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From depleted forest resource to profitable agroforest component: ex ante impacts of Aquilaria spp (Thymelaeaceae) biotechnology

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For the past 2000 years (at least) international tra de in gaharu (‘agarwood’ or ‘eagle-wood’) derived form the natural forests of Southeast Asia has been a major source of income for people living in the forest edge. The gaharu is the source of aromatic oil used in the Middle East. Gaharu is formed inside the stem of medium-sized trees of a number of genera in response to wounding and fungal infection, often at the points where branches break of. Many tr ees are, after felling, found not to have any appreciable oil content, so the search for and harvest of gaharu is surrounded by mystique and ritual. In fact there are several species and genera of trees that can produce gaharu. CITES (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) has enlisted the aromatics producing tree species Aquilaria malaccensis (in November 1994) and Gyrinops spp . and Gonystylus spp (in October 2004) on the CITES Appendix II list in response to the threat of over-harvesting. Indonesia has an allowable quotum for export but has, in recent years, not been able to reach this amount due to increasing scarcity of the ‘non timber forest product’. The trees as such are not difficult to propagate and grow, but the formation of the value-giving resin remained a matter of chance – until recently. A relatively simple form of biotechnology has been developed for wounding the trees with a mechanical drill and injecting a concoction of fungi into these holes. Although the gaharu formed is no t yet of the highest quality and the matching of fungi * tree species (ecotype) * location is still und er testing. The economic prospects of producing a product with a price of 100’s of $ per kg (in stead of per m 3 as is the price of wood) is mind blowing. Aquilaria trees are shade tolerant and can grow well as part of an agroforestry mixed canopy system. However, the new biotechnology is likely to saturate the market and lead to a crash in prices

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