This article was reprinted from Holzentralblatt, 26.04.1991

Teak is being used sustainably in Brazil, too

15 month old Teak
15 month old Teak

German veneer company participates in exemplary ecological tropical forest management.

Mentions of teak in casual conversation are usually met with anxious thoughts of tropical countries in the Far East such as Burma and Thailand, because the harvest of teak in any form, be it round timber, veneers or lumber, is becoming increasingly difficult, no matter the size. The situation on the Indonesian island of Java is different. About ninety years ago, Dutch foresters successfully established the teak plantations on the island that now contribute a good portion of the world’s supply of teak.

But when Brazil and the extensive rain forests of the Amazon basin become the topic of discussions within the European tropical timber business, concerns are raised about the ongoing destruction of the rain forests there to create land for pasturing and polluting industrial projects of various kinds. The export of timber and timber products simply plays too small of an economic role in the forests of the Amazon to be worth mentioning. It can also be said that Brazil’s timber exports are nowhere near what they could be given the potential supply of wood in Brazil’s Amazon forests.

Helping Protect the Tropical Forests

clean fatted Teak logs
clean fatted Teak logs

Even if hardly anyone connects thoughts of teak to Brazil, we can fortunately report that it is possible to establish teak plantations in Brazil with ecologically sound and sustainable management. This is exactly what German company R. Ulrich & Co., veneer importer in Hamburg, and, more recently, a veneer producer in the U.S., has done. It recently invested US $600,000 in a forestry operation in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

With this investment, the company is seeking to secure a long-term supply of teak veneers for the German market. At the same time, it will also help protect the tropical rainforests and show that  proper, sustainable management of tropical rain forests is possible in Germany as well as in Brazil. In addition, one of the other investors in the Brazilian teak plantation is a state-run Danish development company and a Danish importer of teak and teak products.

Serraria Ceceres SA was founded in 1960 in Ceceres, Mato Grosso, at the southern end of the Brazilian Amazon forest, to produce high-quality woods for export in the form of lumber and veneers. Company founder Karl Veit comes from the Black Forest milling industry and emigrated in the 1930s from Freiburg to Brazil. The company is still managed by his two sons, Vitor and Luis.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the company mainly exported native hardwoods, especially genuine mahogany (Swietenia); at the time, round mahogany timber was already being supplied to Hamburg-based R. Ulrich. The companies began doing more business over the years, especially after the Brazilian partner set up a veneer mill in Caceres and become a regular supplier of mahogany, rosewood, Cerejeira, cedar and other exotic wood veneers to Hamburg. In the late 1970s, the Hamburg company was the biggest European buyer of veneer from Serraria Caceres and supplied other furniture veneer markets in Scandinavia, the UK, France, Switzerland, Italy and other countries.

A Shortage of Commercial Timber from the 1960s

The Veits recognized by the early 1960s that all the trees with a commercial value were becoming scare in the country’s natural forests. At the same time, they noticed that these forests were being cleared at an alarming rate to create land for pasturing or other agricultural purposes. That’s why in 1968 they started a phase of research and experimentation to identify ways to reforest and/or plant certain valuable commercial wood species with the goal of creating a new source of raw materials. After testing numerous species, it became clear that teak showed the best results. Particularly impressive was the rapid growth and robustness of the young teak trees. In addition, the good technical properties of teak as found in the literature and its relatively high market value also drove the decision

to begin growing teak systematically. Apart from their own teak cultivation experiments, information and experience were collected from having staff travel to countries with natural teak forests and teak plantations such as India, Thailand, Indonesia (Java) and Trinidad. It was also important to obtain information on how to process teak locally and prepare it for export.

Bisher 1205 ha Teakplantagen, bewirtschaftet im 25-Jahre-Zyklus

Teak logs in Veneer Quality
Teak logs in Veneer Quality

In 1971, the first teak plantation was planted with an area of 19 ha. An additional 19 ha were planted each year from 1972 to 1975. From 1976 to 1982, the area planted each was expanded to 44 ha. Then, the planting was doubled again in the six years from 1983 to 1988 to 92 ha a year. Finally, the last 618 ha were planted in 1989. This resulted in just shy of 1,205 ha planted with teak trees between 1971 and 1989. Until the 25-year cycle is completed in 1995, an additional 250 ha will be planted each year, with a final planted area of almost 2,705 ha.

According to the calculations of Serraria Ceceres, previous experience indicates that the teak species planted in 1971-1972 will yield 320-330 m3 per hectare after 25 years of growth. As an example, the 1971 teak planting of 19 ha will reach the end of its 25-year growth cycle in 1996 and will produce a cut volume of 6,275 m3 (equal to 330 m3/ha). In addition, of course, wood will also be harvested when the stands are thinned four times during their twenty-five year growth cycle (in the fifth, ninth, thirteenth and seventeenth years).

These kinds of yields for such a valuable tropical timber as teak are unique. This shows how some experimenting and experience gathered in other countries can be applied to cultivating a specific tropical species, managing it using forestry methods and successfully marketing it.

No Environmentally Harmful Monocultures

The teak plantations in Caceres, Mato Grosso (southern Brazil) have a particular ecological significance. It should be noted that these plantations are not being planted on deforested or cleared forest areas, as is usual in the tropics. This project is not the result of the slash and burn practices used on some primeval forests to create space for monoculture with specific tree species.

Teak Container, Arrival at Furnierwerk Prignitz
Teak Container, Arrival at Furnierwerk Prignitz

The land being used by Serraria Ceceres for its Proteca program covers a total of 12,591 ha and is divided as follows were:

  1. land for teak plantations with a growth cycle of 25 years with 250 ha per year: 6,250 ha
  2. areas set aside for fire patrols and access routes: 750 ha
  3. areas reserved for rural buildings, vegetable gardens, orchards, food production and livestock grazing: 361 ha
  4. areas reserved for the protection of the natural environment, in compliance with Brazilian law requiring at least 20% of the land in Brazil remain in its original condition: 3,625 ha
  5. remaining areas reserved for technical purposes, etc.: 1,605 ha

Total land area: 12,591 ha

Brazilian land-use laws require forestry cultivation projects such as Serraria Ceceres’ teak plantation to be permanently usable for commercial purposes. The areas under conservation protection that retain their original vegetation are supported by the state because they are tax-exempt.

Apart from their forestry activities in the cultivation of teak, Serraria Ceceres are also engaged in researching and field testing fast-growing tree species which could be used for future plywood production as well as trees bearing oleaginous fruit that would be used to produce vegetable oils for human consumption. The approx. 1,6000 ha set aside for technical purposes are partly used these purposes and may partly be used for additional teak plantations.

Good Quality Teak Veneers

Teak logs for Veneer production
Teak logs for Veneer production

Serraria Ceceres, which has opened its own veneer mill since 1970, has now begun producing and exporting its first teak veneers. Thanks to the good soil and the particular care that has been taken to thin and trim the trees as they grow, the teak veneers from Serraria Ceceres are of good quality and condition. The teak wood they are producing is characterized by a golden yellow hue and a uniform structure. In addition, they offer two different types of veneer, one with black stripes and one without. In addition, the great majority of the veneers produced are well suited to decorating high-end furniture.

When selecting good veneer species that represent a large proportion of timber production, one can have rather strict and critical standards because of an ongoing need for lumber in smaller and larger dimensions from lesser quality timber. The fact that Serraria Ceceres has a veneer mill and a sawmill permits an optimal utilization of the harvested logs, whether from thinnings or from harvesting after a period of 25 years.

In conclusion, it can be said that Hamburg veneer importer R. Ulrich was certainly well advised to invest in a tropical foresting company such as Serraria Ceceres. Thanks to this financial commitment, Serraria Ceceres, unlike any other foresting company in the tropical countries of the world, is able to harvest ​​250 ha teak a year in an environmentally sound manner. Given the mostly one-sided and unobjective public discussion about tropical rain forests, it would be desirable if the example of Serraria Ceceres would become better known in other countries as a model for the cultivation of this and other species. Because teak from Mato Grosso is a textbook example of environmentally-friendly wood production in the tropics.

Dr. Rudolf Beyse

Plantation Teak Veneer
Plantation Teak Veneer
plain golden boat building quality
plain golden boat building quality