Monday, May 28, 2007

'The world's most valuable wood'

Aromatic agarwood prized by princes could become a lucrative export for local tycoon Boon VanasinCHAROEN KITTIKANYA
Property tycoon Boon Vanasin was once invited to a banquet held by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia with 100 distinguished guests in attendance. The prince was burning dry agarwood to please the guests.
Dr Boon was stunned when he learned that the prince's aromatic little gesture cost 10 million baht, prompting him to research one of the world's most expensive woods _ and its market potential.
According to Dr Boon, Saudi Arabia alone burns dry agarwood worth more than 80 billion baht a year. The world market for agarwood, used mainly for incense, is estimated at more than 180 billion baht a year.
''World demand is astonishing,'' said Dr Boon, who has spent 15 million baht over the past five years researching the business. It has led to the formation of a company, Krissana Panasin Co, to handle agarwood development.
''Over the last five years, we have dedicated much time, finances and human resources to researching, studying and testing, to create high-quality agarwood oil concentrate,'' he said,
''And we have achieved an agricultural breakthrough in agarwood production by reducing the production period of resinous heartwood from 50 years in nature to just seven years in cultivation.''
Dr Boon also said that his was the first company to bio-engineer agarwood trees to create high-grade heartwood throughout the entire tree.
Agarwood is found in Aquilaria trees, large evergreens native to Southeast Asia. It is a resin that the tree produces in response to the attack of a parasite, but in nature it occurs in only one tree out of every 5,000.
Krissana Panasin has also succeeded in developing its own agarwood varieties named Panasin, using seeds from Sra Bap and Soi Dao mountains in Chanthaburi, where the best agarwood varieties in Thailand originate. It also has an agarwood tissue culturing project based on varieties that can yield good-quality heartwood.
Insatiable worldwide demand for aromatic wood over 2,000 years has led to severe depletion of tropical agarwood forests.
Thanks to a Thai initiative to promote reforestation, local farmers have grown more than 100,000 agarwood trees since 2000. Currently, several million such trees are grown nationwide.
According to Panamese Thitisomboon, managing director of Krissana Panasin, the company has invested 30 million baht in a refinery at its orchard in Chanthaburi. The factory is due to start operations in about six months.
The market price for agarwood oil now ranges from 280,000 to 800,000 baht per litre depending on quality.
According to Mr Panamese, the company has about 5,000 trees and aims to have 500,000 within three years.
The company will arrange for experts to assess plantation areas for other growers. It also guarantees to repurchase the trees grown from its strains at 2,000 to 3,000 baht each once they mature in six to seven years.
Dr Boon said the company was also working with the SME Bank and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives to support farmers.
''Growing agarwood trees is popular and there are more and more agarwood farmers. However, most are not properly educated,'' he said.
''Even worse, they have been deceived and when the time comes to collect the heartwood, they are unable to sell it at the desired prices as the quality is below global standards. So we would like to advise interested investors to study the information on agarwood cultivation thoroughly beforehand.''

Friday, May 25, 2007

Papua New Guinea's Agarwood

Gaharu, Eaglewood, Aloeswood, Agarwood... It's All The Same
Leo Sunari (middle) explainingtechniques for identificationof gaharuphoto: WWF/PNGThe Sepik River is Papua New Guinea's answer to Brazil's Amazon or the mighty Congo River of Central Africa. As part of the largest uncontaminated freshwater system in the Asia-Pacific region, the Sepik is considered the soul of the country. The river's pristine state is due to the fact that there are no large cities or developments, and therefore few human-induced impacts in the Sepik region. But there are threats from mining, logging, invasive species and unsustainable fishing and agriculture practices, so it's no surprise that one of WWF's priorities is to work with the local communities to help them avoid selling off the resources that have sustained them for generations for short-term benefit. The area is home to some of PNG's rarest plants and some 55 percent of the region's plant life are endemic to the area. 120 of PNG's 200 mammal species are found here, along with 387 of PNG's 725 bird species.
Villager inspecting a gaharu treephoto: WWF/PNGToday we continue our journeys in the Forests of New Guinea, and will explore a highly valuable tree known in New Guinea as gaharu, although it has many names including: eaglewood, aloeswood or agarwood.
Our guide, Leo Sunari, head of the WWF Gaharu project, has graciously offered to share his insights on WWF's work with gaharu in some of the most beautiful forests in Papua New Guinea. Leo informs us that it is believed that only those trees which are older than 25 years can produce high-grade gaharu, a valuable, dark brown- or black-colored heartwood with a very strong smell. He offers me the sample that he carries with him on community visits and with a quick sniff my nostrils fill with a musky, hearty scent similar to incense. It is found in special trees where they have been damaged and forms because the body of the tree produces a resin (like oil) in response to an injury or infection.
Loading cargo to take to thePukapuki gaharu workshopphoto: WWF/PNGGaharu is known throughout many Asian countries and there are at least 15 species of trees that naturally produce it. The valuable wood has been traded for thousands of years throughout the Asian world; it used to be commonly found in many tropical countries, from India to Indonesia. From Asia to the Middle East, agarwood is used for religious purposes, for the good smell, for cultural ceremonies and for medicine. However, in Papua New Guinea, gaharu is newly discovered and interest in the harvest and trade is still rising. Currently, different parts of PNG are going through a harvest boom, mainly in the East Sepik and Sandaun Provinces.
Pukapuki Village in East Sepik Province is a place where gaharu harvesting is really taking off. We join WWF and TRAFFIC staff, who are conducting research, promoting community education and training local villagers to better manage this valuable resource. They tell us about the importance of conducting sustainable management practices for the gaharu. Both institutions believe that if carefully managed, income generated from gaharu will provide a significant improvement to the livelihoods of many rural villagers.
Participants at the Pukapuki workshopphoto: WWF/PNGThrough a series of workshops, local landowners learn more about the tree's management needs, the types and grades of gaharu, and the current market value of the resource. When it comes to preferences and trading, the grades of gaharu are usually separated into Super, A-grade, B-grade, C-grade, D-grade and E-grade, with prices dropping down with each grade. Grading is a complicated process, because many characteristics need to be considered, and traders can easily cheat rural villagers, who are just learning about the ins and outs of the resource. Not only the color of the wood is important, but also the size of the piece, its smell, its weight and how easily the wood burns. When asked why he was attending the workshop, one Pukapuki villager emphatically states, "I want to learn more from WWF so that I can make sure I get a fair price when trading the gaharu."
Gaharu is disappearing all over the world, and that Papua New Guinea is believed to have the world's last remaining stocks of mature trees in the wild. From India to Indonesia, market demand for this forest product is very strong and far greater than the supply. This is why foreign traders have been coming to remote and difficult-to-access areas like the Sepik region for the past five years. "Sustainable gaharu trade could provide many previously unattainable benefits for many rural communities across New Guinea," Leo says, "but if they don't learn how to manage it and protect it, the trees will be gone before they know it."
There is a lot to learn about this tree species and much information to be exchanged in order to design the best management procedures for commercial harvesting. However, local communities have begun to realize the importance of protecting their forests and have started to follow conservation practices.
"Once we learn what we are looking for, we do not need to cut down the entire tree," says a local man. "In order to obtain gaharu, especially young trees of 25-30 years, we just make small cuts with our bush knives where the tree has previously been injured." In this way they can quickly assess whether or not gaharu is present without killing the tree.
Gaharu harvestednear Pukapukiphoto: WWF/PNGLeo mentions that currently, PNG's national management of gaharu harvest and trade is not clear, but the framework developed by the WWF project is offering a unique opportunity to begin a best-practice model for well-managed harvest and trade.
WWF has conducted three patrols or surveys to assess and confirm the status of the gaharu producing trees in three areas: Madang, East Sepik and Sandaun Provinces. These surveys were conducted at different periods with assistance from various communities, organizations and government departments. The information collected and lessons learned from research and workshops will enable well-informed decisions to be made about how to work together with the communities. The idea is to work alongside communities in developing well-organized, management systems for gaharu production in the clan groups. It is a slow process, but Leo feels it is very worthwhile, explaining, "We are committed to finding ways to maximize benefits for the communities by managing these forest resources."

Agarwood - Gem of Truth

by Trygve HarrisIf you want to grow agarwood trees, make sure to feed them plenty of carrot shavings. They prefer to drink rainwater, and will not tolerate the calcium found in pipes. Agarwood trees like it reasonably hot, up to human body temperature, but need the relief of natural shade, like palm trees. The ridiculous trunk tapers the wrong way, like a baobab, and the surface pulsates with thousands of tiny bumps. There are many truths, sacred and commercial, about this elusive tree and his products. Perhaps the one undeniable truth, true beyond all questions, is his value: considerable. And even this truth is shifting and unclear, if you want an exact number, because agarwood will not give you an absolute; every tree is an individual, every piece of wood has his own personality, and every entity that is gleaned from each piece is alike only to the others taken from immediately around it, and utilized in the same way. I have paid attention and many dollars over as many years in pursuit of "real" agarwood. I have traveled to the great agarwood markets of Bangkok, Singapore and Bombay and learnt the Chinese grading system in Manchuria. I have talked about the meaning of agarwood with devout Muslims over endless tiny cups of tea all over the Middle East, and I can tell you this: There are as many truths as there are people to tell them. How many times have I found the "real story," and filed the last truth away in the back of my mind, in embarrassment at having believed such a story? Here is a fairly undeniable truth: Agarwood, both the oil and the wood, come from 2 or 3 species of Aquilaria tree which grows, or grew, from the states of Eastern India through Burma, down through Bangladesh, Thailand, Indochina and along the Malay peninsula to Papua New Guinea and even Borneo. This habitat is now smaller. End of truth. According to CITES, Aquilaria malacchensis is rated "vulnerable" and A. crassna is "critically endangered." There seems to be some confusion over A. agollocha, whether it merits its own rating or if it is in fact the same as A. malacchensis. Consequently, this species is not rated. Not all of the above countries are CITES signees. There is some confusion also about growth in certain regions. For example, these agencies are not able to prove that agarwood comes from Lao PDR. Agarwood is also considered 'Vulnerable" in India where it is most likely extinct already. Although A. crassna is often reported as being the agarwood of Indochina (which is the most valuable,) there are also contradictory reports. When I asked for the botanical name at the Laotian still, my question was greeted with laughter. And of course it's funny. There are no botanists at the agarwood still. I will refer to agarwood as "agarwood" throughout this article and leave the precise Latin naming to your imagination. It is a fact that agarwood is over-harvested in the wild. It is also a fact that the agarwood business involves vast amounts of money and involves a rare, beautiful and highly labor-intensive commodity that costs more than gold, and is infinitely more precious. It is also a secretive world, with tales spun to accommodate the expectations of the buyer.Rarity: Agarwood is now found very occasionally in the wilds of Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Cambodia (Kampuchea). It is no longer found in India, Bangladesh, Thailand or China. There are rumors of farms (both successful and unsuccessful) in Vietnam and Indonesia. The only large trees left are in Western Kampuchea, because of the impossibility of collection for many years due to continual fighting and mine laying. There may also be a few large trees left in the very remote forests of Laos. The mere presence of the tree is not a guarantee of fragrant agarwood; there must also be a presence of a certain group of fungi imperfecti, and the synergy that takes place between these fungi and the tree will cause the fragrant compounds to blossom. A completely uninfected tree will not be worth the trouble of harvest, as the wood is soft, white and odorless, suitable for kindling. A living tree, partially infected, will be cut and later used for oil, and a dead tree, or a heavily infected one, will be harvested for its wood. This rarity can be illustrated quite easily: certain Japanese incense companies retain employees along the rural agarwood trade routes all over SE Asia. These people are fluent in the local languages and culture and are employed for years on end to simply pay attention to what comes out of the forest. If a beautiful piece of wood is found, suitable for the private collection of a well-connected Japanese Agarwood connoisseur, it is bought immediately, long before it reaches the Laotian capital, let alone the big markets in Bangkok, Singapore or Bombay.Beautiful: Agarwood is an acquired taste, at least to Western sensibilities. Deep, rich, earthy and personal, its sweet yet sharp balsamic woodiness will enter you through all of the your senses. Beyond a pleasant smell, a drop of agarwood will softly invade your lungs, your mind, your body and spirit, taking total possession of you. You will smell that drop all day, he won't let you forget him, a constant reminder. The body heats, the heart expands, other scents retreat in the presence of oud. Oud is sexuality, passion, ecstasy and love. Oud is wild, he is primitive, he is the ancientness, holiness and sensuality of the world and all of its history. He is compelling, in a way that satisfies the Japanese obsession with subtlety and refinement, and has gripped the hearts and souls of the people of the Arabian Gulf. The appreciation of agarwood in the rest of the world runs sporadically like veins of resin through a piece of wood. It has always been a part of the French Perfume floracopia. One of the legends of the east has an agarwood cutting being the only plant Adam was allowed to take from the Garden of Eden.Labor Intensive: Agarwood trees grow randomly and rarely in the forest, usually in difficult to reach places. The first step is to find one and make sure it is infected or even dead. A healthy tree will give nothing. Local people will know the location of agarwood trees. What looks like impenetrable forest is actually inhabited by humans, with footpaths connecting villages. Once the location of a tree is established, the gatherers walk in. In spring 2001, with most trees gone, the average walk in to an agarwood tree is one week. This walk is through heavy jungle, thick with foliage and bugs and always mountainous. The gatherers sleep on the ground and must hunt their food daily. Malaria is rampant. And Agarwood trees like to grow on outcrops; the actual harvesting usually takes place on the edge of a cliff. The harvesting itself will take several days, and then there is the walk out, fully laden. Each man will carry up to 75 kilos on his back. Dead infected wood fetches the highest price, with infected living wood also being saleable for distillation. As much as possible is carried out. Living wood left on the forest floor will not improve in quality. The agarwood distiller pays taxes to harvest from a certain area of forest the gatherers bring the wood to him where it is examined, and, if of suitable quality, bought. Then it is graded minutely. The wood bound for distillation must be chopped in a particular way, finely, and then left to soak in water for 10 days. After soaking, about 70 kilo is placed in the still and the fire is built. Agarwood distills for about a week. The total yield for 70 kilos of wood will not exceed 20 ml. Like rose, the hydrosol contains many particles that are more desirable to have in the oil. So the hydrosol is cohobated, used over and over, to try and extract the maximum amount of fragrant compounds. Other methods have been experimented with: centrifuge, variations of soaking time, distillation time, etc. However, if the distillation does not go perfectly, the economic repercussions are fierce. Neither solvent nor CO2 extraction is an option at the moment. There are 2 condensers per still. The reason is that the agarwood needs to be cooled very quickly after coming over in the steam, or it will burn. And the temperature must be exact.The Cost: There are many stories that illustrate the lengths connoisseurs will go to. There is the tale of the wealthy Arab who found the perfect oud oil and wanted it as an ingredient in the family perfume, paying $62,000 cash for the kilo. Usually, the Middle Eastern or French perfumers who buy oud at source must establish enormous bank accounts in the pertinent countries, as the governments are aware of this trade and capitalize on it. Then deposits must be made and contracts signed. Removing agarwood independently from this system can be hazardous. At least three people have been shot attempting to smuggle agarwood out of Laos in the recent past, two at the Vietnamese border and one at the Thai. There is no upper limit to the price of agarwood, and this will continue to climb as the scramble becomes wilder. The most costly agarwood product is a large piece of heavily infected wood, preferably of the Kannam (Kyara is a similar concept but not the same,) quality, which means that it contains so much resin that if you scrape it with a knife, the shavings will ball up in your hand like tar. This is so rare and valuable that it is not really even considered agarwood anymore, but just Kannam. This will be worth even more the larger it is, and the value goes up more if the natural shape is interesting and beautiful. I have seen a piece of this; to my knowledge it is the only one in the world. The gentleman who owned it had been offered over a million dollars for it from a Japanese collector and turned it down. It is priceless. In general, you don't find Kannam so we will talk about the agarwood you would typically find. Dead infected wood cannot be distilled. Heavily infected live wood is not worth distilling, as the wood itself brings such a high price. The only wood that is distilled is live and light colored with a very small amount of resin and maybe some oil running through. Distillable wood is only good for a few months, as the essential oil cells dry out; so oud is distilled from freshly felled trees. By far the greater amount of wood is used in its original form. There is a large market in Chinese medicine for the powdered wood, but that seems to come mostly from Vietnam and it is becoming more common to farm it. The wood is graded and sold through various channels, as incense for Japan, (especially the nicer pieces,) and the Gulf. Then are the lower but still acceptable qualities, which go all over Asia for incense making. Even at the lower level of quality, on the cusp of oil producing quality, the scent is heavenly when smoldering. All of the oil bound for the distillery is graded and sorted so that the still is filled with as homogeneous a load as possible. Higher grades of wood can be distilled by special order.Adulteration: You can be assured of this. Never mind the United States supply, pure agarwood oil (and sometimes even the wood) cannot even be found in the great markets of Bangkok and Bombay. Most oud is diluted before it leaves the producing region. Once it gets into the hands of a trader, adulteration is certain. The average oud available in the US will have changed hands at least 10 times. By the time it reaches Bangkok, it will be a commercial product bound for the Middle East. The prices in Bombay are similar to Bangkok and I think this indicates further adulteration. There have been a few GCs done on this oil but upon examination of the constituents, the oil appears to have been bought in Bangkok. It may be a fine oil, but it will be a fine oil diluted down or with other things added. It is worth noting that Westerners in general and aromatherapists in particular are the only ones concerned with purity. The Saudis want something that smells great, and they are not as particular about purity.Uses: Agarwood is an aphrodisiac, both in oil form, and as incense. These are generally topical uses but the oil is also sold in Vietnamese pharmacies for internal use with the same goal. Chinese medicine uses powdered Aquilaria as a treatment for cirrhosis of the liver and as a director or focuser for other medicines. It has also been used as a treatment for lung and stomach tumors. Internal use of the powdered wood will also clean you out and give you lots of energy. Don't go grinding up your incense however, unless you are 100% sure of the quality and purity of the wood you are using. There are rumors of Chinese factories churning out luscious smelling but ultimately fake wood chips, made of the lowest possible grade agarwood soaked for a month in synthetic (European manufactured) oud. As a perfume ingredient, oud is sought and bought by certain Perfume houses as a tiny but essential component of some of their high-class perfumes; Zeenat and Amourage are two examples. The oil of oud is a diaphoretic; it will make you sweat, and beyond that, will connect you with something of the spirit world. It is important to note that there is no research done on this oil. We have access only to our own experiences. Oud symbolizes and calls forth that which connects us to the ancient, to the roots and soul of the earth, to the Garden of Eden and the Hand of God, to the timelessness of the spirit and the vibration of the ethereal world, to the basis of our primal selves and the completeness of existence.

Agarwood & CITES

Agarwood, eaglewood, gaharu, aloeswood - these are just a few of the names for the resinous, fragrant and highly valuable heartwood produced by Aquilaria malaccensis and other species of the Indomalesian tree genus Aquilaria. The wealth of names for this dark and heavy wood (its Chinese name literally means "wood that sinks") reflects its widespread and varied use over thousands of years. Both agarwood oil and incense are used for their fragrant properties, notably in the Near East. Agarwood incense is used in religious ceremonies by Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, while a revival of the Koh doh incense ceremony in Japan has rekindled interest in agarwood in that country. In Taiwan Province of China, agarwood is an aromatic ingredient in Chu-yeh Ching and Vo Ka Py wine. Although less common, agarwood may also be carved into sculptures, beads and boxes, which are sometimes also used for religious purposes.
Accounts of international trade in agarwood date back as early as the thirteenth century, India being one of the earliest sources of agarwood for foreign markets. Agarwood is currently traded in large quantities: more than 700 tonnes of agarwood from Aquilaria malaccensis were reported in international trade in 1997. Available trade data report approximately 20 countries as exporting and re-exporting agarwood from 1993-1998, with exports from Indonesia and Malaysia taking the lead. Although overall trade volumes may appear small in "timber trade" terms, they are not small in monetary terms. Agarwood chips and segments may sell for several hundred to several thousand US dollars per kilogram. The price of oil distilled from agarwood is generally between US$5 000 and $10 000 per kilogram, but can be significantly more for agarwood oil of exceptionally high quality.
Unfortunately, the demand for agarwood currently far exceeds the available supply, which is naturally restricted owing to the nature of its formation - agarwood is only found in a small percentage of Aquilaria trees of those species known to produce it. Although research into the origins of agarwood is ongoing, it appears that the fragrant resin that permeates the heartwood of some Aquilaria trees is produced as a response to wounding and/or a fungal infection. It is this resinous wood, or "agarwood", that is sought, the non-impregnated wood being considered too soft to be useful for construction. Agarwood is harvested by felling and then splitting trees open. External signs of the presence of agarwood are not always obvious. As a result, Aquilaria trees are often cut down indiscriminately in the search for those containing agarwood. The high value of agarwood products is also stimulating illegal harvest and trade in several range countries.
Populations of eight Aquilaria species have already declined to the point where they are considered threatened according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List Categories. Of these, six species are considered at risk from overexploitation for agarwood.
In view of the evidence of unsustainable harvest and trade, intergovernmental action has been taken to bring the international trade in one of these species, Aquilaria malaccensis, within sustainable levels. A. malaccensis was listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) with effect from February 1995. This listing obliges all CITES member countries exporting or re-exporting A. malaccensis parts and derivatives (e.g. wood, chips, oil) to issue CITES documents for those shipments exported. In the case of exports from range states, the Convention stipulates that such permits should only be issued once the exporting government has confirmed that the agarwood to be exported was obtained both legally and in a manner not detrimental to the survival of the species.
The CITES Plants Committee considered it a priority to review the implementation of the CITES listing for A. malaccensis during the 1998-2000 triennium. Trade Records and Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC) was contracted by the CITES secretariat to undertake such a review in 1998. TRAFFIC's research initially focused specifically on CITES implementation. However, as several different Aquilaria species are in trade and agarwood is extremely difficult to identify to the species level, TRAFFIC's research was broadened to encompass a more general review of agarwood use and trade. Information was gathered through: interviews with government authorities, other agarwood researchers and traders; compilation and analysis of CITES and customs trade data; and a review of available legislation and literature. Market surveys and visits to harvest sites and processing centres were undertaken in several countries.
The results of TRAFFIC's research are reported in the TRAFFIC Network report Heart of the matter: agarwood use and trade and CITES implementation for Aquilaria malaccensis. The full report can be downloaded ( ). (Source: Extracted from the executive summary of Heart of the matter: agarwood use and trade and CITES implementation for Aquilaria malaccensis.)
For more information, please contact:
TRAFFIC International, 219c Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 ODL, UK.Fax: +44 1223 277237;e-mail:
[Please see under Country Compass - Papua New Guinea - for more information on agarwood.]

Fragrant Harvest

"...only rarely have we stood back and celebrated our soils as something beautiful and perhaps even mysterious. For what other natural body, worldwide in its distribution, has so many interesting secrets to reveal to the patient observer" --- Les Molloy
Dear Friends-
Today I received the first small consignment(3 ounces) of hydrodistilled agarwood from cultivated trees. It is a really lovely amber colored material which at room temperature is a solid, soft waxy textured essence. It quickly becomes a flowable liquid when warmed in heated water.
Three years ago when Tajul first sent me samples of the cultivated agarwood I liked it but did not find it as attractive as the wild harvested material so held off in stocking it. But in that period of time his family has gained a good deal of expertise in distilling it resulting in a fine essence.
Its olfactory characteristics are excellent. It has a very very rich radiant and tenacious sweet precious woods bouquet with none of the smokiness sometimes found in the hydrodistilled oil from wild harvested material. The unique agarwood bouquet that forms the heart of all true agarwood oils is present in a sublime form. The oil from the wild harvested material is in an overall sense slightly more complex because the resin has had a chance to form over a period of 60 years whereas the resin from the cultivated trees has formed in 10-13 years.
If one puts a small dab of the oil on their wrist it continues to radiate its beauty for many hours. This morning before leaving for my pruning work I did just that and all during my work up until this afternoon I have been inside the aura of agarwood.
Perhaps of greatest importance is that the cultivated agarwood is a lovely essence which is a product of sustainable agriculture whereas the resin from wild harvested trees is now very rare to find because most of them were illegally and indiscriminatley harvested years ago. A small amount of wild harvested agarwood is still procurable legally from forest department land or from tribal properties in Assam, Tripura, and Meghalaya but it is only available extremely rarely and the cost has become stratospheric. The oil distilled from the cultivated trees while still expensive is less than half the cost($450 per ounce) of the oil from wild harvested trees which is generally over $1100 an ounce.
The story of how the cultivated agarwood oil has come to us forms the central part of this newsletter. Many of you may remember the earlier 5 part report on agarwood which concerned my visit to Assam in 2001. There I was able to see first hand a true miracle of hard work and vision in the form of thousands of agarwood trees/Aquilaria agallocha growing in a specific region of the country which had earlier seen the indiscriminate and illegal harvesting of the wild harvested species. Mr. Tajul and his family started this project of reforestation about 13 years ago and now their work is beginning to bare fruit with the production of agarwood essential oil from sustainably harvested trees.
Their work is one of the great inspirations of our time in that they took up this project within their own family, using their own financial resources-but with an eye towards bringing prosperity to the people that populate Assam through a natural resource that has been loved and appreciated for many centuries by people who love the aromatic treasures of the earth. For some reason in that particular area; the soil, the micro-organisms that exist there, the insects that live in the Agarwood trees, the natural rainfall, the warm humid climate, etc are in a unique relationship that allows the radiantly beautiful agarwood/oud resin to form in natural way.
"A cloak of loose, soft material, held to the earth's hard surface by gravity, is all that lies between life and lifelessness." --- Wallace H. Fuller, in Soils of the Desert Southwest, 1975.
Water, thou hast no taste, no color, no odor; canst not be defined, art relished while evermysterious. Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, thou fillest us with agratification that exceeds the delight of the senses.- Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900-1944), Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939
She sat down in a weed patch, her elbows on her knees, and kept her eyeson the small mysterious world of the ground. In the shade and sun of grass blade forests, small living things had their metropolis.- Nancy Price
Agarwood Journal Quotes
Returning to the guest house we had our breakfast and then proceeded to our first agarwood planation in the company of Tajul and brothers. As we penetrated deeper into the countryside on narrow unpaved rural roads, the scenery around us became every more beautiful. Gradually we left behind even the small vestiges of modern civilization we had encountered. We seldom saw another diesel or gasoline powered vehicle. Mostly people traveled by foot or bicycle. Indeed unless one knows where one is going on these backways it would not be easy to reach there destination because there is no map that one can follow to reach there destination. Much of the Indian countryside is composed of such unmarked paths but as one would never travel into the interior without a local guide it works just fine.
The first plantation we visited was two years old. The ten acre plot was immaculately laid out with regularly spaced agarwood trees between which a patchouli intercrop was to be found. The shimmering glossy green slender leaves where held on slim stems attached to lithe branches and supple straight trunks. The bark is light in color. The overall appearance of these young trees is very pleasing indicating that they are not only valuable potential bearers of the agarwood resin but beautiful in their own right as ornamental trees.
The trees were raised from the seed of trees that had borne good amounts of pure agarwood in hopes that the new generation would have the same capability. About 1 year after being raised in nursery conditions the trees are planted into the field where they begin growing rapidly. A mature agarwood tree can eventually reach a height of 20 meters with a girth of up to 2.5 meters.
The area where the current plantation was set up was once rich in agarwood trees but as mentioned before overexploitation of the wild species led to their total disappearance from the region. Tajul felt that this would be a good region to reestablish plantations as environmental conditions which once favored the trees grown in natural stands would most likely favor them under cultivated ones. It is a sun loving tree and seldom is found in dense forests. It needs good drainage and deep acid soils to attain its best growth but can also be found in shallow soil sitting over rocky beds. Since the trees were once found in abundance in the same region, Tajul reasoned that the soil might still carry an abundance of the mico-organisms that cause the oleoresin to form once the tree is infected. He also felt that the insect which first bores into the tree creating the proper environment for the fungus to grow might still thrive in the vicinity. As it turned out his reasoning was correct.
The trees being cultivated under organic conditions are nurtured with organic compost, naturally falling leaves and the harvested weeds which grow rapidly in the benign climate of Assam. One months time is enough for weeds to overcome an area under cultivation because the humidity and regular rains provide prime conditions for the growth of both desired and undesired plants. Having the patchouli planted as an intercrop also inspires the workers to keep on top of the weeding of unwanted material.
We spent several hours in this benign environment absorbing the vibratory radiation of the area. There is no substitute for being near the plants one is trying to appreciate and understand. They have their own unique language and are only to willing to impart their knowledge to anyone who approaches them with respect and veneration. In the world of natural essences as we know it in the West there is some danger that we may forget how these precious aromatic liquids come into being because our lives are often lived far from the production centers. Even if we cannot be near such environments we need to remember that the oils or extracts arise out of a series of intricate interactions between humans and the environments in which the plants grow. This includes birds, reptiles, insects, animals and many other forces seen and unseen. The healing virtures of the plant derived essences are, no doubt present even if we are not aware of how they have come into being. But if we can develop in our hearts a profound appreciation of the time and energy that is required to manifest the oils, then this spirit of gratitude will flow into the oil increasing its potency and efficacy.. These things may not be measurable by any scientific instrument but that does not mean the effect is not there. Two people using the exact same oil for treating some dis-ease may get vastly different results depending on the spirit in which they are doing their work which can only be enhanced by an awareness of all that goes into producing any essence.
After an enjoyable stay at the first plantation we moved onto one that was established 4 years previously. Here we were able to see several trees which had recently been bored into by the insect which plays an important role in causing the oleoresin to form. They were active at the time of our visit and one could see little pellets of pulp tumbling out of the trunk of the young trees. Our hosts told us this was a really unique thing to be able to witness first hand. The insects come when they will and bore into the trees according to their own plan. Only a few trees will be selected by them. Tajul later gifted me a piece of a wood which showed a cross section of the tunnel made made by the insect into the trunk so I could show others how the whole process of infestation begins.
For those who may not know how the precious resin is created in the tree, a few notes on this may be of value here. The agarwood tree (Aquilaria agallocha) is a native of Assam and other countries like New Guinea, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam, etc. Different species grow in each region, each producing a precious resin that is valued for its rich aromatic properties. The resin of the trees of Assam is considered by many to be the finest in the world.
The resin is created in the tree when it is infected by a certain fungus or group of fungi. At least on the plantations of Tajul's family it appears that the conditions for this infestation occur when the a larvae of a stem-borer belonging to the Lepidoptera family bores into the trunk and creates a vertical tunnel in zigzag pattern. The surfaces of the tunnel become the initial sites of the infestation which later spreads on all sides so that the interior of the tree becomes saturated to a greater or lesser degree with the fungi. It has also been reported that the fungi can enter the tree through mechanical or natural injuries to the branches or trunk but actual observations of Tajul and family are that the insect must first enter the tree before the infestation starts at least in the case of the younger trees.
Due to these infections an oleoresin begins to form which is initially brown in color. It appears as streaks in the tissue. With the passage of time the density of the infestations can increase with corresponding production of oleoresin which begins to become odiferous. As the oleoresin ages it begins to change from brown to black. Dense pockets form particularly in the bole of the tree with streaking occurring in tissues in other zones. The same tree can have a wide range of oleoresin varying from hues of brown to black as well which can be found in dense pockets and lightly streaked tissues. Eventually the fungus created oleoresin leads to the death of the tree provided the tree is not harvested before that event occurs.
End of Journal Quotes

The Pharmacy of Flowers

by David Crow, L.Ac.
AgarwoodAquilaria agallocha; Aquilaria sinensis; Eaglewood
Agarwood is an excellent example of an endangered tree that has tremendous potential for creating economically sustainable tropical agro-forests. It produces one of the world's most valuable aromatic resins, which is highly in demand as an incense and medicine.
Agarwood trees grow in the foothills of Assam, Burma, Vietnam, and Papua New Guinea. The fragrant resin is secreted within the heartwood as an immunological response to a fungal disease which attacks the trees. Trees of 80 years old are the richest in content of agar, but trees of 50 years or older yield commercial quantities.
Agarwood is highly endangered. Its resin has been prized for centuries for perfumes and incense, but the tree has nearly vanished due to a long history of reckless harvesting. At $1,000 an ounce, pure oil of wild harvested aquillaria is one of the most expensive oils in the world; because of its rarity and cost, it is also one of the most frequently adulterated oils.
A number of successful projects are underway to develop sustainable agarwood cultivation and increased resin production. In order to have success growing a long-term tree crop, these projects require coalitions of scientists, foresters, farmers, distillers, and industry officials. These projects have found that agarwood plantations can be successfully developed as an agro-forestry enterprise, and that agar trees can be induced to produce resin nearly ten times faster than in nature. Development of agarwood plantations is an ideal way of generating income and employment for low-income families living in and around project areas, as there is a long-term market for a wide range of agarwood products with rising demand and a rapidly diminishing supply.
The oil of agarwood is deeply hypnotic, calming, and meditative. The wood is used in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine as a pungent, bitter, and warming stimulant. It is a strong analgesic, anti-emetic, and benefits certain kinds of asthma.

Natural Oud Perfume: Aromatherapy from the Agarwood Tree

By: Siri Amrit Kaur
Few perfume oils have the mystique of Oud. Oud is made from the fragrant resin found in Aquilaria trees, commonly referred to as Agarwood, Aloeswood and Eaglewood. It has been loved and treasured for thousands of years, by mystics and romantics alike. Oud is proclaimed as a aid to spiritual meditation. Lovers use it as an aphrodisiac. Indeed, the hunger for Oud is so great that in most parts of the world Aloeswood trees are nearing extinction. Most aloeswood today is obtained by poachers. Aloeswood is believed to have originated in the Assam region of India, and from there spread throughout southeast Asia. Oud now comes from India, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines... and while trees dwindle, the demand keeps growing. There is good news, though, for Oud lovers.Several decades ago, enterprising farmers in Assam began a major replanting of Agarwood trees throughout the region. Agarwood nurseries have produced tens of thousands of healthy seedlings for Agarwood plantations, and everyone is being encouraged to once again plant Agarwood trees in their yards. Practicing sustainable harvesting methods, these organic Agarwood plantations and extraction facilities are providing good livings for honest families, and insure that these amazing trees will survive for generations to come. The Agarwood Oil they produce is extremely high quality. All the work is done by hand, with sincere respect and dedication. Another recent development to conserve the precious Aloeswood is the use of CO2 extraction instead of distillation. CO2 extraction does not use any solvent chemicals, making it environmentally-friendly. Instead, it uses the same carbon dioxide that is in soda pop. CO2 extraction is so powerful that it requires less wood than steam distillation to obtain the same amount of Oud. And because it doesn't use any heat, Agarwood CO2 extract has a much more vibrant fragrance that is truer to life. It has a woody, earthy, balsamic fragrance that never smells burnt or musty.So as you shop for Oud, remember to find out how it was obtained, and how it was extracted. Support the people who truly love the Agarwood tree, not those who merely exploit it. Buy from a supplier with a good reputation, who makes samples available.
Article Source:

National Strategy Needed for Aquilaria Development

As a consequence of a prolonged exploitation, the output of natural agar wood or aloes wood worldwide in general and in Vietnam in particular has become increasingly exhausted. Facing this situation, Vietnam has taken measures to stop illegal exploitation and put agarwood onto the list of forbidden national goods. Concurrently, the country has applied artificial methods to develop this kind of tree, initially producing satisfactory results.

Agarwood - high economic value
In the past ten years, agarwood has been available only in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, but the quantity remains at a low level due to excessive exploitation. At present, agarwood supplies come from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and Vietnamese agarwood is of the best quality.

According to Vietnam Oil Essence, Aroma and Cosmetics Association, agarwood oil essence now costs VND750 million or roughly US$50,000 per litre but the product from Vietnam could reach a price of VND1 billion or US$63,700 per litre because of its superior quality. The association said, before 1991, the aloeswood export in raw form and fine-art wooden products, with the major market of Taiwan, hit US$10-15 million per annum.

Notwithstanding this, due to protracted extravagant exploitation, Vietnam almost ran out of natural agarwood in 2002. The Government has, therefore, banned its exploitation and trade, and considers it a nationally prohibited commodity.

In 1997, Vietnam started to inject chemicals or "transplant" hard objects into aquilarias to create agarwood and achieved success in Quang Nam and some other provinces. A preliminary calculation showed that Vietnam has about 6,000 hectares of aquilarias nationwide. According to investors, a total spending for growing 6,000 aquilarias on one hectare for 10 years stands at around VND36.5 million (US$2,325) and agarwood sales should bring in at least VND3 billion (US$0.19 million). In case the tree does not produce agarwood, it is more profitable to sell its wood to make incense than to grow cinnamons or trees for paper pulp for the same duration.
There must be a national strategy for aquilaria development
In addition to the Chinese, Japanese and South Koreans love agarwood. Hoang Phan Long, the director of Tien Phuoc Aloeswood Company in Da Nang, said that once Vietnam could manage to make agarwood incense sticks or a piece of carved agarwood, the products would certainly be meaningful souvenirs for every visitor to Vietnam. Today, even though the country has been able to produce artificial agarwood, its ban on agarwood exploitation and export remains, and agarwood is still considered a national good.

Thus, a number of agarwood trading companies are forced to sell their products abroad, declaring them as a material for making incense. In so doing, the companies will face very big risks while the State bears a tax loss. Also because of this risk, the buying price of agarwood in Vietnam is four times lower than the selling price on international websites.

At a recent conference on the aquilaria, General Secretary of Vietnam Oil Essence, Aroma and Cosmetics Association said that Vietnam should map out a national strategy on aquilaria.

Currently, as much as 95 per cent of agarwood on the market is artificial and the Government ought to create a legal corridor for the development of aquilaria. Hopefully, in the near future, agarwood will act as a key export commodity of Vietnam.
Hoa Binh

Kyara Incense

Kyara (Incense (3))
Filed under: Incense — Mike @ 12:48 pm
Check this out. And then when I say I’m actually, passively, every so slightly considering checking it out that it’s just my way of expressing just how awesome kyara is. OK, first off, kyara is basically the highest grade of aloeswood, it’s one of the most expensive substances known to humankind, more precious than gold. Apparently incense companies and other wealthy connoissuers send scouting parties into the wilds of Southeast Asia just to find an aloeswood tree whose wood is so resinated that it would be of this high grade.
Anyway, most kyara, especially the pure stuff, is outside of my price range at the moment, but I was fortunate to come across this sampler. It contains fifteen sticks of the Japanese variety, that is, no bamboo sticks, just the pure blend in a thin, very breakable stick. Only three of these fifteen blends contain kyara and if you do a little research you find out that this $19.95 sampler’s cost was probably 85% for the three kyara blends. Eight sticks (still a sampler pack) of Sho-Kaku costs about $60. Eight of Myo-Ho costs $48. Eight of Go-Un costs $38. You don’t really want to know about the regular boxes, although I do covet them deeply now.
Anyway, these three different blends aren’t pure kyara, but there’s no doubt from the incredible presence of these incenses that kyara is the God(dess) of Incense and the sandalwood is actually the second greatest aromatic wood in the world. If great Indian incense is so many steps above the usual synthetic and nasty stuff you often find in stores, and if high quality aloeswood is at least on par to Indian Incense, kyara blends are totally out of the ballpark. It honestly felt like invocation rather than combustion as I’d light one of these sticks and wave the smoke my way, like something ancient and noble had just materialized in the room. Myrrh was the first thing I thought of and definitely the better quality myrrh, but that’s just a rough comparison, kyara is far more multidimensional. The three wisemen who visited Baby Jesus were cheapskates to bring gold with their frankincense and myrrh.
A sign of great incense for me is when I catch the scent of it long after I’m anywhere near the stuff. Only one incense ever did that for me, a resin blend I called Shamanic Dreams which I discussed in one of the last write-ups. These three kyara blends do that and more, more because where I’d catch whiffs of SD, it was a more narrow experience, I’d just smell SD. But kyara is so complex it feels like I catch hints of it, hints from all the blends and then subsections of these blends. The experience is so intense that all sorts of things evoke it after the fact as if a new sense had opened up in my head.
With the sampler I managed to grab several grades of Vietnamese aloeswood and a couple Malaysian and Indonesian ones as well. While all are amazing incenses, they’re almost a world away from kyara and I almost felt myself trying to detect that hint of it in the higher grades. My three kyara sticks are slowly dwindling to smoke and dust while making so many of my old favorites seem nearly obsolete in the process.
Of course, hyping this up is likely to lead to disappointment, I think in some ways incense is like any other hobby where it takes a bit of research and experience to pinpoint what you like, so I’d probably recommend checking out basic aloeswood and sandalwood first. The price of kyara is likely to keep most away, but if you’re an appreciator of fine scent, it’ll only be a matter of time before you give in and let kyara take your soul. It’s no wonder there’s an entire area of interest given to incense games and the appreciation of aloeswood.