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6 Potential for the expansion of the areas planted with teak

This potential must be analyzed country by country. Statistics shows that, in some countries, teak planting is just beginning, while others have made important progress in the last decade.

First, teak availability must be analyzed. Up to 1995 there were 70.85 millions/ha of plantations of approximately 100 forest species, in 89 countries (78 of them located in the tropic and 11 in the sub-tropics). About 57.5% of the total area hardwoods, and 42.5% softwoods. Also, 79% of the total area was planted with white woods (eucalyptus, pines and others). Teak is the only specie of fine dark wood being planted massively (2.25 million/has). As the international market will face mainly a supply of white woods, a dark wood like teak will have little competition (Pandey 1997).

All natural teak forests and 93.7% of the 2.25 million/has planted with teak are located in Asia and the Pacific, 3.1% in Africa and 3.2% in Latin America. Central America has 43,010 ha, or 1.9% of the total area planted in the world, and 86% of the area of Latin America. Furthermore, other species planted in quantities in the region are pines, eucalyptus and Melina (Gmelina arborea). Some dark wood native species are being planted in small scale or, in some instances, at the experimental level. In marketplace teak can be a substitute for valuable dark hardwoods from natural forests for furniture and decoration panel uses.

Wood price is another factor that determines the expansion of these plantations. Up to date, teak prices show growing trends in real terms and this motivates to continue expanding the planted areas.

Specialists predict a decrease of teak supply from Asian natural forests. Therefore consumption of teak from plantation will increase. Price of timber and lumber from plantations could rise steadily in the future (Keogh 1997b). All this could increase the interest of the farmers and investors to plant teak.

Strong international critiques for the high deforestation rates in tropical countries, and the political clout of environmentalist movements, support the belief that well managed forest plantations are the alternative to native forest wood supply.

It has been estimated that at least 100,000 ha more could potentially be planted with teak in Central America: 25% located in Guatemala, 25% in Nicaragua, 20% in Costa Rica and 15% in El Salvador and Panama. With a rotation period of 25 years, these countries could be harvesting 5,720 ha/year or, approximately 1.43 million/m3/ of roundwood.

6.1 Costa Rica

Costa Rica has developed technological packages for establishment and managing teak. In the best sites, under intensive management plans, in rotation from 20 to 25 years, the specie has an a MAI of 20 to 25 m3/ha/year. It is foreseen that well managed plantations will produce a total volume of 15 - 20 m3/ha/year, and 10 - 15 m3/ha/year of commercial industrial volume. These results, obtained in the last decade, have stimulated large scale planting.

Teak expansion in Costa Rica will depend from the availability of financial resources that originate from two sources:

The US$600/ha paid for the environmental services generated by forest plantations to society, in terms of carbon sequestering, soil protection, water cycle regulation and scenic beauty, permits the farmers to invest on this production system, where capital recovery comes in the long term.

Several facts affected foreign investments. First, the 1995 Bosques de Puerto Carrillo’s bankruptcy. Although the main reasons was that the industrial investment was made before enough timber was available for the sawmill, it brought discouragement. In 1996 Flor y Fauna was the subject of a strong international critique for the data on stands growth and financial performance they reported to its investors in the Netherlands. Several authors considered it unrealistic data.

During 1997 the European stock exchange market had an attractive performance, reducing the interest in reforestation projects, that some considered of high risk. For these reasons, the yearly-planting rate between 1996 and 1998 decreased. Foreign companies that planted teak have reduced their expansion expectations to 2,000 - 3,000 ha during the next 2 - 3 years.

Also, as part of the public policies for resource conservation, the use of the natural forests for the sustainable wood harvest is being continually limited. Right or wrong, these guidelines tend to reduce the number of species, and many of the species permitted to be exploited can be classified as white woods.

In fact, the great question is if the national market will continue to appreciate teakwood. The answer is that as long as the supply of natural forests dark woods continues to be limited, local users will purchase teak. Today there are pilot experiences that show the buyers acceptance of teak products.

However, the determinant factor in present and future consumption of teak will be the price. At present, teak logs traded at local level reached prices of US$140 to US$165/m3 at the mill yard. This price doubles the price of the woods classified as "semi-duro"[5] , and it is below the price of fine species such as cristóbal (Platismiscium pleiostachum) and ron-ron (Astronium graveolens), both "precious hardwoods". Their timber is priced at sawmill yard between US$260 to US$290/ m3 (CCF 1998a, b).

Although teak reached the highest price of all species used in construction, it is also true that the limited quantity of natural forest wood supply leaves, as principal alternative, teak for interior decoration and furniture.

At the international market level, the big question is how Costa Rica’s wood will compete with Asia and African plantations. This leads to the necessity to produce a very high quality for the export market. Producers will have to locate market niches that pay for wood quality.

6.2 Panama

Panama is second in area planted with teak. Three areas have expansion potential: the South of Veraguas Province, the East of Panama Province (currently used for cattle-raising), and the south-west of the Darién Province (in national lands, or properties currently dedicated to cattle-raising). The principal problem for teak expansion is land price (US$1,000/ha). A policy that favored land prices increases is the reforestation incentive. As it covers 100% of the expenses, including land, it started a speculative price spiral, and nobody is interested in checking it (Morán 1998).

6.3 El Salvador

In El Salvador the plantation expansion has good possibilities; there is area available and domestic and international demand, which can motivate the farmers to plant. It is not guaranteed that the expansion will be with teak. Teak is one of the most criticized species for being exotic and its leafless appearance in the dry season. As it has been planted at 2m x 2m, no vegetation grows under the canopy, favouring erosion in steep slopes.

However, there are good reasons to use teak widely in reforestation programs (Zambrana 1998):

Long drought periods cause very attractive wood streaking. In teak, this is a favourable element, as the specie to be used in those sites, which are difficult for other species that require a shorter dry season.

6.4 Guatemala

As the country still has vast areas of broadleaf and coniferous forests, reforestation moves at a very low pace. The only project that has anticipated the expansion of teak areas is ECOFOREST S.A. with its Atlantic Coast plantations, close to Puerto Barrios.

As current natural forests timber supply the national markets, planting trees have little attraction for farmers or investors. But now, the Forest Law anticipates incentives for those who plant trees.

6.5 Nicaragua

The economic crisis does not favour reforestation as an economic land use alternative. Farmers do not have capital to invest in this long term, where most of the investment is in the first years. The lack of reforestation incentives does not favor the expansion of the planted areas in the near future.

The Forest Law is being revised by the different sectors, including incentives for reforestation. However, this law will not be approved before 1999 (Tellez 1998). The Exchange of Cattle-Raising Debt for Forests, a program of the Ministry for Agriculture, could stimulate reforestation. This program is just beginning, but it is a good opportunity to plant teak.

Land prices and reforestation costs are lower than in other countries and opportunities to plant teak does exist.

6.6 Honduras

In Honduras reforestation is its infancy. The experience is with plantations of Pinus caribaea. Broadleaf trees have been planted at experimental level. It is estimated that, in the short and middle terms, there will not be interest to plant with teak.

6.7 Recommendations

In addition we recommend the following:

1. To create a Central American Teak Growers Association with the purpose to exchange experiences in the three main aspects of successful plantations: selecting sites, selecting vegetative material, selecting the best silvicultural program.

2. Top invest in a Central American genetic improvement programme, with the development of seed orchards, clonal orchards, seed production and clonal plant production.

3. To publish a bulletin of the Central American Teak Growers Association to inform themselves and the public in general.

4. To develop a portfolio of project profiles for joint ventures with foreign capital. The region would provide land, local technicians, labor and the foreign investors’ capital, technology and industry funding.

5. Associate the Central American Teak Growers Association with the Teak 2000 initiative in order to open a channel for technology transfer and joint ventures.

6. Training of people in the industrial aspects of teak production: sawmilling, drying, wood processing, marketing, etc.

7. To begin with the promotion of the product Central American Teak as a joint venture of the Central American Association of Teak Growers.

Interest the bilateral cooperation, CIFOR, foreign and national universities to develop and execute a research plan for teak cultivation, yield modeling and financial modeling.

[5] In Costa Rica hardwoods are classified by hardness (hard, semi-hard and soft).

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