Chasing Mirages

Tag: silviculture

Blood lumber: Burmese teak

by on Aug.18, 2011, under Quickies

On the 8-hour bus ride from Kalaw to Bagan, I kicked myself every time I saw a truck loaded with enormous tree trunks sail by because I never had my camera ready to capture a photo.  Thankfully, several hours into the trip, a chance arose that even my sloth-like reflexes couldn’t ruin.  A stretch of the highway several kilometers long was lined on both sides with stack after massive stack of gargantuan logs.  I’m not a botanist, but I’ll take a wild guess that these were Burmese teak.

I was witness to a tiny link in the supply chain that involves one of the most heart-breaking disasters in natural resource management history.

Teak is an amazing wood.  It is naturally termite-proof and waterproof, which makes it perfect for high-value applications such as boat decks and structures that are built to last.  In Bagan, I saw centuries-old doors, beams and sculptures made of teak that are still in perfect shape.

Teak is a resource that should be put to good use – it would be a shame not to – but it is a far greater shame to squander these precious trees by destroying their forests indiscriminately, such that they are no longer a renewable resource. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in Myanmar.

Sadly, the country known as the “land of teak” since colonial times will be completely teak-free within 10 years if clear-cutting continues unchecked.   I wonder what will be going through the logger’s mind as he cuts down the very last teak tree in Myanmar,  surrounded by barren hillsides dotted with stumps.  My guess : “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m kinda hungry.”  Even worse, profits from exploitation of this natural resource mostly go to fund weapons purchases and line the pockets of foreign resellers, rather than to the people of Myanmar who have lived among these trees for countless generations.

So when all you richie riches are buying your teak-decked sailboats, ordering your custom-made teak furniture and building your self-designed teak mansions, please diligently investigate the source of the wood and make sure that it did not come from Myanmar/Burma and that it was harvested from a sustainably managed teak plantation.

Note: Read this book chapter by Raymond Bryant for a detailed discussion on the bloody history of teak harvesting in Burma.

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