John Nisbet.

Burma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) online

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ferns, and herbs (with few grasses, however), which cover
the soil. The lowest tier consists of trees like Garcinia,
Diospyros, Cinnamonum, Tetranthera, Ardisia, Millettia,
Finis, Eugenia, Myristica, and a host of others. Above



these are loftier species of Ficus, Bursera, Semecarpus,
Cedrela, Lagerstroemia, Mangifera, and other genera ;
while over these again tower the still loftier crowns of
forest giants belonging to the genera Sterculia, Tetra-
meles, Artocarpus, Parkia, Dipterocarpus, Parashorea,
Hopea, Anisoptera, Antiaris, and many others. Some of
these attain a height of 250 feet, and it is not unusual to
see Kanyin stems [Dipterocarpus turbinatus) of enormous
girth running up, straight as an arrow, to a height of
about 1 20 or 1 30 feet before showing the first of their
few branches. The luxuriance of vegetation in such
forests is marvellous. There is often a dense and almost
unbroken mass of foliage from the ground up to a height
of 200 feet, the crowns being festooned with gigantic
woody climbers garlanded with beautiful flowers.

It is in forests of the evergreen class in the colder regions
of Upper Burma, from about the latitude of Mogaung
northwards into Assam, that the caoutchouc or India-
rubber tree {Ficus elastica) is indigenous. Heavy annual
rainfall, humidity of atmosphere, and a considerable
degree of cold for a subtropical region, seem requisite for
its thriving.

The more typically deciduous forests consist of trees
which shed their foliage during January or in February on
the approach of the hot season, and break out into leaf
again in March or April after the advent of the " mango-
showers," or as soon as they have imbibed a sufficiency
of subsoil moisture. These deciduous forests consist of
various well marked types differing essentially from each
other, and are distinguishable as the scrub forests of the
dry central zone, the Indaing or Laterite forests, and the
mixed forests on the lower hill ranges.

The scrub forests of the dry zone are of some financial
value on account of the cutch {Acacia Catechu), which,
along with dahdt (Teciona Hamiltonii), is one of the
most characteristic of the trees. But their chief claim to
deserve careful attention is on account of the benefits
that reservation will probably bring with it in regard
to water storage in the soil and amelioration of the
precarious conditions under which agriculture now labours
owing to reckless clearance of dry forests that once



existed on the plains. The number of trees and shrubs
to be found here is comparatively small, and they are of
course for the most part leguminous, as might (for now
well known reasons) be expected ; while on the hill sides
they are scantier still, with species of Euphorbia as their
most striking characteristic.

The Indainof or Laterite forests are to be found
wherever this peculiar geological formation crops out or
forms the subsoil close below the surface. The charac-
teristic tree is In {^Dipterocarpus tuber culahis), which
forms the principal kind along with other genera such
as Skorea, Pentacme, Dillenia, Zizyphus, Strycknos,
Melanorrkoea, Emblica, Terminalia, Cai^eya, and palms
of various sorts. These forests are fiercely hot during
the month of March until they break out into their fresh
foliage. They cover an enormous extent of country, and
there are probably considerably larger supplies of In than
of any other timber tree in the province.

The mixed forests covering the greater part of all the
lower hill ranges are those of the most importance to the
Burma Forest Department, and to British commerce at
present, because they constitute the great sources of supply
of revenue drawn from teak ( Tectona grandis), pyingado
or ironwood {Xylia dolabriformis), sha or cutch {^Acacia
Catechu), the few other reserved woods, and the many
unreserved woods yielding valuable kinds of timber for
local requirements. They are to be found covering
probably about two-thirds of the hill ranges lying back
from the seaboard, in the interior of the country beyond
the limits of torrential rainfall (of 200 inches and more)
characteristic of the coast with their evergreen tropical

These mixed forests, occupying the uplands and the
central hill ranges, vary somewhat in character according
as they grow on alluvium, on soft siliceous sandstone, or
on metamorphic rocks. They form the matrix through-
out which the (as yet) financially most valuable kinds of
timber trees occur singly or in knots and patches as
family groups among about a hundred and fifty other
kinds of trees, such as species of Eugenia, Bombax,
Sterculia, Garuga, Pterospermtmi, Spondias, Termina-


lia, Anogeissus, Homalucm, Briedelia, Cordia, Gmelina,
Nauclea, and many others, interspersed among which
are bamboos of various kinds, now forming only an
underwood, and again growing more luxuriantly where
not overshadowed by a crown of foliage.

These constitute the four main types of forest in Burma,
although there are also great tracts of bamboo jungles
on many of the hills (showing the track of the wasteful
shifting Taungya), and of savannahs growing coarse,
gigantic kaing or elephant grass {Saccharum spontanezim) ,
and ThekkeoY thatch grass [hnperata cylitidrica), etc., on
the great plains marking sites probably once cleared for
cultivation but now reverted into a low type of jungle
and awaiting re-conversion into rice fields.

It will be recollected that a casus belli in 1885 was
forced upon the British by the refusal of the Court of
Ava to submit to the investigation and decision of a
mixed court, as accorded by treaty rights, the question
of alleged malpractices on the part of the Bombay Burma
Trading Corporation, engaged in very extensive forest-
ing operations in different parts of Upper Burma. On
the assumption of sovereignty the arrangements made
between the Corporation and the King were terminated,
but the British Government virtually renewed them in
the shape of leases at the very low rates of royalty
of ten rupees (13^". 4^.) per ton for large- sized and six
rupees (9.?.) for small-sized logs.

With vast sources of supply at their command at this
nominal rate of royalty the Corporation practically com-
manded the market for teak in Europe, and the timber
trade in Rangoon was exposed to the grave danger of
becoming almost the absolute monopoly of this rich and
influential firm. Their profits were enormous, and their
shares increased to considerably over four hundred per
cent, in market value. The few other firms of Rangoon
dealing exclusively in timber, which were forced to procure
their supplies from the Government auction sales at the
timber depot, could not hope to compete successfully
against so rich a firm drawing their main supplies from
Upper Burma on payment only of a ridiculously low
rate of royalty in addition to actual cost of extraction.



Hence assistance of some sort was needed to enable
even the principal one among these minor firms to
maintain itself against the supremely advantageous posi-
tion acquired by the Corporation.

This was arranged for by granting a purchase con-
tract {leases having been forbidden by the Government
of India in 1873) to the firm of Messrs. Macgregor & Co.
for the extraction of all the girdled timber in the north-
western portion of the Toungoo district. Although
these forests adjoined the Ningyan (Pyinmana) forests
held by the Corporation and were more difficult to
work, and although the rate of royalty fixed was twenty-
one rupees (^i 2>s.) per ton, or more than twice what
the Corporation were paying, yet this foresting business
proved very remunerative besides having the advantage
of ensuring at known fixed rates a certain proportion of
the timber required to keep the sawmills at work. Had
dependence on the Government auction sales been the
sole source of supply, the Corporation, without materially
enhancing the average cost of their own raw material,
might have soon forced up prices till conversion must
needs have meant heavy loss, might have maintained
them there till the other firms had been driven into
the bankruptcy court, and might then subsequently have
offered merely nominal rates for the timber extracted by
Government. To prevent the teak export trade of
Rangoon from becoming an absolute monopoly Govern-
ment were forced to consider the contingencies of either
giving substantial support to enable a solvent and energetic
firm to compete with the Corporation or of finding them-
selves drifting onwards to the prospect of being ulti-
mately forced to run sawmills of their own ; and for
very obvious reasons they wisely chose the former

The policy thus initiated in 1889 has been consistently
followed and expanded. Several Rangoon firms have
now contracts for the extraction of teak from different
well defined forest areas in the Sittang valley and
throughout Upper Burma, while all the remaining tracts
are worked departmentally by means of native con-
tractors. The determination of the number of trees to



be girdled rests with the Forest Department, and the
work is carried out by its officers only ; but the working
out of the timber takes place partly by European firms,
upon payment of a royalty varying from about £i ^s. to
£2 per ton of fifty cubic feet, for the supply of their
sawyards in Rangoon, and partly by the Forest De-
partment for its auction sales at the depots in Mandalay
and Rangoon. The pick of all the finest timber brought
annually to the Government depot at Rangoon goes, as
it ought to go, to supply the indents received from the
naval dockyard at Bombay.

The year 1899 was the last in which the Bombay
Burma Corporation could procure supplies of timber at
the low rate covered by their leases of 1887, and their
dividend for 1899- 1900 was 30 per cent. But they
are still in an abnormal position of great advantage
in having accumulated in their Rangoon yards vast
stocks of timber purchased at a low rate of royalty.
Thus, in 1897-98, the Corporation extracted from Upper
Burma no less than 220,540 tons of teak on payment of
^133,839, while Messrs. Macgregor & Co. had to pay
the much higher revenue of £^2,iyS on 25,928 tons
extracted from the Toungoo forests.

The object of Government in continuing the purchase-
contract system to Rangoon firms now that the Upper
Burma /eases have terminated is twofold. In the first
place, consideration had to be given to the fact that on
the one hand serious loss might be caused to the firms
in question if their foresting operations were discontinued,
for the elephants, buffaloes, and personnel for working on
a large scale represent investments that can neither be
acquired nor disposed of all at once ; while on the other
hand the present strength of the Forest Department,
hardly able to cope with the business already undertaken,
is perhaps inadequate for embarking on larger foresting
operations than are at present being carried out by direct
departmental agency. And in the second place it seemed
clear that the wisest course to adopt in placing the teak
timber export trade in Rangoon on a permanently sound
basis was to permit the various substantial European
firms to work out for themselves, at reasonable rates of

VOL. II. 81 G


royalty, sufficient supplies of timber to provide a fair
proportion of their annual requirements, say one-third to
one- half, leaving them to obtain at the Government auction
sales the remainder necessary for the maintenance and
the expansion of their business. Government is thus also
entitled to anticipate obtaining the true market value for
the timber extracted departmentally, unless all the various
firms should form a " ring " and combine to keep prices
low. Such a danger may ultimately have to be con-
sidered, though hardly for some years to come, and the
remedy against it will easily be found.

The teak trade of Rangoon is now on a much sounder
footing than it has ever been previously, but it will not
be on a thoroughly sound basis till the large and cheaply
acquired stock of logs held by the Corporation is
exhausted, when all firms will be able to compete on
nearly equal terms as regards the price paid for timber
in the rough. After that, even should the source of
supply be confined solely to the Government auction
sales, which is not now likely to be the case, the milling
alone should always yield a fair return on the capital
invested, apart from the other trade profits. It is a
branch of trade still capable of very considerable ex-
pansion in the future.

Much is now being systematically done to increase the
supply of teak. During the thirty years that have elapsed
since the Government of India (in 1870) defined the main
duties of the Forest Department to consist in the extension
of teak plantations on a large scale in a few well selected
blocks, the demarcation of the most valuable forest
tracts as State forests, and careful husbanding of the
resources of the existing forests meanwhile, vast changes
have taken place both as to the extent and as to the
constitution of the teak-producing areas entrusted to the
management and control of the Forest Department. It
then seemed not improbable that Pegu and Tenasserim
would have to be considered the main sources from which
the world's future supply of teak timber would have to
be drawn, and adequate measures had to be adopted
for ensuring the maintenance of a sustained yield of
marketable teak timber. Now, however, there is not



only a well organized system of management throughout
the principal teak forests in Lower Burma, but we have
also the control and a fairly good knowledge of the vast
teak-producing tracts spreading over enormous areas in
Upper Burma and the Shan States, which certainly equal
and probably far excel the forests of Lower Burma in
the quantity of first-class marketable teak which they are
capable of supplying in perpetuo.

With such resources at command it is no longer neces-
sary to look to plantations as the main source for supplying
our timber requirements in future. So much so is this the
case that the time has now come for considering whether
it may not be advisable to curtail teak plantation work
and to concentrate energy on improvement fellings for
the benefit of immature teak, to be found in greater or
less abundance throughout all the teak-producing areas.

Where teak is not now found as a constituent among
the trees of any forest, or is only sparsely represented, it
stands to reason that it can only be introduced artificially
by means of sowing or planting. Apart from exceptional
cases, such as relate to agreements or questions of policy
with regard to the Karen or Kachin and other tribes,
where the Forest Department is (or may be) committed
to forming plantations in order to secure the good will of
such hill tribes or to carry out agreements made at the
time of forest settlement of reserves, the views have been
spreading that plantation operations should be curtailed
and that more attention should be devoted to improve-
ment fellings. In teak-producing areas it is seldom that
Taungya tracts can be selected so as to include no teak,
and in some instances the damage done to the existing
stock of teak and of cutch is sufficient to stamp the
formation of plantations in such localities as unnecessary.

When teak plantations were originally started it was
hoped that after about two years' weeding and cleaning
they might be trusted to outgrow danger from lofty
grasses, creepers, softwoods, etc. Experience has shown
that such is not the case. It is only in very exceptional
cases that plantations can be left unweeded in their third
year, and sometimes the operation has to be repeated
during the fourth year. Even then weeding and clean -



ing have to take place at intervals for several years more;
and such weeding and cleaning operations are hardly (or
perhaps not yet) completed when one finds one's self face
to face with the necessity for thinning.

Areas suitable for improvement fellings abound
throughout the majority of the teak-producing tracts
forming the reserved forests, but cultural operations of
this class can only be successfully carried out within fire-
protected areas.

Unless artificially assisted in its struggle for existence
with the various other kinds of forest trees, etc., many of
which are of more rapid growth than teak, it must
naturally follow that a larger outturn of this and a higher
financial return from the reserved forests can only be
expected in proportion to the expenditure incurred under
competent supervision in assisting the teak in its struggle
for existence, in shortening the duration of such struggle,
and in obtaining for teak special advantages for growth
and development by the felling or girdling of epiphytic
Ficus trees or woody climbers which strangle it, or domi-
nate or otherwise interfere with its crown of foliage and
its free exposure to light and air.

The total area of reserved forests in Burma will prob-
ably, before the selection of State reserves is completed,
amount to over 25,000 square miles. Of this it may be
estimated that not less than 10,000 square miles will be
teak-producing tracts which should be gone over by
improvement fellings at intervals not exceeding ten years,
if we are to accord to the teak forests the treatment
essential towards providing anything like the outturn in
timber and money which the State may easily derive
from their very valuable forest properties.

But there is at present no staff of trained subordinates
such as is necessary to operate properly over even a
tithe of so extensive an area as 1,000 square miles
annually, because technical operations of this sort can-
not be entrusted to untrained officers.

These can only be trusted to fell all trees (whether
teak or not) being damaged by epiphytic Ficus, and to
cut woody climbers. When this preliminary step has
once been taken there still remains for consideration how,



and to what extent, trees interfering with the growth of
teak should be removed. Leaving bamboos and other
lofty grasses out of consideration, the trees that it may
be desirable to deal with for the benefit of the teak trees,
poles, or seedlings may be classified as —

(i) True hear twood trees, which die on being girdled;

(2) Sapwood trees, whose vegetative processes do not

appear to be interfered with by girdling ; and

(3) False hear twood trees, which sicken or are distinctly

interfered with temporarily in growth by gird-
ling, but are not killed by the operation.

This last or intermediate class consists of kinds of
trees which might perhaps in many instances be killed
off by a second girdling, if it were practicable to go over
the area again and re-girdle in the following year.

The true heartwood trees comprise the more valuable
kinds of timber trees like teak itself, cutch {Acacia
Catechu^, padauk (Pterocarpus Indicus), pyingado {Xylia
dolabriformis), ingyin {Pentacme Siamensis) and more
than a score of other trees.

The sapwood trees include at least from thirty to fifty
other kinds, and the false heartwood trees also number
more than a score of others.

Experimental improvement fellings carried out in 1897
showed not only that forty-two per cent, of the trees
girdled survived the operation, although the girdle was
deep and broad, but also that, five months later, in many
cases no material reduction was noticeable in the density
of their foliage and in that of the shadow cast by them
on the underwood.

As regards the trees which die when girdled, the gird-
ling operations can be performed under the supervision
of any subordinate. But what cannot be safely entrusted
to untrained officers is the selection of trees to be
removed. In such cases it has only too often happened
that large trees have been girdled for the sake of very
small seedlings. Hence the result has often been to
benefit other species of trees or bamboos far more than
the young teak. Besides this, inspection has shown that


untrained officers lose all sense of proportion between
the cost of girdling a large tree on the one hand and the
prospective benefit to be gained on the other hand in
affording special protection to a very small seedling or
a badly grown pole.

With regard to the other trees, it appears very ques-
tionable whether it would be safe to entrust such opera-
tions to any but trained supervision to direct and control
the killine of the trees so as to ensure that their removal
will not be in reality more beneficial to useless trees,
bamboos, etc., than to the teak it is intended to benefit.

Another very important matter requiring consideration
in connection with a scheme for improvement fellings is
the flowering, seedling, and dying off of the Kyathaung
bamboo, which must occur soon over enormous tracts of
teak forest on both sides of the Pegu Yoma. This will
be a sylvicultural opportunity such as has never previously
occurred in Burma. Simultaneously with the use of fire,
under due control as a destructive agent for destroying
the germinative power of the bamboo seed, improvement
fellings, sowings, dibblings, etc., will have to take place
on the largest possible scale capable of being adequately
controlled and carried out.

Proposals regarding the above important matters have
already been submitted for the consideration of Govern-
ment. Whatever the line of action may be that is decided
on, the above rough sketch of the position of affairs
will show that the measures being taken are such as will
adequately maintain supplies of teak in the future. It is
almost certain that the work now being done will in
course of time enable larger supplies of teak timber to
be extracted than have been obtained in the past, while,
even if the future market price of teak should fall to a
considerably lower level than at present, the extraction
of this fine timber will always remain a most profitable
source of income to the State, to the export commerce
of the province, and to a very large proportion of the
population resident in or near the forests.

The bare statement that, in 1899, the net surplus
revenue derived by Government from the forests
amounted to .2^399,255 can convey no idea of the vast



extent and resources of Burma's forest wealth. In addi-
tion to teak, which provides the bulk of this surplus,
there are valuable sources of revenue in cutch, India-
rubber, pyingado for railway sleepers, and padauk,
superior in quality to that exported largely from the
Andaman Islands. All these present sources of revenue
are being duly conserved, while the trade in them is
being developed in tracts hitherto unworked, so that in
future larger supplies should be produced than are now
obtained. And besides these already well known pro-
ducts there are enormous quantities of fine timber of
various kinds for which no remunerative market yet
exists, though this may develop in time. Many of these
are too heavy for floating unless lashed to bamboos, but
with the expansion of the railway net this difficulty will
soon disappear. One of the commonest trees in Burma,
In {DipterocarptLS tuber culatus), resembles Jarrah closely
in appearance, and seems suitable for wood-paving if it
could only get a first footing on the European market.
Further, there are vast quantities of gums, resins, dye
stuffs and tanning materials, which will no doubt in
course of time emerge from their present state of being
mere waste products of the woodlands. The suitability
of the climate for the production of caoutchouc is being
demonstrated by the formation by Government of a
Hevea rubber plantation at a cost of ;^ 14,000 in South
Tenasserim, which it is calculated will yield a large profit
in twelve years' time or less. There is plenty of scope
for such rubber plantations by private commercial com-

There is a fashion in woods, as in other commodities,
and markets cannot be forced to buy unknown products.
Hence the work of the Forest Department has hitherto
mainly been in connection with woods already having a
market value, and in the formation of State reserves
that will grow in every kind of economic value as
the unreserved areas gradually become cleared for
agricultural occupation.

The present forest revenue probably represents only