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| Forest management |

According to the definition made by ITTO, International Tropical Timber Organization, Sustainable Forest Management reads " The Process of managing permanent forest land to achieve one or more clearly specified objectives of management with regard to the production of a continuous flow of desired forest products and services without undue reduction in its inherent values and future productivity and without undue undesirable effects on the physical and social environment".

Forest Management in Myanmar developed over centuries. Myanmar Kings formulated a complex system designed to maximize revenue and control. The teak trade was controlled by regulating extraction from the forest under a system of girdling, and Myanmar's involvement in the teak trade predated that of the Europeans. From at least the 17th century, southern Myanmar exported locally built teak ships. Systematic forest management was initiated in 1856. Until recently, the guiding principles had been derived from a policy document prepared in 1894. Now, they are enshrined in the Myanmar Forest Policy 1995. The current policy recognizes the six imperatives:
  1. Protection of soil, water, wildlife, biodiversity and environment;
  2. Sustainability of forest resources to ensure perpetual supply of both tangible and intangible benefits accrued from the forests for the present and future generations;
  3. Basic needs of the people for fuel, shelter, food and recreation
  4. Efficiency to harness, in a social-environmentally friendly manner, the full economic potential of forest resources;
  5. Participation of the people in the conservation and utilization of the forests; and
  6. Public awareness of the vital role of the forests in the well-being and socio-economic development of the nation.
The policy is guided to meet the above aims:
  1. To gazette 30% of the total land area of the country as reserve forest and 5% under a protected area system;
  2. To introduce a system of environment pricing based on the " polluter pays" principle to compensate for environmental and ecological degradation
  3. To pursue a sound programme of forest development through regeneration and rehabilitation operation to optimize productivity from natural forest;
  4. To recognize that plantation forestry is not a substitute for natural forest management;
  5. To promote efficient harvesting and sustainable utilization of all forms of forest produce; and
  6. To enlist people's participation in forestry sector development activities in order to provide " people-based development" and also create public awareness and mass motivation for the protection and conservation of forests.
The principles of Aims and Guidelines above are indispensable to Development of the Myanmar Selection System (MSS).

What is MSS ?
Dr. Dietrich Brandis arrived in Myanmar in 1856 to take charge of the Bago Forests. He drew up the first Working Plan for Bago ( formerly known as Pegu). Based on ring counting and observation of trees of known age. He calculated that it took 24 years for teak trees between 4'6" gbh ( 44 cm dbh) to 6'0" gbh ( 58 cm dbh) to become yield trees of 6'0" gbh ( 58 cm dbh ) and over. Accordingly he prescribed that 1/24th of the number of yield trees should be cut annually.
Note: "gbh" stands for Girth at Breast Height and dbh stands for Diameter at Breast Height.

The number of yield trees were estimated by Brandis from linear valuation surveys. This silvicultural system forms the basis for the management method known as The Braandis Selection System, which was modified into Myanmar (Burma) Selection System in 1920. As teak was the only the commercial species at that time, management aws designed to favor only teak. In later years, management of other commercially important species was also considered. By 1920, the approved working plans covered 11183 square miles ( 28 964 square kilometer) with almost all the plans prescribing Myanmar Selection System ( Later to be referred as MSS ) with Improvement Felling (IF) The IF was classified as O ( old) and Y ( young) felling according to the size of the crop to be assisted. Recording of teak trees 4'0" gbh ( 39 cm dbh) left standing at the time of girdling in each compartment was initiated in 1922. This provided a reliable basis for calculating the future yield and it was decided that future working plans would be based on these records.

Selection of teak trees for exploitation under MSS
Under the MSS-Myanmar Selection System, a Felling Series is divided into 30 blocks of approximately equal yield capacity. Each year, selection fellings are carried out in one of these blocks and the whole forest is therefore worked over in the felling cycle of 30 years. Under this system when felling becomes due, all marketable trees which have attained a fixed exploitable girth are selected for cutting. The fixed exploitable girth varies with the type of forests. In good (moist) teak forest, the girth limit at breast height ( 4'6'' or 1.3 M above the ground) is 7'6" ( 73 cm dbh); and in poor(dry) forest 6'6" (63 cm dbh). Unhealthy trees that have not attained these sizes but are marketable, are also selected for cutting if they are unlikely to survive through the subsequent felling cycle. If seed bearers are scare, some high quality stems are retained as seed trees. Mature teak trees selected for exploitation are normally girdled and left standing for 3 years before being felled and extracted. This is to season the timber and make it floatable , since most of logs are required to be transported by floating down the streams and rivers. However, in accessible areas mature teak trees are sometimes felled and extracted green. With regard to girdling teak, Brandis ( 1986) stated that " this excellent practice, as a matter of course, I maintained, but one of the many battles I had to fight during my Indian career was against those who condemned this practice as useless, as barbarous, as injurious to the timber, and likely to damage the reputation of Burma Teak, while others describe girdling as the outcome of German Theories. In reality it was an old Burmese practice, to which the good reputation of Burma was mainly due."

In the selection of natural teak trees for girdling or green felling, the compartments selected are first checked and the boundaries repaired. Each compartment is then combed along the contour and all teak trees 4'0" gbh ( 39 cm dbh) and over are measured and recorded while trees attaining the prescribed girth limits and over are selected and scrutinized as to whether they will yield marketable logs or not. If they can yield marketable logs they are girdled for exploitation. Some undersized defective trees, which will not last for another 30 years, but which will yield marketable logs, may also be selected for girdling. In areas where the stocking of teak is poor, a few mature teak trees may be left as seed mother trees.

Plantations play a minor role in Myanmar Forestry. They are resorted to only for the restoration of the denuded areas. Myanmar sacrifices economic gains from plantation forestry to uphold its forest management which focuses on the sustainable development of natural forests in the interest of biodiversity conservation and environmental stability.

Effect of MSS on the condition of the forest
The inventory data of the growing stock of teak ( and its percentage composition) for the year of 1965 and for the year of 1982 is compared at the below Table to study the effect of MSS:

Unit = 1000 Tress for the area covering 519000 Acres or 207600 ha.
gbh Teak
1965 - 1982
1965 - 1982
All Others
1965 - 9182
1965 - 1982
4' 0" - 4' 11" 332 - 366 235 - 216 2199 - 1746 2766 - 2328
5' 0" - 5' 11" 323 - 268 239 - 223 1418 - 1096 1980 - 1587
6' 0" - 1' 11" 257 - 210 203 - 181 838 - 606 1298 - 997
7' 0" - 7' 11" 134 - 137 138 - 114 449 - 392 721 - 643
8' 0" + Up 35 - 51 326 - 243 696 - 543 1093 - 837
By %
1081 - 1032
13.8 - 16.2
1177 - 977
15.0 - 15.3
5600 - 4383
71.2 - 68.5
7858 - 6392
100 - 100

As per the Table, the growing stock is declined from 1965 ( 1081000 tress) to to 1032000 Trees in 1982 by 49,000 tress, but the composition of teak in overall hardwood is higher ( 13.8% in 1965 and 16.2 % in 1982)

The forests of Myanmar are rich and diverse in flora and fauna and are ecologically complex. These complex ecological factors trigger both seed production and germination in the natural state. Some species may be fire hardy, some fire tender; some may be light demanders and others shade bearers.

Teak, for example, is relatively fire hardy, light demanding and fast growing. In the early seedling stage, surface fire may destroy above ground shoots, but the root portion will send up a new shoot again in the early rains. This process goes on far a number of years until conditions are favorable and the root is developed enough to send up vigorous shoots that can escape from ground fire damage. On the other hand, pyinkado ( Xylia dolarbriformis), the second most important species, is not so fire resistant and unlike teak, it is a shade bearer.

Another factor that influences natural regeneration in the forests of Myanmar is the time when bamboo flowers gregariously. This occurs in a cycle of 30-60 years, after which they die. The death of the bamboo creates large openings, allowing more light and space to the existing advance growth and consequently natural regeneration is greatly promoted in such areas.

All these seedlings, regenerated in different ways, contribute to the stand structure of the forests which include large, medium and small size trees. In sustained yield forest management, tree populations are maintained in a "normal" or "balanced" or "desirable" stand structure with higher number of small trees and sloping down as the size increases.

Production and export The status of production and export of teak during the last 5 years is shown in Table. As seen in this Table, production of teak logs has been reduced gradually during the period with a view to improving the natural teak stock. On the export side, log export shows an upward trend except for a drop in 1991-92. Although the present policy is to gradually reduce log exports, the achievement of this objective is behind the schedule, partly because of lack of investment, infrastructure and technology to go into downstream internal processing. The annual export of sawn timber reached its peak in 1992-93 with 45,850 Cubic Meter.

Year Production of Log in
cubic meters
Logs Export (cubic meters)
Sawn Timber
1990 - 91 535860 148 37360
1991 - 92 469680 76140 39340
1992 - 93 503440 188380 45850
1993 - 94 458850 209980 36200
1994 - 95 450600 234310 42830
Total 2 418430 856740 201580

Logging System
The Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE), the state-owned organization, is fully assigned duties of extraction and marketing of logs. It employs nearly 50,000 staff and presently operates 38 extraction and rafting agencies.

Stumping and dragging of teak logs to the edges of floating streams are carried out mostly by elephants and some occasions by oxen and water buffaloes. MTE today own nearly 3000 elephants and uses about 6000 for timber harvesting, the balance being hired from the private sector.

Elephant logging causes least damage to the standing trees and environment. Hence bulldozers and other machinery are used mainly for road construction and the loading and unloading and transport of logs. A completely mechanized extraction will not be economically feasible as only about 2-3 trees/ha/cycle are harvested, and the operation would be destructive to the remaining trees and environment under the MSS.

The future yield of teak from natural forests in the Region will indeed decline mainly due to the reduction of their extent. Rampant cutting and land conversion to other uses has alarmingly degraded and exhausted natural teak forests. Of the four countries with indigenous teak forests, Myanmar is the only country which still has extensive stretches of natural teak bearing forests; even so, Myanmar also has experienced some degradation and depletion during the last few decades.

Myanmar Forestry prescribed the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) as 603485 Cubic Meter or 178750 yield trees since the early 1970s. The Actual Felling and the prescribed yield are compared in the below Table:
Period Prescribed Yield Trees Actual Felled Comparison
1946 - 55 1 737 900 403 321 (-) 1 334 579
1956 - 65 1 737 900 1 756 201 (+) 18 301
1966 - 75 1 737 900 1 417 093 (-) 320 807
1976 - 85 1 908 720 2 155 862 (+) 247 142
1986 - 94 1 608 750 1 384 826 (-) 223 924
Total 8 731 170 7 117 303 (-) 1 613 303

From 1948 till 1994, a total of 183000 ha of teak plantation was established. The average annual area of planting has been more than 11000 ha since 1980. Assuming a rotation of 80 years with a final yield of 300 Cubic Meter/ha, ( a very conservative estimate), and assuming again that only 50% of the plantations remain at the final cut, teak plantations will supplement a yield of about 1.65 Million Cubic Meter annually at least starting from the year 2059.

Forest inventory in Myanmar dates back to 1856 when Dr. Brandis applied linear surveys to collect forest static in Bago Yoma. However, the use of sampling theory in Forest Inventory was initiated only in 1963. The National Forest Inventory employing a Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) system started with UNDP/FAO assistance in 1982. It has now covered about 30 millions acres ( 12.1 Million ha), mostly of teak bearing forests. So far, 2450 permanent sample plots (PSPs) have been established on a systematic grid of 6600 yards x 6600 yards in almost all commercial forests. They are remeasured every 5 years to provide data for continuous monitoring and evaluation of current status and change of the forest resources and also for the development of simulation models. In addition, since 1922 teak trees of 4' gbh & up ( 39 cm dbh & up) have been completely enumerated during girdling operations. These data are also available for planning and monitoring purposes.

The Question of Sustainability of Myanmar Forest
Beautiful dense natural teak forests in three out of four countries have now become a glory of the past. Remarkably this has not been due to the weakness of the management system but to the indiscriminate cutting and the lack of, or insufficient appropriate silvicultural treatments, resulting most probably from many constraints beyond the control of the forestry organizations.

It is noted that all the countries with the natural teak forests practice felling systems. To Myanmar, the selection system seems to be most appropriate for natural teak forest management. Selection needs to be tailored to the specific forest types and the management objectives. Soil, climate, topography and other environmental factors of the site where teak thrives naturally are usually very favorable for tree growth. Predictably, if tending operations are done correctly and timely, together with effective protection of the forests from outside disturbances, sustained development of native teak forests can be ensured.

Conversion of natural teak forests to extensive plantations of teak monoculture could possibly lead to an environmental disaster. Increased productivity of high quality timber can be aimed at by enriching the existing stands with the introduction of genetically improved seedlings in the gaps. Bamboo flowering should be taken advantage of immediately and to the fullest extent possible.

The destruction of the natural teak forests is a global concern. The issue is not confined only to the countries where these forests exist. It is also a concern to the consumers, the scientists, the geneticists and the environmentalists all over the world. Financially handicapped nations are simply incapable of just conserving and improving the forests ( for a favor of global green peace), while other developed nations close one eye on the effect of the smoke-producing industries for the production of the alternative material to reduce the dependence on the timber. The extraction of forest in a ecosocially-balanced manner is only the alternative, ( or may be dilemma) , to which all of us shall attend.

So far, Myanmar has done what she can within her capacity and capability to ensure the Sustainable management of Natural ( teak) Forests for continued supply of quality timber to satisfy the needs of both present and future generations.

Global Overview
Based on the information available, it is estimated that there is a total of over 19 Million ha of natural teak forests and over 1.6 Million ha of teak plantations throughout the world. Details of the major teak resources are provided in Table below, before which please be briefed:
  • Of some 20.6 million ha of teak resources in the world, 20.5 million ha or 99% occurs in the Asia.
  • Teak Resources in Indonesia and Myanmar are expanding rapidly due to the large scale plantation programmes of around 10,000 ha/year in both countries. Indonesia has some 45% of the total Asian teak plantation area.
  • Of approximately 19 million ha of natural teak forests, 16.5 million ha or 86.7% occurs in Myanmar. This indicates that Myanmar is likely to continue its dominant role in the production of naturally grown teak as a result of its century old sustainable management system.
  • Thailand also holds a large area of natural teak forests, covering about 2.5 million ha or 13% of the total resources. However, logging from its natural teak forests is totally banned.
  • The teak plantation area in Africa is also expanding rapidly, due to favorable growth conditions in the humid tropical regions with MAI varying from 4.3 to 27 CUM/ha/year. It is likely to increase in the future on account of its access to the Europe and India markets, and growing domestic demand.
  • The area of teak resources in tropical America is not likely to expand rapidly due to many socio-economic and land ownership problems as well as its preference to select high value local indigenous species and other fast growing exotic species for its plantation programmes.
  • The global teak resource on the whole is likely to expand in the future, provided appropriate cultural treatments, effective protection and management systems are applied to both the natural teak forests and the plantations on long term sustainable basis.
Major Teak Resources of the World (unit: ha)

Country Natural Teak
Total Teak
Bangladesh - 62700 62700 up to 1985
China - 9000 9000 1992
India - 276250 276250 1975
Indonesia - 675640 675640 1990
Laos 16000 5000 21000 1992
Myanmar 16 517 700 214 189 16 731 889 1993
Philippines - 21550 21550 1990
Sri Lanka - 70810 70810 1990
Thailand 2 500 000 170 240 2 670 240 1990
Vietnam - 500 500 1992
Asia Total 19 033 700 1 505 879 20 539 579 -
Ghana - 31560 31560 1985
Ivory Coast - 21000 21000 1992
Nigeria - 21300 21300 1980
Sudan - 10700 10700 1980
Tanzania - 5000 5000 1992
Togo - 4500 4500 1956
Africa Total - 94060 94060 -
Brazil - 940 940 1990
Ecuador - 1000 1000 1980
Panama - 800 800 1970
Puerto Rico - 800 800 1980
Trinidad - 9710 9710 1980
Tropical America
- 13250 13250 -
Grand Total 19 033 700 1 613 189 20 646 889 -

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