While Western Australia has set up plantations of Indian sandalwood in a big way, in its homeland, India, sandalwood production is on its last leg.
The government's strict control and apathy towards sandalwood plantation in the country is well known. That and massive smuggling are said to
have led to a decline in sandalwood production in the country.
From 4,000 tonnes in 1950, India's sandalwood production fell to 2,000 tonnes in 1990 and to about 1,000 tonnes in 2000. It is feared that production will not last beyond 2008. The world market demand of sandalwood stands at around 5,000-6,000 tonne. Of this demand, more than two-thirds is for Indian sandalwood. "This gap in demand and supply has led to an increase in prices and has, in turn, led to massive smuggling," said Rai.
Its decline also affected local communities who were licensed by the government to harvest and transport sandalwood; sandalwood-based industries in the country have also been hit.
Australia has its own native sandalwood (Santalum spicatum). Since Indian sandalwood is better priced in the international market, it switched to growing this variety. In 1990, Indian sandalwood was priced at around us $4,000 per tonne, which went up to more than us $80,000 per tonne in 2006. While Australian sandalwood was priced at us $8,500 per tonne in 2006.
Australia started its first Indian sandalwood plantation in 1998. It took off so well that it is now set to overtake India in the total area under Indian sandalwood. In 2001, Australia had 830 hectares (ha) under Indian sandalwood plantation. By 2011, it is expected to be around 2,300 ha. "Sandalwood in India is distributed naturally in around 900,000 ha. But the actual area under sandalwood is very less as the area is mixed with other vegetation," said Rai. Also, Australia had initially bought seeds from India, but with bigger plantations it no longer needs to buy seeds.
"India's supply is so low that it is now importing sandalwood from Australia to meet the demands of sandalwood-based industries in the country, especially for the production of sandalwood oil," said T S Rathore, scientist at the Institute of Wood Science and Technology in Bangalore. India contributes 90 per cent of the sandalwood oil production in the world.
Meanwhile, Australia is promoting small-scale growers by ensuring high returns for their efforts and promoting genetically improved high-oil yeilding varieties. It also plans to harvest the sandalwood early. While India harvests sandalwood after 30 years, Australia plans to extract about 25 kg of heartwood in 14 years through improved propagation techniques.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.