A last frontier for agar wood

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the last known sources of agar wood, also called eagle wood, gaharu or aloes wood and prized on global markets for its valuable resin. But since discoveries of natural supplies of the tree in 1997, growing demand has led to over-harvesting, causing extinction in some areas. Now, a scheme launched by the global conservation organisation WWF and other NGOs is offering education and training to local communities about the importance of agar wood as a resource, and encouraging sustainable management of the industry. A series of training workshops has taught villagers how to manage the trees and to set up seed nurseries. The initiative is also helping them with marketing. Often, villagers are paid a fraction of the real value of the wood, which is found naturally in only a small percentage of trees in the Thymelaeaceae family, of which supplies are dwindling worldwide. Ayurvedic (Indian), Tibetan and East Asian pharmacopoeiae value agar wood for its ability to treat a range of disorders including pleurisy, asthma, rheumatism and jaundice. Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus use agar wood incense in religious ceremonies and as a perfume, while essences are used to fragrance soaps and shampoos and other cosmetics. Only about 10% of mature trees produce the fragrant resin, in response to a fungal infection which causes the affected wood to change density and colour. As a result, external signs are not obvious, which can lead to indiscriminate felling. To curb the rate of destruction in PNG, WWF has been helping communities to map their land and predict where the agar wood trees may be. “As part of our work, we are teaching them how to extract the agar wood resin without killing the trees,” said WWF’s resource use trainer Leo Sunari. “And, we’re making sure they know its real value, so they’re not ripped off by traders.”



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agroforestry, awareness, income generation

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