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September 18, 2007

Vietnam promotes crassna plantation for essential oil

Vietnam is expanding the land dedicated to the production of  what they call "do tram" which is actually Aquilaria crassna, the tree that is commonly known as Aloeswood, eaglewood, or agarwood, according to a press release on mathaba.net. They currently have more than 10,000 ha (hectares, or 25,000 acres) of do tram trees, and plan to add 30,000 additional ha (75,000 acres). It has been estimated that growers can earn a profit of 100-300 million VND ($6,200 - $18,600 in US$) per ha of do tram trees a year. According to a paper on the Conservation and use of Aquilaria crassna in Vietnam: A Case Study from 2001, the production of do tram in plantations should reduce the pressure on the wild populations, and it can be grown in plantations and is also suitable for under-canopy planting in agroforestry systems. The species has been identified as threatened in Vietnam due to exploitation of wild stocks, and it is on the 2007 IUCN Red List.

This appears to be another example of expecting the income to come soon, while in fact it may be many years before the trees grow to maturity, and in the case of this species, become infected with a fungus that actually produces a resin from the heartwood that is the valuable material that is used in incense and can be distilled into the essential oil called oud or oudh. The Vietnamese plan to transfer the technology for oil production to the farmers by 2010, which seems a bit premature. The wood must be damaged in order to stimulate the growth of the fungus. One seller of the wood claims that the best product comes from trees that are hundreds of years old, but that may just be hype. There has been research done in Thailand to see if mechanical methods can be used to stimulate aloes wood formation, but the results of one study suggest it isn't too successful.

Trygve Harris points out in this post from 2004 that the trees have been planted all over southeast Asia for the last 20 years, with the anticipation that there would be a great income from it--but that in fact the oil produced from the non-infected trees is very poor quality and has little economic value. As she points out in this post about the wild production, the process of wood collection (the best product comes from dead infected trees that have been on the forest floor) and distillation is very complex and time consuming.

So, given the probable increasing rarity of the wild trees, and the difficulties of producing fine quality oil from the plantation grown plants, we can probably continue to expect fine quality agarwood and oud oil will remain rare and expensive. And there will be those who promote the low quality oil as better than it is.

Posted by Rob on September 18, 2007 in Conservation, Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Oil Crops | Permalink


Interesting article, but some of the information you use is several years out of date. Robert Blanchette, a microbiologist from the University of Minnesota, has indeed discovered and patented a method for successfully inducing the production of resin in young plantation grown agarwood trees. The Thai based research you cite pre-dates his discovery by about 3 years. That said, the pressure on wild agarwood trees continues unabated as the quality of resin from older, wild Aquilaria and Gyrinops specimens is still superior to anything being harvested from younger, plantation grown stock...


Posted by: Muhammad Ali Khalil | Jul 4, 2008 3:24:04 AM

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