What is Gaharu?
Gaharu or aloewood or agarwood is resinous wood found mainly in the genus of Aquilaria. Gaharu is formed through a unique pathological process initiated with infection of fungi on the wood tissue. Gaharu has many uses i.e. incense in religious ceremony, perfume additive, medicine, and cultural activities. In response to over-exploitation of gaharu-producing trees that has threatened their existence, genera of Aquilaria and Gyrinops have been enlisted in Appendix II, CITES since October 2004. It is therefore crucial to sustain the existence of gaharu-producing species and to accelerate regeneration of gaharu-producing trees for commercial use.
Aquilaria itself is a fast-growing, archaic subtropical forest tree, with a population range stretching from South Asia’s Himalayan foothills, throughout Southeast Asia, and into the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. It grows at elevations from a few meters above sea level to about 1000 meters, with approx. 500 meters being most ideal. Aquilaria can grow on a wide range of soils, including poor sandy soil. Seedlings require a great deal of shade and water but will grow rapidly, producing flowers and seeds as early as four years old. At least fifteen species of Aquilaria are known to produce the much sought-after agarwood. In South Asia, particularly India, Aquilaria achalloga is found. Aquilaria malaccensis is mostly known from Malaysia and Indonesia, while Aquilaria crassna grows primarily in Indochina. A number of others are also known, such as Aquilaria grandfolia, Aquilaria chinesis etc., though these are relatively minor species for agarwood production.
The value of first-grade gaharu is extremely high. A wide array of products of different grades is available on the market, varying with geographical location and cultural deposition. Prices range from a few dollars per kilo for the lowest quality to over thirty thousand US dollars for top quality oil and resinous wood. Aquilaria crassna is listed as a critically endangered species in Vietnam, and A. malaccensis is listed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union, IUCN.