Friday, May 25, 2007

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.]

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