The artificial inoculation process involves creating holes on a karas tree, filling them with fungal pathogen, and sealing them off with wax.
Never has anything sick been more valuable than a 'wounded' karas tree. CHAI MEI LING learns why from experts advancing the idea of planting these trees.
|A 47-hectare karas plantation in Merchang, Terengganu. — Picture courtesy of Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia|
Each kilogramme of high-quality gaharu can fetch up to RM30,000 in the global market and prices are expected to surge as demand continues to rise.
But don’t tread into the forests scouring for them yet, for three good reasons — diminishing supplies, fine and jail if you have no permit to do so, and the market for wild gaharu could come to an end in the near future.
Instead, plant the Aquilaria or karas trees today, from which gaharu is derived, and you can expect to reap the rewards five to eight years down the line.
Produced only by “sick” trees infected by fungi, this highly sought after fragrant resin has a cohort of uses, from aromatherapy to spa baths, decorative furniture, perfume, chopsticks, weapon holders, massage oil, joss sticks and items of medicinal value.
The world’s gaharu production is able to meet only 20 per cent of the global demand, posing a huge potential for top exporters like Malaysia to cash in on the rewarding business.
Just by exporting some 200,000kg of wild gaharu a year to places like the Middle East, Singapore, Taiwan and France, Malaysia can rake in a whopping RM3 billion.
And that’s solid gaharu alone.
Meanwhile, gaharu oil, although fetching a lesser value at RM25,000 a litre, contributed nothing less than RM4 million to the economy two years ago.
The bulk of the 170 litres of exported oil went to the United Arab Emirates, according to the Malaysian Timber Industry Board.
However, concerns on dwindling supply have prompted the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry to encourage everyone, from farmers and interested individuals to the private sector, to embark on karas plantation.
Wild gaharu especially the better-graded ones, could diminish from forests in the next 10 years due to over harvesting, according to the ministry’s secretary general, Datuk Suboh Mohd Yassin.
Planting gaharu is a viable and sustainable option, and plantation from this region will become a significant source in a few years, he said.
Around 700ha of karas have been planted all over Malaysia by both the Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia and Forest Research Institute Malaysia for research and development, and by the private sector for exporting.
There are plans to expand the private plantation to 2,400ha in Sabah and 800ha in Selangor.
Interested planters can contact the Forestry Department to purchase saplings, which cost RM7-10 each, and also for technical assistance.
After four to six years, upon maturing, the trees will be injected with fungal pathogens to trigger gaharu production, and this can be harvested after five months to a year.
Suboh urged forestry departments and agencies to conduct further research on gaharu production on an operational scale.
The challenge is to come up with high-quality gaharu, the desired grade and predictable volume to make planting a viable proposition for commercial investment.
He said the quality and quantity of plantation-produced gaharu are expected to gradually increase and poised to replace wild gaharu.
“I’m confident we can do it,” “But we must move fast for our neighbours are much ahead of us. Still, it’s not too late to start now.” Other gaharu-exporting countries include Indonesia, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Myanmar.