One third of all teak produced and cultivated in the world comes from Burma. It’s used to make boat decks, outdoor furniture, hardwood floors and countertops. It is valued for its water resistance and immune to the infestation of termites or other hardwood pests. Though fishermen and craftsmen have been using teak for hundreds of years, it was only in the last 150 when teak was exported for fine furniture and luxury items in households. This has resulted in an insatiable desire of local mass landowners for capital and to exploit those living amongst these old teak trees to farm them and hand them over for little to no compensation.
I was lucky enough to travel over the Rakhine Yoma (mountain range) in Western Myanmar in late February and realized very quickly that mountains which were previously covered in dense forests are now virtually barren, leaving dry and dusty hills as the only resources for local farmers. Outside Pyay in a village on the Ayeyarwaddy, I watched massive barges ship multiple tons of teak trunks up the river, no doubt to satisfy Chinese buyers to build their new amusement park cities – depressing replicas of ancient towns that once were.
Though teak plantations now proliferate all over South and Southeast Asia, I cannot help but feel sad about two very specific things:
1. That we in the West accept no responsibility for the things we buy and where they come from, then absurdly talk about environmentalism and the destruction of rainforests in countries not our own, as if it is not our responsibility as well to protect other countries’ environments.
2. That those corporate landowners in South and Southeast Asia do not learn from the West mistakes of plowing through natural resources and continue to exploit those who live off of the land in order to make a buck, instead of caring for the forests of their own people.
Just some observations…