Gaharu (Malay word for agar wood) is the most expensive wood in the world. It is valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance, and used extensively in incense and perfumes. Gaharu is the occasional product of two to four genera in the family Thymelaeaceae, with Aquilaria agallocha, Aquilaria crassna and Aquilaria malaccensis being the three best known species. The name of the species is derived from the latin word “aquila” meaning eagle. Gaharu is known throughout many Asian countries and at least 15 species of Aquilaria trees are known to produce the much sought-after agar wood. The valuable wood has been traded for thousands of years throughout Asia. It used to be commonly found in many tropical countries, from India to Indonesia (Angela Barden et. al., 2000). A. malaccensis has been trial planted by the Sabah Forestry Department in experimental plots at Sook, Keningau, Segaluid Lokan and Sungai Daling, Sandakan and thus, this report shall focus on A. malaccensis. Theearliest planting is at Sook which was planted in 1990 with seeds collected locally from various forest reserves. 

Aquilaria malaccensis Lamk
Aquilaria malaccensis, also known as Agallochum (trade name), belongs to the Thymelaeaceae family. It occurs from north-eastern India through Myanmar to Peninsular The Potential of Gaharu as a Plantation Species Malaysia, Sumatra, Bangka, Borneo and the Philippines.
The tree can grow up to 40 meters in height and reach adiameter of 60 cm. The tree usually grows straight, but is sometimes fluted or with thick (10 cm) buttresses up to 2 meters high. A. malaccensis is commonly found in primary and secondary forests, mainly in plains but also on hillsides and ridges up to 750 meters altitude. A. malaccensis yields a soft, lightweight hardwood with a density of about 400kg/m3 air dry (Chakrabarty et. al., 1994)

Silvicultural Requirement

A. malaccensis grows best in undulating terrain from 200-700 meters, with an annual rainfall of 1500-6500mm, a mean annual maximum temperature of 22-280C and a mean annual minimum temperature of 14-21oC. A.malaccensis prefers heavy soils developed from gneiss and other metamorphic rocks, but it also grows well on sandy loams developed from sandstone. A. malaccensis is propagated by seed. Fruits harvested for seeds should be collected when mature but still green. Fruits are dried in the shade for about 2 days. They then burst and release the seed. Seeds should be sown immediately, as it remains viable for only about 1 month. Germination starts after 10-12 days and is normally complete after 1 month. Seedlings are pricked out into polythene bags 40- 45 days after germination when they are 3-5 cm tall, and are kept under shade. They are ready for transplanting when 30-35 cm tall and 10-12 months old (Mabberley, D J, 1997). Transplanting bare rooted seedlings has been tried successfully in Malaysia.

Field Performance of Locally Grown

A. malaccensis A. malaccensis planted at plot no. 90A Sook reveals a mean diameter of 19.94 cm and a mean total height of 13.58 meters at the age of 17 years old, representing an MAI diameter of 1.25 cm per year and an MAI total height
of 0.85 meter per year.Oyen L P A and Nguyen X D (1999) reported that, in a
plantation in Malaysia, 67 year old trees of A. malaccensis reached an average height of 27 meters and a diameter of 38 cm. However it was not reported where in Malaysia the trees were planted! Formation of Gaharu.Gaharu or agar wood formation is a pathological process taking place in the stem or main branches where an injury has occurred. Fungi are involved in the process, but the process itself is not yet fully understood. Damage by boring insects is often associated with the infection. It is believed that the tree is first attacked by a pathogenic fungus, which causes it to weaken. Infection by a second fungus causes the formation of agar wood, but it is unclear whether it is a product of the fungus or the tree. The fungus implicated in the formation of agar wood in A. malaccensisis Cytosphaera mangiferae, while Melantos flavolives is assumed to play a similar role in A. sinensis. A. malaccensis forms an association with endotrophic mycorrhizal fungi. In natural forests, only 7-10% of the trees are infected by the fungus (Ng. et al, 1997). A common method in artificial forestry is to inoculate the trees with the fungus.

Agar wood is the rare and famous, resin containing heartwood produced from old and diseased trees of several Aquilaria species of which A. malaccensis, A. crassna and A. sinensis are most important. The fragrance produced by the burning agar wood has been highly valued for
thousands of years, and its use as incense for ceremonial purposes in Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism is widespread throughout eastern and southern Asia. The wood is only partly saturated with resin but still fragrant, and occasionally, the wood remaining after distillation, is
made into sticks called ‘joss sticks’ or ‘agarbattis’ which are burnt as incense. Agar wood oil is an essential oil obtained by water and steam distillation of agar wood, which is used in luxury perfumery. The incense is also used as an insect repellent and for medicines. The timber
of undiseased trees, known as ‘karas’, is very light and is only suitable for making boxes, light indoor construction and veneer [Angela Barden et al (2000)].

Agar wood has become a precious commodity. According to Angela Burden et al (2000), based on available trade data, Indonesia and Malaysia appear to be the main sources of agarwood (from all species) in international trade. CITES reported that exports of A. malaccensis from Indonesia topped 920 t from 1995 to 1997, although CITES argue that it might include other species of Aquilaria. Over 340 t of A. malaccensis were reported as exported from Peninsular Malaysia during the same period. Angela Burden et al (2000) also reported that according to Sarawak’s CITES Management Authority, nearly 530 t of A malaccensis were exported from Sarawak alone in 1998. Although overall trade volume may appear small in “timber trade” terms, but they are not small in monetary terms. Most of agarwood in international trade is destined for consumers in the Far and Middle East, with key final export destinations from 1995 to 1997 being Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chakrabarty et al (1994) stated that the lowest grade of Malaysian agarwood (not necessarily A. malaccensis) could be obtained for USD19/kg in the Middle East. The high grades, normally reserved for exclusive buyers, can cost up to USD9589/kg. More expensive grades are also available and can sell for as much as USD27400/kg. The A. malaccensis tree is comparative to gold and is becoming very rare in the wild due to illegal extraction. Thus, the species has been CITES listed in Appendix II. The listing subjects the species to limited commercial use and stringent monitoring through a permit system. Under CITES rules, the Management Authority will issue CITES Export Permit to exporters of gaharu which originate from Malaysia, CITES Import Permit to importers of gaharu, and CITES Re-Export Certificate to traders of this species which originate from other countries. The Importers are requested to furnish the CITES Export Permit from the exporting country before the Management Authority can issue the CITES Import Permit.

The extremely high prices paid for high quality agar wood and for the essential oil and the indiscriminate felling of diseased and healthy trees threaten natural stands of Aquilaria including A. malaccensis to extinction. Research into possibilities of artificial induction and stimulation of agar wood formation is therefore urgently required and may offer high economic returns, especially as trials indicate that management of plantations presents no great difficulties. Unless such methods are developed, A.malaccensis may soon be extinct.
Today, gaharu is becoming more popular in Malaysia. Projects are currently underway in some countries in Southeast Asia to infect cultivated Aquilaria trees artificially to produce gaharu in a sustainable manner. In Malaysia, various Research Institutions are conducting research and development on Aquilatria trees. The Forest Research Centre of the Sabah Forestry Department has recently undertaken a collaborative project to artificially inoculate gaharu trees to induce the formation of agarwood in one of the planted Gaharu plots. What remains to be seen is the success of this project, but if it proves to be successful, it will be a breakthrough in terms of its socio-economic potential as well as in protecting the remaining gaharu trees available in the wild.

ONE pressing reason why Malaysia should plant karas is because the export of wild gaharu could be banned in the future, says Forestry Department Peninsular Malaysia deputy director- general Datuk Dahlan Haji Taha. Karas is now subjected under the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which allows for its export only with permits.
Under CITES regulations, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry had imposed last year an export quota of 200,000kg of gaharu, all of which are collected from the wild.However, in recent years, some countries have been pushing for karas to be recategorised under Appendix I, which if ensued, would ban the trading of wild gaharu. Malaysia will lose out a lot if this happens as karas planting is in its infancy here, compared to neighbouring countries, said Dahlan.
“We don’t know whether this re-categorisation will go through, but if yes, it could happen next year, the year after or 10 years from now, we don’t know, Whatever it is, we don’t want to be caught unprepared.” Dahlan advised karas planters to register with the Forestry Department
Peninsular Malaysia and record their plantation progress.“This is important because it’s the only way to proof that the planters did not collect gaharu from the wild. If there’s no such proof, they are not allowed to export.” The Forestry Department has also recently established a uniformed grading system for gaharu, which stipulates the royalty for each grade as 10 per cent of its market price.The grading criteria used are scent, color, usage, thickness and size.

Angela Barden, Noorainie Awang Anak, Teresa Mulliken
and Michael Song (2000), Heart Of The Matter: Agarwood
Use And Trade And Cites Implementation For Aquilaria
Chakrabarty K, Kumar A and Menon V (1994), Trade in
Agarwood. Traffic India and WWF-India, New Delhi.
Mabberley D J (1997), The Plant Book, The Press
Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, UK, 858pp.
Ng L.T., Chang Y.S. and Kadir A.A. (1997), A Review on
Agar (gaharu) producing Aquilaria species, Journal of
Tropical Forest Products 2(2): 272-285.
Oyen L.P.A and Nguyen Xuan Dung (Editors), 1999. Plant
Resources of South-East Asia No 19. Essential-Oil Plants.
Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, the Netherland

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