Indian agarwood threatened by smuggling, illegal harvesting

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, 10 Feb: India is home to three species of agarwood and this most expensive wood is threatened by illegal harvesting and trade, according to a factsheet prepared by two global conservation agencies.
“The illegal trade of agarwood and its derivatives has continued in India, with more than 1.25 tonnes and six litres of oil/derivatives reportedly seized in six states including Assam, Delhi and Kerala between 2017 and 2021”, says the newly released communiqué by TRAFFIC and WWF-India titled ‘Agarwood: Factsheet on India’s agarwood in illegal wildlife trade’.
Assam, Delhi, Kerala, Maharashtra, Telangana, and West Bengal have reported incidents of agarwood smuggling to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, it says.
The communiqué, which provides information about the species, interesting facts, legal status and threats from the illegal wildlife trade, says agarwood has been overexploited throughout its range for its fragrant heartwood, threatening its population.
It continues to be traded in significant quantities to and from India. The species is exploited for its valuable aromatic heartwood, a source of ‘agaru’ and agar oil, the most preferred raw materials in perfumery and traditional medicines, says the communiqué.
It is used in treating ailments like asthma, colic, chest congestion, diarrhoea, body ache, and rheumatism and is also known for its anti-cancer properties.
Agarwood is the common name for the resinous aromatic resin formed in the heartwood of the genera aquilaria trees. Of the 21 known aquilaria species found across the globe, about 13 are known to generate the resin in agarwood in response to injury and infection by a specific fungus. India is home to three species, of which Aquilaria khasiana and Aquilaria malaccensis are agarwood-producing species.
According to the CITES Trade Database, from 2017 to 2021, India exported over 141 tons (exporter-reported quantity) of agarwood to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Thailand.
The United Arab Emirates imported more than half of the overall reported quantities.
India imported more than 142 tonnes of agarwood simultaneously (importer reported quantity) from Australia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Bhutan, Switzerland, France, and Vietnam, it says.
Over one-third of the agarwood was imported from Indonesia and Singapore. The large quantity of derivatives in trade highlights agarwood demand in international markets and India’s position in the trade, says the communiqué.
A statement issued by TRAFFIC said that the export-import (EXIM) policy of India restricts the trade of agarwood due to its listing in Appendix II of CITES.
Any violations of the EXIM policy make the goods liable for confiscation and the individual(s) liable to punishment under India’s Customs Act, 1962.
After the amendment to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 in December 2022, Red Sanders has been listed in Schedule IV. Despite the regulations, the species has suffered adversely due to unsustainable harvest and illegal trade. (PTI)