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.''

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