Teak (Tectona grandis) is one of the world's premier hardwood timbers, rightly famous for its mellow color, fine grain and durability. It occurs naturally only in India, Myanmar, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Thailand, and it is naturalized in Java, Indonesia, where it was probably introduced some 400 to 600 years ago. In addition, it has been established throughout tropical Asia, as well as in tropical Africa (including Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the United Republic of Tanzania and Togo) and Latin America and the Caribbean (Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Trinidad, Tobago and Venezuela). Teak has also been introduced in some islands in the Pacific region (Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands) and in northern Australia at trial levels.
Although teak logs harvested from native forests, principally in India and Myanmar, are major contributors to the global timber trade as well as to domestic markets, the supply of forest logs from these countries is becoming progressively restricted. In Thailand, harvesting of teak, along with other native forest species, has been prohibited since 1989, while in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, supplies have been severely constrained pending a reassessment of harvest potentials. Thus in long-established and substantial markets for teak products, such as Thailand, Singapore and China, there is major concern regarding the future supply of teak. Plantations are an important potential source of timber to narrow the growing gap between supply and demand for teak.
The durability and workability of teak was recognized many centuries ago, leading to its relatively widespread distribution and cultivation throughout the tropics. Today, teak ranks among the top five tropical hardwood species in terms of plantation area established worldwide.
Although teak plantations date back as far as 150 years in India and Myanmar, plantation establishment has accelerated over the past 20 years. Teak plantations have demonstrated good potential. With the decreasing availability of teak from natural forests, plantations are an increasingly important source of timber to meet the demand. In the future, plantations will probably be the most important sources of teak. As demand for plantation-grown teak grows, the private sector has increasingly become involved in plantations.
The lessons that can be drawn from teak are relevant also to other tropical hardwood species such as mahogany (Swietenia Macrophylla), red cedar (Cedrela Odorata) and rosewood (Dalbergia sissoo). All of these compete in high-value niche markets and present similar environmental concerns associated with harvesting from tropical forests.
Properly done teak plantations are socially and environmentally beneficial in addition to being very profitable.