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Sustainable Agarwood Production in Aquilaria Trees

Agarwood, aloeswood, eaglewood, jinkoh, gaharu are names for the world’s most valuable incense. This resinous material is produced by tropical rainforest trees and has been used for centuries as incense and in traditional medicine. In the past, old growth Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees were indiscriminately cut to find the resin (usually hidden within the center of only a few old trees). Today in many countries of Southeast Asia where the tree was once native, it has become very rare due to increased harvesting. The resinous wood or oil extracted from the inside of some trees is extremely valuable since it is highly regarded for use during Buddhist and Islamic cultural activities as well as an important ingredient in many traditional medicines. It is also an extremely important component in traditional Japanese incense ceremonies. Although most people in the United States and Europe are not familiar with this aromatic resinous wood, its use as incense (called aloeswood) is mentioned several times in the bible. People in the United States, Europe and other countries that have had the opportunity to smell the fragrance of this extraordinary incense find it very appealing and pleasant.

Aquilaria trees are now protected in most countries and the collection of agarwood is illegal from natural forests. International agreements, such as CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), accepted by 169 countries, is designed to ensure trade in agarwood products from wild trees does not threaten the survival of Aquilaria. Despite these efforts agarwood products from illegally cut trees continues to be sold and unknowing consumers create a demand that helps to destroy the last old growth Aquilaria trees in existence.

What triggers agarwood to form in some old growth trees has been an unsolved mystery. Our research investigation over the last 12 years in cooperation with The Rainforest Project Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the worlds forests, has studied the formation of resin in Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees and found a method to produce the resin in plantation grown young trees. This technique consists of wounding trees in a specific manner and applying treatments to accelerate the natural defense responses of the tree. The technique allows a sustainable yield of resin to be produced in relatively young trees. Agarwood is a high value forest product that is easy to store and ship. Our newly developed methods to cultivate agarwood is providing a new economic, non-timber forest product for Southeast Asia and other tropical regions of the world. This new economy in rural areas will help many of the world’s poorest people. The sustainable production of agarwood in plantation grown trees eliminates the need to cut old growth forest trees for the resin and will help save this endangered tree from possible extinction. This work also provides a source of cultivated agarwood so this magnificent aromatic resin can be enjoyed by people throughout the world. The world's first cultivated agarwood produced using our technology by farmers in Vietnam is now available and can be purchased from distributers and from the internet.