Growing ‘The Wood of The Gods’: Agarwood Production in Southeast Asia

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Abstract

Agarwood, also known as eaglewood or gaharu, is a valuable non-timber forest product which sometimes grows in Aquilaria species. The genus species occur mainly in South and Southeast Asia. As a result of a defense mechanism to fend off pathogenes, Aquilaria species develop agarwood which can be used for incense, perfume, and traditional medicines. The main markets for these products are in South and East Asia and the Middle East.

The high prices demanded for agarwood has led to the rapid depletion of Aquilaria trees in natural forests. The search for agarwood has spread from one country to another. At present Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are the main supplies. Because of the rapid depletion of the agarwood in the wild, the species was put on the CITES Appendix II as endangered.

Efforts have been undertaken to increase the production of the infected wood by deliberately wounding the trees. A variety of methods is used towards this end. Some recently developed techniques have proven to be most effective. This resulted in planting of Aquilaria trees by small holders as well as large industrial size plantations.

In this chapter we shall discuss a particular agarwood project in Vietnam and some other locations elsewhere promoting growing of Aquilaria trees among small holders. The general approach of the project to stimulate the growing of the trees among local communities will be discussed against the background of the international demand for this highly valuable non-timber forest product. Finally some potential developments of the future will be described.