In the time of European empires Teak was one of the few timbers able to withstand the Teredo worm which decimated the oak hulled ships of the day.
In the 18th century Great Britain sought to protect its colonies including India, against rival Nations, notably the Dutch and as India produced insufficient supply needed a supply of Teak for its Navy, so in 1824 the East India company invaded Tennaserim, the area now known as Kayin state in Southern Burma.
That invasion was followed by a second and third war respectively in 1852 and 1885 which subjugated the entire country, primarily for its Teak then latterly other raw resources and also provided a buffer with China in the Shan states. The third war was instigated on a pretext of settling a dispute on behalf of the Bombay Burma Teak company. A well documented forest management system was established in lower Burma in 1856 by Dietrich Brandis, a relative of James Ramsey, the Governor of India
Britain and other Colonial powers planted Teak for their navies use in many other areas around the world such as India, the carribean and Africa.
Holland as a maritime nation was a long standing rival to Britains power and needed to provide its own source of Teak so looked towards its territories known as Dutch east India, now known as Indonesia to provide Teak. There were a number of different, subsequently found to be mostly Indian and Laotian strains available in the 17th Century however the finest Teak came from Java and was by legend brought there by Buddhist Monks many centuries previously from Burma. What is documented however is that the Dutch east India company who had acquired most of Java in the 18th Century used it for their own merchant ships and traded it to the Dutch Navy until 1808 when the Netherlands administration under Governor Daendels set an efficient management system in place using imported Tennaserim seedlings.
Teak silviculture was regulated by the Dutch colonial administration and was largely unchanged after independence until in 1961 under the ministry of Agriculture when the forestry sector was set up as an independent entity named Perhutani and then in 1978 split into Perhum Perhutani on Java. This latter has become important and presides over the largest man-made teak forest in the world, totalling almost 1.1 million hectares, split into 650 000 hectares in production, in other words actively managed, and 450 000 hectares that are “protected”, encompassing fairly inaccessible plots that are not logged, and old plots that are unmanaged, and regenerate naturally.
Today the legacy of Colonial occupation allows Perhum Perhutani to provide a policy of social inclusion for all its stakeholders, particularly smallholders, who are encouraged to plant in the forests before any canopy is formed using the rotational Taungya system. This provides a continuous rotation of efficient forestry management and income for the rural economy.