Return of scented wood

Private cultivation of sandalwood is catching up in India, but it will be a long wait for farmers to reap benefits and for India to regain its supremacy in the global sandalwood trade

By Aparna Pallavi
Last Updated: Wednesday 19 September 2018

Return of scented wood

sandalwood tree growing period

FIVE YEARS ago, farmer K C Dinesh planted 2,500 sandalwood saplings on four hectares (ha) of his land in Karnataka’s Chitradurga district. In 10 years, he expects to earn Rs 12-Rs 15 crore from his crop. “Farmers from the entire district are visiting my farm. Everybody wants to plant sandalwood as it is highly profitable and needs least maintenance,” he says.

Although India has long been known for its sandalwood (Santalum album), it is only in the past decade that farmers have shown interest in growing the plant in their backyard. Until 2000, sandalwood was largely confined to the forests of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and plantations of these state governments. There was no cultivation on private agricultural land in the rest of the country. But a policy change in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in 2001 and 2002 respectively allowed people to grow sandalwood. This inspired other states.

In the past four years, 2,800 ha of agricultural land came under sandalwood cultivation in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand, apart from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The figure is rising by approximately 600 ha per year, according to an estimate by the Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST), Bengaluru, a pioneering institute for sandalwood research. This will help revive the country’s lost glory in the sandalwood trade.

From royal tree to people's tree

India was once a world leader in sandalwood production. In the 1960s, it produced almost 4,000 tonnes of sandalwood. This is significant given the international demand—6,000-7,000 tonnes per annum (see ‘Sandalwood supply at stake globally’ on p24). But smuggling became rampant due to the wood’s high value and demand in the market. Thefts gradually decimated the sandalwood forests.

Sandalwood supply at stake globally

Sandalwood is in high demand in countries like India, China, Japan, Taiwan and the US. But the current production across the world accounts for only one-forth of the global market demand. Short supply and high demand has led to a steep rise in sandalwood price, particularly during 2002-07.

The demand for the products of Karnataka Soap and Detergents Limited is about 20,000

India, which once produced about 80 per cent of the world's sandalwood and oil, today annually produces about 400 tonnes of its native variety, Santalum album. Honolulu in the Pacific Islands was known for its abundance of sandalwood, but excessive logging has depleted the number of trees. Overexploitation has damaged the wood in Fiji, while there is a ban on sandalwood extraction in Indonesia. Malaysia has only recently started plantation, so its production will take time.

Australia today is the only significant global producer of sandalwood, with 9,000 hectares (ha) of plantation. Although its native variety, Santalumspicatum, is facing a decline, the country took up plantation of the Indian variety decades back, which is now ready for harvest. As of 2014, India has 20,725 ha of sandalwood plantation, but it could be a decade or more before the country can harvest any of it as the sandalwood plants are still very young.

A 1792 edict by Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the kingdom of Mysore, added to the problem. Under the edict sandalwood was declared a royal tree. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu later adopted the edict and kept sandalwood under government control. But this did more harm than good as many legal obligations were imposed on sandalwood cultivation. “Having a sandalwood tree in your backyard or farm was more of a hassle than benefit. You had no rights of ownership, but if your tree got stolen you were in trouble with the authorities. So people started distancing themselves from the tree,” explains IWST head V Ramakantha.

These factors affected the country’s sandalwood production, which started going downhill since the 1990s. According to official data, India currently produces about 400 tonnes of sandalwood annually. There is an end of monopoly of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the valuable wood, and other states are keen to take up cultivation. Ramakantha says cultivation on private land is crucial for reviving India’s vibrant sandalwood trade. “Apart from raising national production, private cultivation will benefit farmers as sandalwood is the most economically rewarding crop in the world,” Ramakantha says. In recent years, the Karnataka government has made further provisions to encourage sandalwood cultivation. In 2009, the state simplified its laws so that instead of monopoly procurement by the forest department, growers could sell their wood directly to semi-government corporations such as Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation (KSHDC) and Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited (KSDL). Recently, the government also announced a 75 per cent subsidy on sandalwood cultivation.


The benefits of the crop to a producer are stupendous. After the age of seven to eight years, the heartwood of a sandalwood tree grows by 1 kg every year, and its market price is between Rs 3,000 and Rs 6,000 per kg. It is the only wood in the world to be sold by weight. According to IWST estimates, the cost of sandalwood cultivation per hectare is about Rs 30 lakh for the entire crop cycle, but the returns vary from Rs 1.2 crore to Rs 1.5 crore. IWST recommends a 15-year harvest cycle of sandalwood for maximum benefit.

Taming the wild sandalwood

Since 2001, IWST has been working steadily to devise cultivation protocols for the crop. IWST has developed protocols for uniform germination, disease control and tissue culture propagation. It has also identified companion crops or hosts of sandalwood. Being a hemiparasite, sandalwood requires macronutrients from the roots of other plants. Now, the institute has a complete set of instructions for farmers wanting to cultivate sandalwood. It says that around 350 sandalwood seedlings should be planted per acre (0.4 ha) with 150 host plants. Mimosa pudica, commonly known as touch-me-not, has been identified as the best host for the initial development of the seedling, while pigeon-pea and fruits like sapodilla, papaya and pomegranate make good hosts at a later stage.

“Unlike monoculture plantations where the waiting period yields no results at all, in sandalwood, a farmer can get an income from the host plants for seven to eight years, after which they wither and a pure sandalwood plantation remains,” Ramakantha explains. IWST proposes organic management of the crop, as it is not found to respond well to chemical inputs. This is an added benefit as the soil is protected and cultivation costs are low. The institute also provides seedlings to farmers at a nominal cost of Rs 40 per plant.

Huge potential, but hitches exist

Despite a growth in cultivation, it will be difficult for India to regain its leadership position in global sandalwood trade anytime soon. In fact, growers are unable to meet the domestic demand.

seedlings will mature and become ready for harvest in 15-20 years

“There is a big demand for pure sandalwood incense sticks that we produce,” says Keshav Murthy, managing director at KSDL, the largest manufacturer of sandalwood oil and its products in India. “But due to the shortfall in production, their space is taken up by imported raw sticks from Vietnam.”

The main reason for this shortfall is that India’s sandalwood plantations are still young and the waiting period is long.

G S Kariappa, managing director of KSHDC, says that although restrictions on sale in the state were lifted in 2009, very few farmers are approaching his organisation for selling their produce because they do not have mature wood to sell. “Technically, a tree has a viable quantity of heartwood at 15 years, but the mature quality that can fetch the best price takes time to form,” he says, and adds that harvest should take place only after 25-30 years.

G Venkatappa, a farmer in Kelchennahlli village in Kolar district, Karnataka, started a 0.8 ha sandalwood plantation 18 months ago. He says other farmers in his village are impressed with the prospective benefits, but no one has followed suit because of the long waiting period.

Another concern is security. “Protecting a sandalwood plantation is a tough task for a farmer. It attracts theft once the trees are ready for harvest. If the government provides help in the form of police protection, cameras and so on, more farmers might be willing to take up cultivation,” says M Gopal, chairperson, All-India Kisan Council.

Farmers cultivating sandalwood need to invest heavily in protection equipment. Dinesh has developed a natural fence of thorny acacia trees, installed a solar fence and even carried out trenching all around his farm. He is also planning to install CCTV cameras once his trees become mature. “It is an expensive prospect, but I hope the returns will make up for the cost,” he says.

Ramakantha believes policy provisions supporting sandalwood-cultivating farmers will encourage more production. “Only government and its agencies should be allowed to procure sandalwood from farmers. This provision will prevent them from being cheated or bullied by unscrupulous traders. The government can enter into purchase contracts with farmers and provide security, since the trees would then be government property,” he adds.

Today, the market for sandalwood in India looks favourable. Farmers, too, have the technical know-how to start their own cultivation. But the country still has a long way to go to regain its position as the world leader in sandalwood production.

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  • Res sir pl give me

    Res sir

    pl give me introduction a sandalwood rope

    & agriculture

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • I have 6 plants in Lemon

    I have 6 plants in Lemon Garden.I do not know what to do? Any one can suggest the way<

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
    • Have u sold it or not? You have not mentioned your area and plant size and age

      Posted by: VSNYADAV | 2 years ago | Reply
      • We are looking for buyer of sandalwood trees of age 30+ years.. pls unicast me at mentioned email id.

        Posted by: Naren | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Is it possible to have more

    Is it possible to have more information if interested to plant Sandalwood? My native place is Bihar. I need to know more about state and central govt. rules regulations. Where to get better varities of sapplings? and other related additional information connected to it. Thanks!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
    • If you want to invest in sandalwood then contact me in this number 8121514184

      Posted by: Geetanjali Sabar | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Sir, I am from Punjab.

    Dear Sir, I am from Punjab. Is it possible to plant sandalwood in punjab ? I want to know more about state and central govt. rules & regulations for the same and for subsidy ?

    Please advice


    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • is it possible to grow in UP?

    is it possible to grow in UP? kindly give the more information to plant Sandalwood. can u explain regarding the soil which is required for this.


    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • I am great lover of sandalwood and I am glad, government have removed it's control and now commercially exploiting for export etc of sandal wood product's. Which is really beneficial to the end farmer's, who have large amount of land's for cross plantation's etc.
    Infract, I am from Karnataka with small land 1/2 acres. 45 year's land remained un-cultivated with few coconut trees.
    I am studying the prospect's of planting "Sandalwood & Teakwood trees" or "White Sandalwood with Red Sandalwood".
    Can you please comment on my ansesteral blessings of this land in my name. That I may really grow these two product's for my grand chidren's welfares.
    Thank you.
    Constance Lopez.

    Posted by: Constance Santorin Lopez | 4 years ago | Reply
  • Highly valuable and useful information for farmers.

    Posted by: R C Nigam | 4 years ago | Reply
    • This area is reasonably good if anybody have grown and the heartwood is having santalin content (smell) , observed by cutting 10years old , if available. The climate condition is O.K. It needs minimum water , with drip, very little i.e 1-2" for every 10acres of 4000 trees. After 5years of establishment you can reduce it to 30% quantity of water. As intercrop you can go for your regular, locally demanded Senai ( Cassia senna), having international export demand.

      Posted by: Basavasankar | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Respected sir I want to know that con I cultivate sandal wood and teakwood at same time . I also want to know how much time it would take to grow fully to no marketed.I am from Orissa.Please guide me.

    Posted by: Smruti Ranjan Behera | 3 years ago | Reply
  • so happy to learn sandalwood plantation is increasing in india

    Posted by: Harendrakumar Dave | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Hi

    I want to know all details of sandalwood to grow how gov.can help and all details from statring to end.

    Thanks & Regards
    Veer Vikram Singh Rathore

    Posted by: Veer Vikram Singh Rathore | 3 years ago | Reply
  • We have 30 years old 170 big trees of sandal wood but we want to know the process and where to sell them.can any one help on this.

    Posted by: Phani Sekhar | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Can I grow chandan wood tree in up Kanpur dehat. Please please tell me about planting and cast one acr

    Posted by: Sandeep Pal | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Sir.. Our friend have 15 tones of red sandalwood trees age of 17 years..with license. Now he wants to sell. Can u please give me buyers contact. My mobile number is 9866718244.

    Posted by: Rajini Srikanth | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent information. Myself is planing to undertake sandalwood plantation.provided information cleared doubt regarding sandalwood wood production and marketing

    Posted by: Nilkanth Bhosle | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Dear sir,

    I want to grow sandalwood tree in Jodhpur district of Rajasthan. Is it possible to grow such tree in the climate condition of Rajasthan.

    Posted by: Gaje Singh Solanki | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Can I plant sandelwood tree in West Bengal? if no, what was the cose of it. Please tell me.

    Posted by: Sanjoy Dhabar | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Which one is better the red or white sandals?which one is more profitable.

    Posted by: Mhajam | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Dear sir
    Please mail yours contact number sending
    And ather enquiry I call you mi sir
    Please request sir

    Posted by: Prashant Naidu | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Respected sir, I am Diptanu Sarkar from Tripura. I just want to know about sandal farming. What is process of planting and farming of sandal plant. Where do I get good quality sandal plants?
    Is sandal plant farming at Tripura, good for me?
    Please do reply. Thanking you.

    Posted by: Diptanu Sarkar | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Dear sir, pls give me sandale wood buyars cont no and addres.

    Posted by: Bhausaheb Kahandal | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Sir,
    I am from Bharatpur Rajasthan. Is it possible to plant sandalwood in rajasthan? I want to know more about state and central govt. rules & regulations for the same and for subsidy ?

    Please advice

    Kuber Singh
    +91 9887154530

    Posted by: Kuber Singh | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Sir
    We would like to invest in Sandal wood Plantation, Please tell us how to proceed, send all information by mail.
    Is it possible to visit your sandal wood farm, if so how to go to your place from airport and how. Which is the nearest nearest Airport.
    Ajay Sharma
    EAST DELHI 110095
    TEL 011 43541221

    Posted by: Shiv Kumar | 2 years ago | Reply

  • Dear Sir,
    I am from Gwalior Madhya-pradesh . Is it possible to plant sandalwood in Madhya-pradesh? I want to know more about state and central govt. rules & regulations for the same and for subsidy ?

    Please advice

    Dheerendra Singh
    +91 9575733981

    Posted by: Dheerendra Singh | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Sir,
    I am from western UP and interested in sandal wood plantation , please guide me what is more suitable white or Red sandal wood ? What should be the best inter cropping with ? What are the precautions one should take during growing period ? What are the average expenses per year / acre/ hectare ? What are the govt. rules / regulation in this entire process ? Kindly help,
    Thanks & Regards,
    Mob: 9058414115,

    Posted by: Om Karan Singh | 2 years ago | Reply
  • I have two white sandal wood trees of 12 years, I don't know when it will be matured and where should be sold. Please inform me.

    Posted by: Chandra Prasad Ghimire | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Dear sir ,
    I want to grow sandal wood tree , it is a part of my startup to grow sandal wood in villages/urban . Aim to provide small farmer more from same land by agroforestry means .

    I want favours from you of genuine seeds of white
    And red sandal seeds or small plants from nursery.

    Thank you!

    Posted by: Vimal Kumar Sharma | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Interested to plant sandal cultivation in own farm.

    Posted by: Kishor Bobade | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Hi we have a 30 year old tree based in Maharashtra , but are unable to get information on how to get our tree legally removed. Would appreciate any help from this community.

    Posted by: Niket | 2 years ago | Reply
  • I want to buy pure sandal wood oil from your organization. Can you confirm me about test report and can u provide sample also.

    Posted by: Ajeet Kumar Srivastav | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Good Information

    Posted by: Dr. B M Nagabhushana | 2 years ago | Reply
  • In your article i have came across that government has announced 75% subsidy on cultivation costs... let me want to know how it is given...
    Plz respond

    Posted by: S M Vishwakumar | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Its a wonderful coverage....

    Posted by: Ramakrishna G | 3 months ago | Reply