.


Brunei Darussalam has a very modest annual reduction of forest cover. Forestry is strictly controlled and the country enjoys a high standard of living. Patches of forest will probably continue to be lost for infrastructure and housing development projects. The establishment of plantations may well outweigh these losses.

Information on forest cover in Cambodia is of high quality and acceptably up to date. It appears that the rate of loss of forest cover has slowed from a rather high rate during the 1980s. Forest degradation, however, remains a serious problem.

There is uncertainty about the data for Indonesia. Data published since these estimates were made (Indonesia FLB 2001) suggest a higher rate of forest cover loss. There are some questions and concerns as to how the new data were derived, but the situation in Indonesia remains serious.

Data from Lao People's Democratic Republic are probably quite reliable. The problem is their age. The most recent data are from 1989. National data suggest that forest degradation is serious.

Malaysia has separate data for Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. Secondary figures had to be relied on and periods between surveys were quite long (10 years for Peninsular Malaysia, 25 years for Sabah and 20 years for Sarawak). The secondary data are probably reliable. However, extrapolation over such long periods may have caused the rate of forest cover loss to be overestimated.

Data from Myanmar are up to date and probably reliable. Myanmar has a high annual loss of forest cover. Forest degradation is also serious.

Data sets for the Philippines are rather recent and compatible. Reliability can be regarded as high. Loss of forest cover is high for the subregion, 1.4 percent per year. Innovative management initiatives to arrest this development are under way.

No major change in forest cover for Singapore should be expected. The "greening" policy and urban forest management programme are interesting examples for other large cities.

The period between the data sets of Thailand is long, 17 years, but it is unlikely that this has led to overestimation of annual forest cover loss. Interesting rehabilitation and reforestation initiatives are under way.

Viet Nam is is the only country in the subregion with a annual increase of forest cover. Data are secondary but of rather recent date. Establishment of plantations helps offset annual losses of natural forest cover in the range of 30 000 ha.

Data on forest cover for the countries of the subregion are generally of high quality and reliability. For many countries there are compatible data sets. Age of information is of concern for some countries, particularly East Timor and Lao People's Democratic Republic. Long periods have sometimes passed between inventories in some countries, particularly Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Secondary sources have been consulted for East Timor, Malaysia and Viet Nam, and these may be less reliable.

For a number of countries forest degradation seems to be a far more serious problem than outright loss of forest cover.

Some provision has been made for protected areas in all countries but there is currently no estimate of effectiveness.

The subregion may cease to be a major exporter of large logs from natural forests, since accessible natural forests have mostly been depleted. The region has also undergone rapid economic development and there is a growing domestic demand for forest products. Forest industry has expanded during the last several decades and now includes major pulp and paper mills.

Plantation forestry is being practised on an increasingly large scale to relieve the pressure on natural forests. Large plantations exist in the subregion and many countries have major afforestation programmes. It will, however, take some time for plantations to replace natural forests as a source of raw material. In the meantime, appropriate use and management of natural forests will be crucial. Natural forests in the subregion are State-owned. There is no longer an abundance of heavily stocked natural forests to rely on.

Common issues of concern include illegal logging, forest fires and encroachment. Stakeholder participation, alternative ownership systems, resolution of land use conflicts and rehabilitation of degraded forests have started to play a more important role in forest management.


Appanah, S. & Weinland, G. 1990. Will the management systems for hill dipterocarp forests stand up? Journal of Tropical Forest Science, 3(2): 140-158.

Indonesia. Forest Liaison Bureau (FLB ). 2001. Statistics on deforestation in Indonesia. Source used by FLB: Center for Data and Mapping, Planologi Agency, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (2000).

Poore, D. & Thang, H.C. 2000. Review of progress towards the year 2000 objective. Report presented at the 28th Session of the International Tropical Timber Council ITTC(XXVIII)/9/Rev.2, 24-30 May 2000, Lima, Peru. Yokohama, Japan, ITTO.

Thailand. Royal Forest Department (RFD). 2000. Forestry statistics of Thailand 1999. Bangkok, Data Center, Information Office, Royal Forest Department.

Walton, Y.K. 1954. The regeneration of dipterocarp forest after high lead logging. Empire Forestry Review, 33(4): 338-344.

[40] For more details by country, see

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