Timber: the incredible wealth of Myanmar's forests
With 658,000 km2, Myanmar is a large country, larger than France for example, and the largest continental landmass in South East Asia. Its geography is defined in one word: diversity. It lays between the Indian subcontinent on the West, the Himalayan mountains in the North, and (mainly) China on its Eastern borders. The Southern side of Myanmar delimitates most of the Gulf of Bengal, on the Indian Ocean. In term of biodiversity, it would be hard to rival such an intense confluent of vastly different tropical climates! Myanmar is the Eastern entrance of South East Asia, in other words, it is the true Indo-China…
As far as forestry is concerned, geography is all important. The diversity of climates is magnified by the range of elevations that can be found all around Myanmar: the Yoma range in the West, the Himalayas in the North, and the Shan plateaus in the East. Let’s not forget that we’re right in the middle of the Northern tropics, and we realize that with its two seasons regime (wet and dry), tropical forests of Myanmar are set to be one of the most rich and diverse on planet Earth.
And so Burma, as it was once called, abounds with forests, full of various tropical trees... When they planned to extend their empire beyond India, the British were not motivated by philanthropic goals. It is well documented that they needed vast resources of timber to maintain and expand their Navy, a key condition to their world domination. They fought three bloody wars to control Burma in 1824–26, 1852 and 1885. One of earliest government body, established in 1856, was The Burma Forest Department.… So what were they after, exactly?
Well, let’s start with “padauk” (scientific name: Pterocarpus macrocarpus), a tree that is particularly common in Myanmar’s low-land deciduous forests (that shed their leaves). Its wood is durable, insects resistant and used universally in Burma, perfect for furniture, construction, cart wheels, tool handles. It’s so deeply linked with Burmese culture that its flowers, blossoming around Buddhist new year, are one of Myanmar national symbols.
And then there is the “Burmese rosewood” (Dalbergia oliveri), an abundant but extremely valuable tree for its hard, tough, red lumber used in ornamental work including woodturning, musical instruments, veneers and furniture.
These two species, particularly attractive to Chinese industry, have been almost logged to extinction in Myanmar… It is estimated that, since 2000, 490,000 m3 were imported by land through Yunnan province, which embodies China’s land border with Myanmar.
And last but not least, the King of Timber, the most sought after hardwood in the Word, which price after processing commonly reaches US$50,000 per m3: Burma teak (Tectona grandis). There are teak trees growing West of Myanmar in in India, or East in Laos and Thailand, but they don’t offer the same physical properties as “Burma Teak”. This is what we meant when mentioning the unique geography that shapes the tropical forests od Myanmar. Teak played a very significant part in the domination of Earth’s oceans by His/Her Majesty’s navy! Nowadays, the remaining forests are logged by traders who search the last trees, some of them several centuries old, from which will be made the decks of the most exquisite yachts, property of modern billionaires.
Producing timber is the best way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it durably, so timber is good. But it must be sustainable. ACRE Myanmar promotes sustainable timber alongside the re-plantation of new tropical forests, in close cooperation with