Damar (FAO, NWFP 6)

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Coppen, Gums, resins and latexes of plant origin, 1995

  • See the main page Copal (in French)
  • Extract from : NWFP 6. Coppen J.J.W., 1995. Gums, resins and latexes of plant origin. FAO, Rome. 142 p. (Non-Wood Forest Products, 6). on line





"Damar" (sometimes spelled dammar) is a Malay word meaning resin or torch made from resin. Although, today, the word is used in a more restrictive sense, it is still applied as a collective term to a great variety of hard resins. Damars of international commerce come from the dipterocarp forests of Southeast Asia, mainly from Indonesia. Damar from the sal tree is produced in India. Production is mainly by tapping living trees, although some is still collected from the ground in fossilized form.

Damars are solid resins, generally less hard and durable than the copals, and white to yellow in colour. They are distinguished from copal by their solubility in hydrocarbon-type solvents and drying oils. Like copals, however, their main use is still in the manufacture of paper or wood varnishes and lacquers, and some paints, although consumption has inevitably declined over the years with the widespread use of synthetic materials. They used to be an important ingredient in many types of cellulose lacquers, imparting gloss and adhesive qualities and preventing after-yellowing. Nowadays, they find particular use as a varnish for the fine arts.

Miscellaneous minor uses include the manufacture of inks, polishes, water-resistant coatings and injection moulding materials. A little is used in foods as a clouding or glazing agent. In the countries where damars are produced, they find local use for caulking boats and baskets. In India, sal damar is widely used as an incense and in the indigenous system of medicine.



Interpretation of trade statistics for damar is made more hazardous than usual by the use of different terms for resins which are, nevertheless, damars of one type or another. Examination of Indonesian trade statistics reveals three different damars: "Gum damar", "Mata kucing" and "Batu". Mata kucing ("cat's eye") is a term applied to the crystalline damar resin (usually in the form of round balls) obtained from certain of the dipterocarp species. Batu ("stone") refers to the opaque, stone or pebble-shaped damar collected from the ground.

Indonesian exports of the three types of damar for 1988-93, and their destinations, are given in Tables 20a, 20b and 20c. Average annual exports have been approximately 2 000 tonnes (gum damar), 6 300 tonnes (Batu) and 3 200 tonnes (Mata kucing), making about 11 500 tonnes in total. There is some year-to-year fluctuation, but nothing that indicates a downward trend.

Exports of damar from Thailand for the period 1988-93, and destinations, are shown in Table 21. Exports have averaged approximately 1 800 tonnes/year, with a slight downward trend.

Considering Indonesian and Thai exports with smaller amounts from other countries, total international trade in damar might approach 15 000 tonnes/year.


A damar (Shorea javanica) garden in southern Sumatra, Indonesia. First cuts for tapping are made when the tree is about 20 years old. (Photo: Mien Kaomini)

Tapper climbs the tree supported by a rattan belt to collect the solidified exudate (damar) and to refreshen the cuts, Sumatra, Indonesia. (Photo: H. de Foresta)


Most Indonesian damar is exported to Singapore from where it is re-exported to consumer countries. Of those other countries which import directly from Indonesia, Germany is a major destination, particularly of batu (taking about 2 000 tonnes in each of 1992 and 1993). Other Southeast Asian countries such as China (Taiwan) and Malaysia import significant quantities, as does India. India is the biggest market for Thai damar and in recent years has taken all, or almost all, of Thailand's exports, around 1 500-2 000 tonnes/year.

Except for 1989, Japanese imports have been limited to "gum damar", usually about 100-140 tonnes annually. Combined imports of copal and damar for 1985-87 have been given earlier (Table 19).

Indian consumption of damar from indigenous sources is believed to be substantial but cannot be quantified.

Supply sources

Indonesia is by far the major source of internationally traded damar. Export statistics are not easily accessible for some of the other countries known to produce damar, but of these, Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia have exported variable quantities. De BEER (1993) has estimated Laotian production of damar at 500-1 000 tormes/year and states that most is exported to Thailand; a proportion of Thai exports may therefore simply be re-exports of damar from Laos. Malaysia exports small quantities of damar but the larger level of imports make it a net importer.

Quality and prices

As would be expected for a commodity of such diverse origins, damar is of extremely variable quality. Colours range from very pale grades to those which are grey-black. Physical form and size varies from large irregular lumps or smaller globular lumps to small chips and dust. In past years, damars of recognized quality were usually identified by the port at which cleaning and grading took place and from where they were dispatched, or their geographical origin (e.g., Pontianak and Batavia), and this is still often the case today (e.g., Palembang).

There is an FAO specification for damar which gives a number of limits for such things as arsenic, lead and heavy metal content.

Illustrative of current (mid-1995) prices (CIF London) are the following for grades A-C of Palembang damar:

  • A US$ 1 250-1 370/tonne
  • B US$ 1 225-1 345/tonne
  • C US$ 1 120-1 215/tonne

The lower end of each range is the discounted price for larger (container load) lots. Dealers in London state that prices have been very stable over recent years.



Botanical names

Family Dipterocarpaceae:

Shorea spp. (including Shorea javanica K. & V. [Sumatra], Shorea lamellata Foxw. [Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo], Shorea virescens Parijs [Borneo, the Philippines], Shorea retinodes Sloot. [Sumatra], Shorea guiso (Blco) Bl. [Thailand, Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo, the Philippines] and Shorea robusta Gaertn. f. [India]).

Hopea spp. (including Hopea dryobalanoides Miq. [Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo] and Hopea celebica Burck. [Sulawesi]).

Vatica spp. (including Vatica rassak (Korth.) Bl. [Borneo, the Philippines, Sulawesi, New Guinea]).

Vateria spp.

Balanocarpus spp.

Family Burseraceae: Canarium spp.

Description and distribution

Trees of the family Dipterocarpaceae are medium to very large trees, widespread and of very great importance as a source of tropical hardwood throughout the Indian and Southeast Asian regions, including the Malay and Indonesian archipelagos. A large number of species from several genera have been tapped for resin at one time or another, and where the resin which is collected is used locally this is still probably true. The number of species which yield resin which eventually enters world trade is smaller but the identity of the botanical source is usually lost as the damar passes through the various stages of sale.

Shorea robusta is tapped in India. Wild trees of various Shorea and Hopea species are tapped in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam. Although many dipterocarps flower and fruit very irregularly (which has hampered attempts to cultivate them) damar is collected from certain species which have been successfully planted by local people in Indonesia: Shorea javanica and Hopea dryobalanoides in Sumatra and Vatica rassak in Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Maluku.

Canarium spp. also yield a dammar-type resin, which is occasionally collected although it is not believed to be an important item of commerce.


TORQUEBIAU (1984) gives a good description of tapping cultivated Shorea javanica in Sumatra. Traditional methods of tapping trees to obtain damar (whether wild or cultivated trees) involve removal of wood from the stem. Cuts made into the trunk have a triangular form but become circular with age and are arranged in vertical rows around the trunk. The first cuts are made when the tree is approximately 25 cm in diameter (about 20 years old). The cut


is several centimetres wide at first, but becomes enlarged at every tapping and eventually becomes a hole of 15-20 cm in depth and width. The average number of holes for a tree about 30 m high and 60-80 cm diameter is 9-11 in each of 4-5 vertical rows. For the higher holes, the tapper climbs the tree supported by a rattan belt and using the lower holes as footholds.

The exuded resin is allowed to dry on the tree before it is collected; resin which forms hard drops becomes "mata kucing". The frequency with which the tree is visited to refreshen the cut varies from once a week to once a month, depending on how far the tree is from the village. Tapping can continue for 30 years.

In India, tapping involves removing narrow strips of bark from the tree. The resin which exudes solidifies and darkens on drying and is then removed from the tree. Tapping is repeated several times a year.


When tapped once a month in the manner described above, a fully productive tree has been stated to yield about 4 kg of damar at each tapping, i.e., about 48 kg/year. However, there is known to be genotypic (tree-to-tree) variation in yields and some trees may only be tapped every 3 months because of poor yields. In other cases, if the resin from a good-yielding tree is not collected for 6 months it may completely fill the hole in the tree (10-15 cm wide and deep). Resin production is reported to fall markedly when the tree is flowering and fruiting, and only reaches previous levels a year later.


So-called "dewaxed" damar is prepared by dissolving damar in a hydrocarbon solvent and precipitating and removing a high-melting, resinous fraction. The remaining soluble fraction is then more compatible with the cellulose component of cellulose lacquers.


A Shorea javanica tree in later stages of tapping, Sumatra, Indonesia. Tapping continues for a period of about 30 years. (Photo: Mien Kaomini)

Damar-producing trees are also highly valued for timber, and felling them for sawtimber or the manufacture of value-added wood products is usually the primary activity. Some local use is made of the fruits.


In India, an oil is distilled from the resin which is used for fragrance and medicinal purposes. The seeds of sal furnish a fatty oil and the residual cake can be used as an animal feed.


The "kebun damar" (damar gardens) of Shorea javanica in Lampung, southern Sumatra, are an example of how, over many years, communities have developed a traditional cultivation system which is now regarded as a model of agroforestry technique. Rain-fed rice is grown for one or two years and then coffee, pepper or some other crop is planted, together with Shorea and other useful trees such as cloves. While the damar trees are reaching the age at which they can first be tapped (15-20 years), other products can be harvested to provide cash income to the farmers. The whole system converts one of a shifting cultivation to a permanent, sustainable, productive land-use system.

Much is still to be learnt about the biology and silviculture of Shorea javanica but valuable knowledge and experience has already been gained and research is still in progress through BIOTROP in Bogor, Indonesia. It is hoped that the successful development of plantations of Shorea javanica will encourage the use of other dipterocarps and native trees for plantation forestry. There is much potential, therefore, for the agroforestry approach to damar production, not only in Indonesia but in other countries, and the important question may then be that of the market and how much damar it can absorb.

Research needs

Apart from the need to acquire more detailed information on the markets for damar (countries or regions which are important consumers, end uses, customer requirements in terms of quality, etc.), other areas of research (in addition to continued research on silvicultural aspects) should include:

  • Improved tapping methodology. The use of chemical stimulants to promote resin flow has already recently been investigated (MESSER, 1990) but the research should be extended. There would be much to be gained if less severe methods of tapping, i.e., ones which did not involve removal of so much wood, could be developed.
  • Screening of wild trees to identify superior planting stock. Gains in productivity could be made by identifying high-yielding trees and transferring their progeny to the nursery.


  • ANON. (1959) Dewaxed damar - a review. Paint, Oil and Colour Journal, 11(Sep), 215-218.
  • ANON. (1973) Damar. FPRI Technical Note No. 136. 3pp. Laguna, the Philippines: Forest Products Research and Industries Development Commission.
  • De FORESTA, H. and MICHON, G. (1994) Agroforests in Sumatra - where ecology meets economy. Agroforestry Today, 6(4), 12-13.
  • FAO (1992) Dammar gum [published in FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 31/2, 1984]. p 475. In Compendium of Food Additive Specifications. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 52 (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives. Combined Specifications from 1st through the 37th Meetings, 1956-1990). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization.


  • GIANNO, R. (1986) The exploitation of resinous products in a lowland Malayan forest. Wallaceana, (43), 3-6.
  • JAFARSIDIK, J. (1987) [Damar resin-producing tree species and their distribution in Indonesia] (in Indonesian, English summary). Duta Rimba, 13(Mar/Apr), 7-11.
  • JAFARSIDIK, Y.S. (1982) [Resin-producing tree species in Sumatra] (in Indonesian, English summary). Duta Rimba, 8(54), 36-37.
  • MESSER, A.C. (1990) Traditional and chemical techniques for stimulation of Shorea javanica (Dipterocarpaceae) resin exudation in Sumatra. Economic Botany, 44(4), 463-469.
  • SOESILOTOMO, P.S. (1992) [Damar tree breeding [for increased resin production] in Probolinggo Forest District] (in Indonesian). Duta Rimba, 18(143), 42-46.
  • TORQUEBIAU, E.F. (1984) Man-made dipterocarp forest in Sumatra [including Shorea javanica tapped for resin]. Agroforestry Systems, 2(2), 103-127.
  • TORQUEBIAU, E.F. (1987) Multidisciplinary research on Shorea javanica. I. Introduction. BIOTROPIA, 1(1), 42-45.


Table 20a. Damar[1]: exports from Indonesia, and destinations, 1988-93 (tomes)
1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993
Total 1665 1374 952 2198 2376 3031
Of which to:
Singapore 659 994 778 1583 1902 2171
Japan 289 136 109 136 121 123
Germany 118 63 30 90 75 90
China (Taiwan) 15 15 15 130 100 229
Malaysia 40 25 15 98 16 76
Pakistan 531 - - - - -
Netherlands 13 - - - 15 -
UK - 78 - 45 - -
France - 25 - 13 48 93
Korea, Rep. - 20 - 75 3 -
Viet Nam - - - - 18 - - - -
Hong Kong - - 5 10 20 15
Sri Lanka - - - 18 18 -
India - - - - 20 234
Colombia - - - - 38 -

Source: National statistics

  1. Note:Classified as "Gum damar"

Table 20b. Damar[1] (batu): exports from Indonesia, and destinations, 1988-93 (tonnes)
1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993
Total 5749 6549 6571 6206 5214 7440
Of which to:
Singapore 4563 4890 5021 4581 2962 4242
Germany 700 1408 1105 1250 2092 1966
Malaysia 385 170 264 315 - 163
India 29 28 168 60 121 818
China (Taiwan) 52 15 - - 16 15
Pakistan - 14 - - 23 13
Bangladesh - - - - - 223
Netherlands 20 - - - - -
Poland - 24 - - - -

Source: National statistics

  1. Note: Classified as "Resin: Batu"


Table 20c. Damar[1] (mata kucing): exports from Indonesia, and destinations, 1988-93 (tonnes)
1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993
Total 2929 3449 3355 4169 2585 2814
Of which to:
Singapore 2714 3122 2710 3072 2265 2114
China (Taiwan) 160 207 612 821 115 304
India - 41 20 20 68 219
Germany - 31 - 15 76 77
Malaysia 55 5 - 5 33 15
Japan - 27 - - - -
Italy - 15 - - - 10
France - - 13 - - -
Korea, Rep. of - - - - 200 - -
Ecuador - - - - 36 - -
UK - - - - 16 32
Saudi Arabia - - - - 12 -
Syria - - - - - 24
China, P. Rep. (excl. Taiwan) - - - - - 19

Source: National statistics

  1. Note: Classified as "Resin: Mata kucing"

Table 21. Damar: exports from Thailand, and destinations, 1988-93 (tonnes)
1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993
Total 2107 2328 1499 1841 1391 1475
Of which to:
India 2031 2295 1499 1841 1372 1475
Singapore 64 17 - - 2 -
Pakistan 10 - - - - -
Tunisia - 16 - - - -
Bangladesh - - - - 17 -
Myanmar 2 - - - - -

Source: National statistics