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Call for inclusive agarwood policy

- Involve all stakeholders: Dispur

Guwahati, March 12: The Assam forest department has asked the ministry of environment and forests to involve all the stakeholders in preparing a policy on agarwood.

The ministry of environment and forests has put up a draft policy for sustainable utilisation of agarwood and stop indiscriminate felling of Aquilaria malaccensis Lamk (locally known as agar or sasi).

The ministry said the policy was required as the tree is endangered. Illegal and indiscriminate felling of the tree in the Northeast because of its high price is rampant. It is found in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Nagaland, besides Bengal and Sikkim.

The essential oil from agarwood is valued in high-class perfumery and is much priced by European perfume manufacturers for mixing their best grade scents.

“Sudden notifications without a proper dialogue with all stakeholders have put the traders and the enforcement authorities in a fix and the trade has received serious setbacks in the last decade. This has put serious restrictions on local employment as well as economy. In view of the lessons learnt, at least now, all the stakeholders could be involved while preparing a policy on agarwood,” a senior forest official said.

The state government pointed out that the agarwood species found in Assam is Aquilaria agallocha Roxb and the one mentioned in the policy is Aquilaria malaccensis — reportedly not found in the state. “This is an important aspect as the agarwood chips are imported by the traders from countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos belong to Aquilaria malaccensis. The divisional forest officer concerned has to furnish a certificate that the consignment of processed wood chips proposed for re-export originates only from imported stock. The forest officer has to distinguish between the two species to avoid mixing the domestic one. In view of the above, the species name has to be corrected in the draft policy,” the official said.

Export of agarwood has been banned since 1991. Hojai town in Nagaon district is a nerve centre of trade and commerce of agarwood, including Naharani and Namti in Upper Assam.

During 2003-04, more than 90 lakh agar plants were enumerated by the state forest department. More than 9,100 agar oil extraction units exist in Assam, a survey said.

The state government said the figures need to be verified.

“While the plantations appear to be underestimated, the number of agar oil extraction units seems to be grossly overestimated. A proper survey of the number of oil extraction units shall be conducted jointly with the All Assam Agar Trade and Agar Oil Manufacturers’ Association. It is fair to say that there are about 1,500-2,000 oil extraction units in Assam and majority are established as small-scale industry or cottage industry units.