Agarwood Research Ongoing
The Ministry of Forestry is hoping to share its findings from a five-year research on the tree species Agarwood or Alpasita by the end of December 2021. This is after public interest in the scientifically named Aquilaria was introduced into Fiji from South East Asia about a decade ago.
Considered as the ‘Wood of the Gods’, this tree species has been mentioned from time immemorial in history and religious books including the Bible.
According to the Ministry of Forestry’s Director for Silviculture Research & Development division Mr Jale Tauraga, people in Fiji have been saying that this tree species has a lot of monetary value when sold to overseas markets after the extraction of sweet-smelling oil.
“We want to clarify this and would like to urge members of the public to await the proper research and trial findings from the Ministry before they invest in the planting of this tree species,” he said.
Mr Tauraga said that Agarwood belongs to the Thymelaeaceae family which is endemic to Indonesia and is considered a native tree to parts of South East Asia such as Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
“In Fiji, seeds are believed to have been brought from Vietnam about 15 years ago by a company known as World Forestry (Fiji) Pty Limited.
The seeds were planted in Dama Village in Ra and today the province has the largest Agarwood plantation of approximately 100 hectares,” Mr Tauraga said.
He said the Ministry supported the introduction of Agarwood seeds 15 years ago based on the understanding that it is one of the potential short rotation crops that would provide economic, social and environmental benefits to the nation.
“In 2015, the Ministry’s Research Division planted 40 Agarwood seedlings at the Colo-i-Suva Forest Reserve and is being currently used as a trial plot. With the trees’ current annual growth, research findings state that some of these trees should be ready for inoculation (to be injected) by 2023 or 2025.”
Mr Tauraga said that based on these findings, Agarwood farmers need to be patient as the current growth and development of these trees may not be what they expect it initially.
“Many people think Agarwood is good to harvest when they have grown 5-7 years when it is not. It takes at least 10 years to grow this valuable species in Fiji as this is when it reaches the minimum diameter for harvesting.
“Like other plants Agarwood plays an important role in greening our surrounding and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for climate change mitigation. Due to its economic value it also has the potential to have a negative and positive impact socially and economically.”
Mr Tauraga highlighted that the Ministry, and therefore Government, has yet to complete its research findings and so any negative impacts encountered by those already planting will be at their own risk.
“Some of the concerns is that there is a high probability that Agarwood trees may not produce agar naturally as it needs intervention in three forms; physical, biological and mechanical.
“These processes will require the introduction of fungi and the use of chemicals which would have negative impacts on our biodiversity that would be costly for Fiji as a Nation to contain and mitigate.
“Therefore, I am urging members of the public who are interested or already have Agarwood plantations not to assume things concerning Agarwood but wait for the final research result from the Ministry,” Mr Tauraga said.
He said the failure or success of Agarwood is expected to be known by December next year if all necessary research and trials are on track.
Apart from the research trials, Mr Tauraga said the Ministry is currently working with one potential investor who has indicated significant interest on the down-streaming and value-adding of Agarwood through inoculation and oil processing.
“Further tests and research will be done to the 12 year-old Agarwood trees in Dama, Ra and this collaboration will set the platform and assurance to those interested individuals on the way forward in planting and the development of Agarwood in Fiji.”
The Ministry of Forestry has a combined budget allocation of $2.2 million in this new financial year for research and development both on silviculture and on timber utilization.
Minister Naiqamu said the ministry intends to strengthen its research capabilities through smart partnerships with research institutions locally and internationally.
“Research findings will help support the sustainable management of our forest resources, emphasizing the notion that our work must by informed by science.”