Environmental Issues


Indiscriminate, unmanaged cutting has been the primary cause of clearance or degradation of most natural teak forests in Thailand, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and India. In Myanmar, the use of the Myanmar Selection System, or variants of it, should continue to help avoid controversy. Nonetheless, at least one recent consumer crusade in the United States has campaigned against buying Myanmar teak.

The increasing proportion of teak coming from plantation forests may avoid some environmental controversies - but sometimes attracts others. Teak is a pioneer species and as such is generally susceptible to competition from other plant species. Clearing undergrowth and debris may assist teak growth in the short term, but almost inevitably at the cost of longer-term site degradation. Practices that expose the soil to the elements, such as litter raking and excessive burning, may particularly exacerbate erosion and leaching problems in teak plantations, which tend to have wide tree spacing and are prone to leaf drip. In general, most of the environmental criticisms directed at teak plantations are the result of such inappropriate management techniques rather than irrevocable plantation characteristics. In some countries the abandonment of poor management practices has assisted in retaining site fertility.

Although not specifically targeted, teak plantations have been included in general anti-plantation campaigns which are based on the premise that plantations - especially single-species plantations (forest monocultures) - tend to have lower levels of biodiversity than natural forests and may also be more susceptible to catastrophic damage, especially from pests and diseases but also from wind, storms and fires. In a number of countries, mixed plantations are being established to provide better soil cover and stability, to increase biodiversity and to reduce commercial risks.

Certification of forest products has potential to affect teak products. Companies and countries supplying markets in Europe and North America, where the interest in certified forest products is highest, may find some form of certification for teak a cost-effective option for increasing market share. That teak is generally sold into high-value niche markets adds to the attractiveness and viability of the option. To date, the area of teak forests with internationally recognized certification appears relatively small, as suggested by the fact that plantation forests in general have been certified, according to standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council, in only four of the 35 countries currently known to be growing teak: Costa Rica, Indonesia, Panama and Sri Lanka.