Wood is one of the most useful and versatile raw materials. Compared to most available materials, wood is stronger, more workable, and more aesthetically pleasing (Wadsworth 1997). Wood is also warm to the touch, which makes it preferable for flooring and other house construction purposes. In addition, wood products are biodegradable, which is an added environmental advantage.

Commercial timber production is a major global industry. In 1998, global production of industrial roundwood (all wood not used as fuelwood) was 1.5 billion m3 (FAO 2000 a). In the early 1990s, production and manufacture of industrial wood products contributed about US$ 400 billion to the global economy, or about 2% of global GDP (World Resources Institute 2000).

Although the roundwood timber market is dominated by North America and Europe, the timber industry is of greater economic importance to developing countries such as Cambodia, the Solomon Islands, and Myanmar, where wood exports account for 30% of all international trade. On average, timber constitutes about 4% of the economies of developing countries (Myers 1996).

Furthermore, the global demand for timber is expected to increase over the next decade. There have been signs of scarcity in some of the more precious woods. Production of tropical wood products has recently fallen below earlier levels, and some Asian countries have experienced difficulties in reaching their expected volumes of exports (FAO 2001b). Forest industries continue to adapt to changes in raw materials, namely the increased supply of plantation wood from a wider variety of species (Figs. 1.1 and 1.2).

For most developing nations, there is a lack of reliable data on net annual forest growth, removal rates, and the age of trees - information that is needed to accurately assess the long-term conditions of forests. Even so, there is considerable evidence that, in some regions, harvest rates greatly exceed regrowth (World Resources Institute 2000). Certain valued species such as mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and teak (Tectona grandis) are harvested at rates that will eventually lead to depletion of these species from the forest. For example, in Thailand, forest cover diminished from 53 to 28% between 1961 and 1988, with much of the loss in the teak forests of the north (Phothitai 1992). In response, private industry initiated a teak reforestation program.

Fig. 1.1. Timber scarcity has led to the utilization of smaller diameters and shorter logs in many tropical regions. These logs were extracted from natural forests for their use for furniture in Peten, Guatemala (Photo: F. Montagnini)
Furniture For Developing Countries
Fig. 1.2. In many developing countries timber exports are not just roundwood but processed timbers as in fine furniture. In this furniture factory in Guatemala they manufacture house furniture for export to retailers in the USA (Photo: F. Montagnini)

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