History of Teak Plantations

Apart from the introduction of teak in Java, Indonesia, the first teak plantation was started in 1680 in Sri Lanka. Teak planting in India began in the 1840s and increased to significant levels from 1865 onwards. Teak plantations using the "taungya" method, in which a forest crop is established in temporary association with agricultural crops, were initiated in Myanmar in 1856 and in Indonesia around 1880.

Teak was first introduced outside Asia in Nigeria in 1902 (Horne, 1966), with seed first from India and subsequently from Myanmar. Planting in what is now eastern Ghana (formerly Togoland) started around 1905 (Kadambi, 1972). A small plantation of teak was established in Côte d'Ivoire in 1929 from plantation-grown seeds obtained from Togoland.

The first teak plantation in tropical America was established in Trinidad and Tobago in 1913 (Keogh, 1979) with seed from Myanmar. Planting of teak in Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica started between 1927 and 1929.

Statistics on the historical progress of teak plantation establishment are incomplete, but it is clear that up to 1950 the major area under teak plantation was in Java, Indonesia, with about 300 000 ha. There was a gradual increase in the area of teak plantations through the 1950s and 1960s to an estimated 900 000 ha in 1970 (Kadambi, 1972; Tewari, 1992). The pace of teak planting further accelerated in the late 1970s, mainly as a result of financial support provided by external donor agencies. The total area of teak plantation increased to 1.7 million ha in 1980 (Pandey, 1983) and 2.2 million ha in 1990 (FAO, 1995). More than 90 percent of the 1990 total was located in Asia.

In Myanmar, the area of teak plantations, the first of which may have been established about the year 1700, is estimated to be 139,000 ha, making plantations an important supplement to supplies from native forests.

Establishment of plantations in India commenced in 1842. From that year until 1862, more than 1 million teak plants were raised for plantation development. The area planted is now about 980,000 ha.

In Thailand, pioneer plantations of teak were established from 1906, and teak plantations currently cover approximately 159,000 ha. Thailand has a very heavy dependence on imports of plantation-grown teak for its rapidly growing export-oriented furniture manufacturing industry. This industry employs approximately 400,000 people, is responsible for export earnings of approximately US$400 million and since 1945, in conjunction with Scandinavian designs and manufacturing techniques, has done much to popularize teak furniture on a global basis.

Teak plantations in Indonesia are largely located in Java and currently exceed 700,000 ha. Teak was probably introduced into Java in the fourteenth century, although some reports suggest that its introduction may have been as early as the seventh century. Harvests from Javanese teak plantations today support a rapidly expanding furniture manufacturing industry, the products of which are increasingly directed to export markets. Production of teak occurs in two sectors: one is a free market and the other is controlled by a State enterprise company, Perum Perhutani. Perhutani's teak production and processing activities are well organized and extensive, involving the provision of planting stock, consumable inputs such as fertilizers, and specific advice to assist landholders with the establishment and management of their teak plantations. In return for these inputs, Perhutani is granted the rights to the logs harvested from the areas concerned. Management of teak plantations in Java, Indonesia, is mostly controlled by Perum Perhutani, a State enterprise company, which assists forest farmers in return for the rights to the logs harvested from the areas concerned.

Cultivation of teak in Malaysia is a relatively new undertaking. The total areas planted in peninsular Malaysia and Sabah are estimated to be approximately 2,000 ha each (Asian Timber, 1996; Tee, 1995). Until recently, it was widely believed that teak grew best in the drier states in the north of peninsular Malaysia and it was not promoted in other parts of the country which are hotter and wetter. However, results from those areas now indicate that they are equally suited to the production of teak, and this has generated considerable interest in the establishment of teak plantations on a large scale. The establishment of teak plantations in Malaysia is being actively promoted by the Department of Forestry, the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), the Federal Land Development Authorities, other government agencies and the private sector. These commercial planting programs aim to achieve mean annual increments of 8 m3 or more per hectare per year. Developments are occurring on an industrial plantation scale (>100 ha) as well as on small holdings. Small holder planting is being vigorously promoted as an enterprise requiring low labor inputs and offering potentially high returns.

Elsewhere in Asia, teak has been established in Bangladesh (~73,000 ha), Sri Lanka (~38,000 ha), China (~9,000 ha), the Philippines (~8,000 ha), the Lao People's Democratic Republic (~3,000 ha), Nepal (~2,000 ha) and Viet Nam (~1,500 ha).

In Africa, teak has been established in plantations in Nigeria (~70,000 ha), Côte d'Ivoire (~52,000 ha), Sierra Leone, the United Republic of Tanzania (~3,000 ha) and Togo (~4,500 ha). Plantations of teak are also widespread in the tropical Americas, where it was introduced early in the twentieth century. Teak plantations now cover an estimated 33,000 ha, spread mainly across Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela and Ecuador.

In the Pacific region, teak was introduced by the Germans to Papua New Guinea in the early 1900s and some 3 500 ha of plantations were subsequently established. Plantation teak was also introduced to Fiji and the Solomon Islands. Teak has also been planted in northern Australia at trial levels.

Although it is widely planted, plantation-grown teak has not, until recently, had a significant impact on supplies of industrial roundwood in the global timber trade except for some short-term log exports from Papua New Guinea and Ecuador.

1 The source for all plantation area figures in this section is FAO, unpublished data.