As the rapidly increasing demand for teak timber creates ever greater problems, we want to provide a succinct overview of the issue.


The Teak tree (Tectona grandis) or just teak is a deciduous tree belonging to the labiate family (Lamiaceac)- a tall tree with a round crown that usually reaches a height of 25 to 35 meters. Under good circumstances, he has got a straight cylindric trunk of about 25 meters in lenght which in average is knotless up to 20 meters, with a width of 1,5 meters. The broad, elliptic leaves of the teak tree have a lenght of 30 to 60 cm. The heartwood is yellowish gray to brown, strongly water-repelling and predominatly resistent against mushrooms and other vermin.

The teak tree is native to south - and southeast Asia: India, Burma, Laos and Thailand. In India, teak is growing on an area of eight million hectars, half of it in the state of Madhya Pradesh. There are no data available for Burma. In Thailand, the natural area encompasses approximately three million hectars, whereas in Laos it emcompasses 70.000 hectars. Today, Burma is the only country in the world that is offering teak from natural forests.

Outside of this natural area, teak is planted on plantations throughout southeast Asia and in the entire tropical area: It was introduced to Malaysia between the 14th and 16th century [and], and to Africa (Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo) and Latin America (Argentina, Ecuador, Honduras, Trinidad) at the beginning of 20th century. Today, the reforestation areas of teak amount to 1,1 million hectars distributed over 36 tropical countries.


In recent years, there has been a veritable teak boom. The primary use of teak is its timber. Besides the high and knotless trunks, its specific characteristics determine the timber’s value. It can be easily processed and dries without ruptures and deflexion. Because of its natural oils, the timber is particularly resistant to weather influences and vermin. In former times, teak timber was mainly used for shipbuilding. Since colonial times, enormous amounts of teak timber have been plundered for these and other purposes in the forests of Thailand and India. As colonial masters, the Dutch cut down large areas of natural teak in Java and established teak plantations (as early as by the middle of 19th century). At present, teak is still used for shipbuilding, but it ismainly used for garden furniture and parquet blocks. Furniture stores, building trade stores, specialized stores and online business outbid each other with offers.

The production in plantations

Due to the drastic decrease of the teak population in natural forests and because of the increasing demand for teak timber, teak production almost exclusively comes from plantations. And the production on plantations will continue to soar; as for example in Brasil and Costa Rica, where gigantic new plantations have been established.

Besides Mahagoni, the teak tree is one of the few tropical timbers that can be planted in plantations, that is to say in monocultures, which lead to acceptable gains for investors. This can be explained by the tree’s high resistance against vemin.
With 5,7 million hectars of plantation area and a production of three million cubic meters each year, teak timber plays a minor role, making up for only three percent of the total volume produced on the 187,1 million hectars of timber plantations worldwide. Nevertheless, teak provides approximately 75% of the global offer of premium tropical plantation hardwoods. With a relatively high average price of about 600 USD/m³ (strongly depending on the age and quality, between 300 and 900 USD/m³), the business with teak is extremely profitable. Furthermore, no exotic wood grows faster than teak does: the medial annually increase (MAI) within well-managed plantations can average in 12 to 21 cubic meters per hectar and year, depending on the age of the trees. During the last thirty years, the prices for raw teak timber have increased with an average rate of 8,3% per year; last year they even went up by 15%.

Frequently promised returns of over 12 % lead to a growing interest in investements in ‚tropical forests‘, which are extremely profitable for investors. The loss of investors‘ confidence in the stock market after the gigantic losses banks suffered in the econmic crisis has increased the interest in real values, which can be seen and touched and which are also very long-dated and do hardly vary under the current circumstances. Such forest fonds, which systematically invest in teak plantations, for example in Costa Rica, provide an enormous incentive for the spread of such plantations.

Furthermore, their expansion is accelerated by new agreements on emissions trading. Additional timber plantations are established by companies respective companies for the specific purpose of storing the greenhouse gases they cause. In the year 2006, for example, the Nicaragua Precious Woods Holding Corporation, a private swiss forestry company, has sold certificates for savings of 175.000 tones of carbon dioxid to the BioCarbon fond. The savings are supposed to come from teak plantations, which are established on land that had formerly been private property . These ‚deluxe‘ teak plantations certainly are a particularly lucrative form of forestry. The notion that carbon dioxid emissions can be permanently stored in the forests is misleading and dangerous, considering the average turnover time of plantations of about 15 to 20 years and the strong dependence of the tree population on outside influences. The green house gases, which are emitted in return, remain in the atmosphere for centuries.

The argument of rainforest conservation is misleading

Das Argument, dass Teakholz aus The argument that teak timber from plantations is ecologically sustainable, because native rainforest are spared, vanishes into thin air if one takes a closer look at the plantations. Besides the deforestation of natural forests, plantations themselves can also cause severe ecological damages. Almost all teak plantations are established on former forest locations or on areas used for agricultural purposes. Primary forests are cleared for the establishment of plantations and a serious competitor for the growing of food emerges. These conflicts of interests over the arable land in turn lead to heavy pressure on the rainforest.

Monocultures are deserts of species

The establishment of big monocultures, which is identical with the growing of just one plant species, requires the use of [agricultural] pesticides and leaves no room for biodiversity. Teak, which is not native to most growing areas of the world and was imported as an invasive plant, is further limiting the natural diversity of these areas, since the strongly resistent and dominating teak tree replaces other natural species. In pure teak plantations, the plants usually growing at the bottom are missing, which leads to further limitations of the biodiversity and to massive soil erosions and deterioation of the soil quality. The teak boom has also led to an extreme overcultivation of plantations. A large proportion of the felling is carried out illegally but even with systematic forestry use, more timber is felled than grows again. The regular turnover time in plantations is about 70 to 80 years, in natural populations over a hundred years, but in most of the plantations today the average turnover time is about 15 to 20 years. The decreasing diameter of the harvested trunks over the past years is proof enough. This excessive use can only be called overexploitation.

Teak plantations contra human rights

Alongside these consequences for the environment, there are also massive social objections against the use of teak. The mostly parastatal forestry companies (especially in Indonesia, whose plantations are largely relicts from the colonial rule), that run plantations on the land of the population and communities, exclude the latter completely from the land and plantation use. The interests of the rural population are usually not taken into account. The competion for areas, where food can be grown, is drastically worsening the food supply in those areas. There are models making it possible for farmers to grow food in the plantations for one or two years, mostly corn and rice, if they undertake the plantation and maintenance of the teak trees. Afterwards, the forestry authorities again resume control of the areas. However, this cannot be called a socially responsible plantation system.

Indonesian teak plantations are officially labelled as unsustainable

Moreover, a large part of the logging is illegal: According to estimations, over 70% of timber is felled illegally in Indonesia. This ranges from illegal felling, timber theft, acquisition of felling rights through bribery and corruption to the expulsion of the local population.

The social grievances can best be exemplified by examining the case of Perum Perhutani, a forestry company supported by the state and seated on Java Indonesia, which is administrating a forest area of two million hectars and which is the most important supplier of teak timber for Europe and the United States. Perhutani is following the tradition of the former dutch colonial power, which had expropriated the local population and had started to grow teak on these areas. Thus, massive land right conflicts occur between the local population and the company, which was repeatedly associated with corruption scandals, violence and severe human rights abuses in the last decades. According to investigations by indonesian observers, Perhutani is responsible for the death of 24 humans in the last eight years.

Due to these grievances, Perhutani was denied certification for some of its plantations that were formerly certified with the PSC-logo. This virtually is an official recognition: IN THESE PLANTATIONS RUTHLESS EXPLOITATION TAKES PLACE!

When buying Javanese teak, the consumer is given the impression that he buys an ecologically justifiable natural product from plantations, which “are continously supervised and reforested by the Indonesian government”.

Burma-teak is illegal

In Burma, another problematic case becomes obvious: the local military government gains some of their revenues with the export of teak while the population falls victim to massive human rights violations. While at the beginning of the military government in 1962 approximately half of southeast-Asian country was timbered, today it only makes up one third of the total surface. To increase the profits, the military is plundering the forest reserves. The revenues serve as a means to oppress its own population. Burma’s rulers, for example, deploy slave commandos. No other country has more child soldiers than Burma - according to the accounts of human rights organisations at least 70 000. Thus, the EU has imposed a moratorium against imports of Burma-teak. Those, who trade with Burma-teak damage the country’s forests, enhance the oppression of the people and violate the EU moratorium.

It is also the responsibility of the consumer to avoid these production circumstances . In 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was founded, in order to put the consumers in the position to inform themselves about theses circumstances and to be responsive to them. The goal of this international and independent organisation is a sustainable use of forests, considering not only ecological but also economic and social aspects. Since its foundation, 48 million hectars of forest in over 60 countries have been certified according to the FSC- criteria. 24 of the 26 worldwide companies, which offer FSC-certified timber, are located in Middle- and South America, especially in Costa Rica and Brasil. In Indonesia and Burma, no FSC-certified timber is planted.

However, critical environmental organisations like PRO REGENWALD and Robin Wood caution even against the purchase of FSC-certified timber. On the one hand, they generally reject the certification of plantations by FSC, which defines itself as a ‚forest‘-certification organisation, and, furthermore, they point out to the unsustainable ecological and social grievances, which even occur in certified plantations. The advice of these organisation: it is much better to buy furnitures made out of domestic timber.

Recycled Teak

One needs to be cautious with the so called recycling teak, which according to the information given by the producers, is processed into new products out of old houses, ships and furnitures. Given the massive offer of recycled teak products doubts seem justified, as most of the suppliers did not undergo any inspection by independent institutions. According to insiders, there are numerous businesses on Java, which specialise in converting fresh teak into an antique-looking one.


The only reasonable alternative to teak products is the evasion to other hardwood. Oak and locust have qualities similar to those of teak, with the domestic oak being the most preferable alternative. In most cases less resistent kinds of timber can equally be used, as, for example, for the production of furnitures and parquet. Heat-treated, water-repellent timber, so called thermo timber, is also an excellent alternative to the application of teak in outside areas. Once in place, even conventional timber products, if they are occasionally maintained and situated in a dry environment, have an amazingly long lifetime.