Forestry practices in exotic Thailand

April 25, 2012

The Kingdom of Thailand is located in the south-eastern part of continental Asia, bordered by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. It has a land area of 51 million hectares and a population of 63 million people. In the 1980s and 1990s, Thailand's economy was one of the fastest growing in the world, but this coincided with the rapid depletion of its natural resources. The forests in Thailand consist of evergreen montane forests (Dipterocarp spp.), mixed deciduous monsoon forest (teak) and dry dipterocarp savannah forest in remote mountain valleys. Valleys and plains are totally cultivated. Plantation forestry is also well developed.

Rubberwood plantation in Thailand
Rubberwood plantation.
Temporary sleeping quarters of Thai forester Natural forests in east Thailand
Temporary sleeping quarters for a plantation worker. Natural forests in the east of the country.
Review of soil preparation in a Thai rubber plantation Rubber wood logs being transported in Thailand
Review of soil preparation methods in a rubber plantation during an FSC audit. Rubber wood logs transport system.

 

The country's Royal Forestry Department, established in 1896, dates back to a time of great political and social change in Siam. In the history of Thailand, deforestation has been rapid, particularly in the 70s and 80s. In the mid-70s, the deforestation rate was about 500 000 hectares annually. Thailand's forested area declined from 53% of the nation's land area in 1961 to only 28% by 2000, mainly as a result of the continued use of slash-and-burn practices by farmers.

Of Thailand's 14 million ha of forest, about 56% lies in the north, where teak and pine predominate. Rubber trees, planted mostly in the south, make up 10% of the forest area. Teak, once a major export, has declined in importance, largely because of government restrictions on cutting and past depletion of the forests through excessive harvesting and inadequate replanting of this species. Thailand imposed a ban on logging government-owned timber in 1989. Subsequently, the deforestation rate started to decline. However, forest conversion for food production and for fuel wood still continues.

Plantations in Thailand total about three million ha, with the major species being teak, Eucalyptus spp; Acacia mangium and Pinus merkusii. Annual round wood production is estimated at about 40 million m3 – more than double the South African commercial forestry annual cut.

In the 1980s, tree planting started to spread on individual-owned farmland mainly due to the emergence of the pulp and paper industries in the north east of the country, as well as the development of the very profitable rubber wood industry in the southern parts of Thailand.

Rubber wood

Today, processing operations rely primarily on rubber wood plantations, imports of logs and lumber, and illegal domestic harvesting for their supplies. Rubber wood is extremely well utilised in Thailand, with this species now having effectively replaced many of the traditional hardwoods used in the past. Rubber wood now makes up 70% of exported furniture volumes. The 211 rubber wood sawmills in Thailand consume over 1.2 million m3 of logs per year.

Lac, a resinous insect substance found on trees, has always had value for the Thai, but its derivatives – seedlac, sticklac, and shellac – have also found a ready international market. South African consumers are well familiar with shellac, but very few people are aware of the origin of this product we often use for wood treatment (primers, high gloss and mat polishes).

Labour-intensive harvesting

Harvesting operations in Thailand are very labour-intensive, with very little regard for international safety requirements. Felling is mostly done by chainsaw, while logs are extracted manually. As harvesting contractors generally have small operations, the transport systems are quite primitive, with light LDVs often used to remove logs to the processing facilities.

Published in February 2012

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