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Teak resources in Thailand - Mr. Vichien Sumantakul and Mr. Suntud Sangkul

Vichien Sumantakul,

Silviculture Research Division, Royal Forest Department and

Suntud Sangkul,

Forest Industries Organisation

The teak stump production system in Thailand

1. Sowing teak seeds in a stump production nursery.

2. Covering seeds with soil.

3. Growing seedlings.

4. Harvesting 1-year-old seedlings.

5. Preparing teak stumps.

6. Bundling teak stumps for storage.

7. Stumps stored in a temperature and moisture controlled chamber.

8. Fully stocked chamber containing many layers of stumps covered with sand.


Rapid reduction of the forest area has reduced teak-bearing forest from an estimated 2,324,300 ha in 1954 to 1,880,700 ha in 1993. Causes of the deforestation include: hill tribe slash-and-burn activities; illegal land clearing and encroachment for agriculture; mining and construction of hydropower dams and reservoirs. Timber exploitation commenced in the mid 19th century. The Forest Department was established in 1896 and further exploitation was carried out under selective cutting and appropriate marketable size limits. A logging ban was imposed in 1989 after disastrous floods in 1988 were attributed to the loss of forest cover; log and lumber exports were banned in 1991. Wood production has declined from 1,820,000 m3 in 1983 to 65,000 m3 in 1993. Thailand imported 630,000 m3 in 1983, rising to 3,211,000 m3 in 1993. Production of local rubber wood is significant. Consumption has forced large-scale reforestation with the area expanding from 664,700 ha in 1988 to 806,900 ha in 1993 (a high proportion is with teak). The current Seventh National Economic and Social Development plan (1992-96) emphasises the efficient use of natural resources to serve agricultural production and to preserve resources for the future. It sets a forest conservation cover of 25% of the total area and designates15% as production forest. Natural forest expenditure is mostly directed to protection activities; constraints in conservation and production forests are identified and legislative action to encourage private sector investment in plantations is described. A subsidy attraction is provided to promote reforestation; teak plantings are encouraged. The Teak Improvement Centre was established in 1965 to improve seed quality for plantations; to date: 357 plus trees have been vegetatively reproduced in seed orchards at five localities. Some 1,120 ha of Seed Production Areas and 1,831 ha of seed orchards have been established. Micropropagation (tissue culture) techniques are being developed and may assist in plant supply. Teak exports from Thailand will cease for a long period.

Key words: Tectona grandis, Thailand, natural resources, plantations, seed, tissue culture, rubber wood, trade.


Teak in Thailand is found extensively in the north and stretches along the western border down to latitude 14°N, i.e. the whole range extends from 14°N to 20°31” N and west to east longitude 97°30”E to 104°30”E at altitudes between 100-900 m above mean sea level (Mahaphol, 1954). Teak was associated with other species in the mixed deciduous forest, which at that time was estimated at 9,297,300 ha. It was assumed that approximately one-fourth of the forest land was under teak, i.e. the teak-bearing area was 2,324,300 ha. A number of factors control the distribution and growth of teak, including rainfall/soil moisture, temperature, light, geographical formation, and soil conditions (Kaosa-ard, 1980).

Commercial teak exploitation was started in the mid 19th century by foreign companies (Borneo Co., Anglo-Thai Co., and Bombay Burma Co.). There were no regulations to control timber harvesting and the right to exploit forest areas was conceded by the local provincial suzerain. In 1896, the Royal Forest Department (RFD) was established to manage all forests in the country. Since then, timber exploitation has been carried out under the selective cutting system, on the basis of the growth rates of each tree species and its appropriate marketable size.

The tragic floods in the southern part of Thailand in November 1988 caused the Thai people to blame this calamity on deforestation and forest degradation due to timber exploitation. A complete logging ban over the whole country was introduced in January 1989 to protect the remaining forest resources and environment.

Activities in the agricultural sector are considered the predominant sources of employment of approximately 80% of the country’s total population, who are dependent on agricultural productivity and/or forest-based products for their living. The population increased from 26.4 million in 1964 to 58 million in 1992. The substantial addition become a burden leading to adverse inroads inflicted on the forests. More of this resource was destroyed to make room for agricultural expansion to supplement food production and to provide income to modernize living standards. Vast expanses of forest were destroyed by shifting cultivation and illicit timber cutting in recent years. Moreover, aspects of utilization and conservation of forests seemed in conflict with the manifest urgent need for the Government to re-order priorities on improving and increasing efficiency to sustain the remaining forest land in high productivity and provide the benefits needed by the people.

The Government launched the First Five-Year National Economic and Social Development Plan in 1962 to guide Thailand’s progress. It was succeeded by six subsequent Five-Year plans and the current Seventh Plan, (1992-1996) emphasizes the efficient use of natural resources to serve as an agricultural production base and to preserve the resources for the future. Forest resources have deteriorated greatly and have been encroached upon to a significant degree. The total land area covered by forests has dwindled to less than 14.4 million ha, or less than 28% of the total land area as a result of the strong demand for land for agricultural and other purposes, associated with the increased population growth. At the same time, the administration and management of forest resources has not kept pace with the above changes. The Seventh Plan has set an overall objective forest conservation target at 25% of the total land area. Major policy guidelines for the management of natural resources during the Seventh Plan period emphasize upgrading of the administrative and managerial capability of the sector to ensure that the natural resources will indeed serve as a basic means of livelihood of the rural people, and will remain as part of the national heritage for later generations, and as a foundation for sustainable development.


On December 3, 1985, the Cabinet approved a National Forest Policy that specified that of the total land area at least 40% (128 million rai or 20.48 million ha), should be forest cover; 15% should be kept as protection (or conservation) forest and 25% should be designated as production (or economic) forest. Subsequent Governments supported the 1985 National Forest Policy through the Sixth National Economic and Social Development Plan (1987-1991) that 40% of the country’s area would be reserved for forested land, three-eighths of which would be for conservation purposes and the remaining five-eighths would be allocated for production forest. However, information derived from LANDSAT-TM in 1989 indicated that the total forest area had shrunk to about 12% below the target. The National Research Council (NRC) has identified the following constraints to conservation and production forestry development in Thailand:

Conservation forests:

Production forests

In the Seventh National Economic and Social Development Plan (1992-96), the forest cover figures have been revised to 25% of the total land area for protection (watersheds, national parks, wildlife preservation sanctuaries) and 15% for production forest. Any land with a slope of more than 35% is designated as forest land. Under the Land Act, for land of this category, no title deeds or land use certificates shall be issued. To reach the 40% forest land target, the following strategies have been drawn up:

Major policy guidelines

Major policy guidelines for management of natural resources during the Seventh Plan period emphasize the upgrading of the administrative and managerial capability of the sector to ensure that the natural resources indeed serve as a basic means of livelihood of the rural people, and will remain as part of the national heritage for later generations, and as a foundation for sustainable development.

Following the National Forest Policy enacted in December 1985, and supported by the Seventh National Economic and Social Development Plan (1992-96), a Draft Forest Plantation Act was prepared and discussed at length in order to solve the legal problems constraining forest plantations by the private sector. This Draft was accepted by the legislature in February 1992. In principle, the new Forest Plantation Act provides that:

Management of forest resource

The management of forest resources includes guidelines and measures for the administration and management of forestry resources within and without the forest conservation zones as follows:

Guidelines and measures

The Guidelines and measures for administration and management of general forestry resources:


Due to the rapid rate of forest destruction in Thailand, the forest land in the northern part of the country was reduced to 7,523,100 ha (or 44%) of the total area by 1993 (Anon., 1993). Therefore, the teak-bearing forest was approximately 1,880,700 ha. Table 1 shows the diminishing area of forest land in 17 northern provinces of the country from 1982 to 1993.

Table 1. Forest area change in north Thailand, 1982-1993


Forest area in million ha

% of forest area*
















Source: Forestry Statistics of Thailand 1993.

* Total area 1982 = 169,644 km2

Compared to the total area of the whole region, the teak-bearing forest in Thailand is minimal. However, due to its high wood value, it is necessary to apply correct management practices to the remaining forest. Its volume is not known as it contains many age classes; nevertheless, in some logged-over areas the remaining teak trees have diameter size of less than 50 cm (Dhanmanonda and Sahunalu, 1992). The causes of deforestation can be attributed to: slash-and-burn practices by hill tribes; illegal clearing and encroaching for agricultural purposes; mining; and construction of hydropower dams and reservoirs (Yingvansiri and Sumantakul, 1990).

The total forest area of Thailand in 1994 was 26% of the country’s land area, while the National Forestry Policy aimed at 40% forest cover. Apart from the diminishing area, domestic wood consumption is also increasing. Table 2 shows apparent domestic wood consumption in Thailand.

Table 2. Apparent domestic wood consumption

(Unit = 1,000 m3)


Wood production



Apparent domestic consumption





























































Source: Forestry Statistics of Thailand 1993.

The increasing domestic wood consumption and the diminishing forest area has forced Thailand to consider initiating large-scale reforestation projects. Teak forest plantations were first established in Thailand in 1906 using the taungya system (Corvanich, 1993) but the area has not been substantially increased. Table 3 shows the development of plantation schemes and establishment objectives up to 1993, and Table 4 shows species recommended for short, medium and long rotations.

Table 3. Annual reforestation objectives

(Unit = ha)


From start to 1988







1. Re-afforestation by Government Budget*








2. Concessionaire's Reforestation








3. By Forest Industry Organization (FIO)**








4. By Thai Plywood Co.Ltd.** (TPC)








5. Reforestation According to Ministry's Regulations








6. Reforestation by Concessionaire Budget
















* Only Plantation Plan.

** Excluding Concessionaire’s Reforestation.

Source: Forestry Statistics of Thailand 1993.

Table 4. List of core species planted in production plantations

Short rotation 5-10 years

Eucalyptus camaldulensis,

Casuarina junghuhniana, Casuarina equisetifolia,

Rhizophora spp.,

Acacia mangium,

Leucaena leucocephala,

Acacia auriculiformis,

Bamboo and rattan species

Medium rotation 10-30 years

Pinus kesiya, P. caribaea, P. merkusii,

Melia azedarach,

Tetrameles nudiflora

Long rotations > 30 years

Tectona grandis,

Dipterocarpus alatus,

Xylia xylocarpa,

Pterocarpus marcrocarpus

Source: Royal Forest Department, Forest Industry Organization, Thai Plywood Company, Ltd.

As Thailand is rich in forest species, the list of species recommended for plantation programmes has increased to 53. Teak is a highly recommended species and its planting targets are clearly stated in the First and the Second National Economic and Social Development Plans as shown in Table 5.

Forest plantations were seen as an important component in the development of natural resources and in 1961, the forest plantation programme was first inserted into The National Economic and Social Development Plan and has remained in successive Plans. The forest plantation programmes in Thailand can be broadly divided into three main categories; i.e. production, conservation and rural community plantations. From 1986-1990, the average annual plantation objective was about 34,261 ha. This figure does not include Eucalyptus plantation. By comparing the average annual depletion of the forest area (306,000 ha) with the average annual Government plantation objective, it is seen that the deforested area is nearly 9 times larger than plantation (reforestation) area. These figures show that it would take at least 9 years to reforest the area of natural forest destroyed in one year.

Table 5. Forest Plantation Programmes in Thailand based on the National Economics and Social Development Plans

Plan No.

Plantation Programme

Target (ha)

Species Ratio

First Plan (1961-1966)


4,800 : 7,680 (Teak: Others)

Second Plan (1967-1971)


72,000 : 40,000 (Teak: Others)

Third Plan (1972-1976)


120,000 : 74,000 (Indust: Cons.)

Fourth Plan (1977-1981)


Not specified

Fifth Plan (1982-1986)


Not specified

Sixth Plan (1980-1991)


Area not specified but emphasis on private sectors and people’s participation

Seventh Plan (1992-1996)


Area not specified but emphasis on private sectors and people’s participation

Source: National Economics and Social Development Board.

Apart from the planting targets given above, the Royal Thai Government has approved a Reforestation Campaign proposal, promoted during 1994-1996 by the National Forestry Policy Committee to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of King Bhumipol Aduljadej’s Ascension (the Fiftieth Anniversary of His Majesty the King’s Ascension to the Throne). The target planting area proposed is approximately 800,000 ha. The Reforestation Campaign embraces the planting of forest trees in the following areas: 50,000 km along road and river sides, around school premises, Government offices and religious places, areas such as parks, recreation localities, dams and reservoirs and in existing deteriorated forests etc. Teak is one of the species whose planting is encouraged.


The remaining teak-bearing forests of approximately 1,880,700 ha are found in National Forest Reserves, National Parks, Forest Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, and other recreational localities, as well as in production forests. According to the Seventh National Economic and Social Development Plan, emphasis should be placed on the protection of the remaining natural forests. Therefore, only minor management activities will be applied to those areas. However, deteriorated forest areas require replanting.

To increase the teak resources of Thailand it is necessary to implement extensive teak plantation programmes and emphasis will be directed to both the government and private sectors. To facilitate the plantation of teak and other species by the private sector, the Royal Thai Government promulgated a Forest Plantation Act B.E. 2535, on 1 March 1992, which removed constraints hindering private sector teak plantation development.

With the intention to attract more attention from the private sector and small farm holders, the Government is willing to pay a subsidy of up to US$780 per ha within 5 years to the tree planters without conditions. This measure is expected to stimulate interest. The forest area of Thailand, and of course teak planting, will be encouraged and expanded by the scheme. The promotion of reforestation is activated by the government through the Royal Forest Department.


The Teak Improvement Centre (TIC), which was established under a bilateral agreement between the Royal Thai and the Royal Danish Governments in 1965, has been the key institute to facilitate the supply of superior teak seed for plantations. The TIC is located in the Mae Huad Teak Plantation, Ngao, Lampang Province, in northern Thailand. Keiding (1965) described its main objectives as follows:

The notable successes resulting from the establishment of the Teak Improvement Centre for superior seed procurement from 1965 to 1994 are summarized by Piyaphan (1995) as:

Seed production per tree is low from both seed orchards and seed production areas (less than half a kilogram per tree) and research on increasing seed production is planned.

Seed production at present remains far below the total seed requirement. Annual production is approximately 20 tons per year, (13 tons from seed orchards and 7 tons from seed production areas), while the total requirement is estimated at: 112, 126, 137, 148 and 164 tons per year during 1994-98 (Suangtho and Kaosa-ard, 1993). However, micropropagation techniques of teak which have been developed by the Teak Improvement Centre and can help produce supplementary improved planting materials for the planting programmes.


Thailand was once classified as a major timber-producing country with rich forest resources. The net effect of illegal logging, ineffective forest management, expansion of agriculture and livestock breeding, and shifting cultivation, accompanied by the continuously increasing demand from wood-based industries, has resulted in a timber scarcity. Currently, Thailand has to import logs, sawnwood, and other resources from neighbouring countries to meet the domestic demand, which has turned Thailand from a timber exporting to an importing country. After the Government banned all logging operations in over 300 forest concessions in January 1989, the supply of domestic timber ceased. As a direct impact of this decision, numerous sawmills had to close down because of the log shortage. This also affected the plywood and veneer industries, who now have to rely mainly on imported logs and have therefore cut mill capacity to as low as 50-60%.

Thai teak had been continuously exploited from natural forests since before the establishment of the Royal Forest Department (18 September 1896) and it is recorded that export earnings were second only to rice for many decades. After heavy exploitation for many years, production has been substantially reduced. However the imposition of a logging ban in 1989 prohibiting teak harvesting from natural forests, except from areas with land titles, as well as from dams and reservoir construction, has sharply reduced the teak harvest. Records indicate that the amount of teak harvested during 1989-93 was 23,857, 10,835, 1,890, 350 and 2,967 m3 respectively (Anon., 1993). Exports of teak logs and lumber have not been allowed since 1991, except in the form of processed products or veneers.

In a great reversal, teak log and lumber imports amounted to more than 200,000 m3/year as raw material for export products, as well as for domestic consumption (Moonrasarn, 1992). Statistics of the Royal Forest Department indicate that Thailand imported 169,472 m3 of teak logs and 19,531 m3 of sawn timber in 1993.


Deforestation levels and forest resource depletion in Thailand have been relatively low since the introduction of a complete logging ban in January 1989. Income from the forestry sector has declined to 0.15% of real GDP from an average of 0.20% in the five previous years. It appears to have had a minimal downstream effect on the overall economic performance.

The growth in wood-based industries remains strong, supplied by the import of logs and sawn wood from neighbouring countries. Furthur, plantation replacement of old rubber clone trees on 320,000 ha will yield some 20 millon m3 of log volume; this can fill the demand of raw material for wood-based industries in the coming years. Because of difficulties with raw material supply to the plywood industry, the demands for panel products, as particle board and fiber board, have increased relative to the decline in the plywood industry.

Regarding the regional impact, the sudden demand on a large scale for sawlogs and sawnwood as raw material supplied to wood-based industries and for housing construction in Thailand, has led to wide over-exploitation of logging in neighbouring countries. Recently, Lao PDR announced restrictions on log exports (but not on processed sawnwood) to create local jobs and added value to forest resources. Myanmar has also tightened controls by raising both fees and infrastructure requirements from foreign concessionaires. The future of Cambodia’s abundant forest resources is still unclear because of the political uncertainties which create a powerful deterrent for uncontrolled logging in resistance-held areas.

Thailand must significantly concentrate her funds and energies on sustainable management policies in addition to effective protection programmes to preserve the Kingdom’s forest resources.


Anon. 1993. Forestry Statistics of Thailand 1993. Data Centre, Information Office, Royal Forest Department.

Corvanich, Amnuay. 1992. Teak in Thailand: Past Experience and Future Prospects. Proceedings: Seminar on 50 years of Huay Tak Teak Plantation. 5-8 August 1992. Royal Forest Department (Thai language).

Dhanmanonda, Pricha and Pongsak Sahunalu. 1992. Research on Natural Forest. Proceedings; Seminar on 50 years of Huay Tak Teak Plantation. 5-8 August 1992. Royal Forest Department (Thai version).

Kaosa-ard, Apichart. 1980. Teak (Tectona grandis Linn.f.), I. Natural Distribution and Related Factors. Technical Paper No. 9, Teak Seed Centre, Ngao, Lampang. Mimeograph. 19 pp.

Keiding, H. 1965. Aim and Prospects of Teak Breeding in Thailand: A Programme of Work for the Thai/Danish Teak Improvement Centre at Mae Huad Teak Plantation. National History Bulletin, Siam Society. Vol. 21.

Mahaphol, S. 1954. Teak in Thailand. Paper No. R.16. Royal Forest Department. Ministry of Agriculture. 30 pp.

Moonrasarn, Suriyan. 1992. Thailand’s Teak: Import and Export 1982-1991. Proceedings; Seminar on 50 years of Huay Tak Teak Plantation. 5-8 August 1992. Royal Forest Department (Thai version).

National Economics and Social Development Board, Plans No. 1-7 (1961-1996). Office of the Prime Minister, Bangkok, Thailand.

Piyaphan, Pirash. 1995. Teak Improvement Programme. Proceedings: Training Course on Application of Genetic Markers in Silviculture and Forest Gene Conservation in Thailand, 20-27 February 1995. Bangkok, Thailand. FAO/UNDP RAS/91/004 (FORTIP) (being printed).

Suangtho, V. and Kaosa-ard, A. 1993. Forest Tree Improvement in Thailand. Proceedings: Second Project Advisory Committee Meeting. 24-29 October 1993. Manila, the Philippines. FAO/UNDP RAS/91/004 (FORTIP).

Yingvansiri, T. and Sumantakul, V. 1990. Country Report: Thailand. A paper presented at Regional Workshop on Improved Productivity of Man-made Forests Through Application of Technological Advances in Tree Breeding and Propagation. 10-14 July 1990. FAO-RAPA,Bangkok, Thailand. Mimeograph, 32 pp.

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