Bhutan’s aromatic tree potential

Lack of resources had prevented Bhutan from earlier capitalizing on what could have been a lucrative plantation of Agarwood trees but the plantation still holds a lot of potential.

During Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji’s tenure as the agriculture minister, scientists from University of Minnesota were invited to Bhutan to experiment on Agarwood plantations.

The plantation was found successful. However, the collaboration could not work-out as the scientists had developed a patent for the chemical compound to be put on the trees, and Bhutan did not have money to buy it.

“They set a standard compound for all the countries to cultivate Agarwood,” said an agriculture ministry official. The standard included the type of mix and the ratio for chemicals to be induced.

Agarwood is known as ‘God tree.’ It is the most valuable aromatic tree which is used as incense in the Middle East. Few trees have been found in the wild in Panbang under Zhemgang Dzongkhag. Dasho Nishoka initiated this program and in line with this the ministry has directed the stakeholders to look into raising a plantation in Wengkhar.

The oil distilled from Agarwood can cost as low as USD 20 per kg while the finest oil cost will cost as much as USD 7,000 per kg.

The project had been initiated between RNR-RDC Yusipang and University of Minnesota, USA through a Rain Forest Project Foundation.

Bhutan was included as a pilot site for artificial method of agarwood production.

According to a report of 2011 from Chengmari Samtse, the survival rate of the plantation was very good with 92%. And it was also concluded that few saplings and seedlings suffer from an unknown defoliator which needs further investigation.

Plant Pathologist and entomologist, D. B Chhetri said that the Private forests and community forests are encouraged to involve this species as it is profitable.

“We are looking at means to make it available so that farmers can cultivate it,” he said.

He also added that if the ministry gets a suitable area, it will be a bumper crop.

In the early 1950s and 60s natural agarwood trees were found in Manas. In the 70s however, all trees were harvested.

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