Earlier 3,000 Indian farmers involved in cultivating the red-coloured wood couldn’t find any takers in domestic market
All red sanders farmers, who weren’t allowed to export their produce as the foreign trade policy prohibited it, now can. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), an agency of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, on February 18, 2019 revised its export policy to permit its export if it is obtained from cultivated land.
Estimates suggest that there are more than 3,000 farmers across India who were unable to sell their produce due to the earlier export policy. Earlier, only seized logs from smugglers were being exported depending on state government rules.
“This is a great step taken by the DGFT which will benefit red sanders farmers. However, red sanders remains listed in the Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). It shall be removed, as it was removed from endangered category of International Union for Conservation of Nature,” said RP Ganeshan, who has a 19-hectare plantation of red sanders trees in the Eastern Ghats of Tamil Nadu and has several times written to the government asking them to relax the export policy.
Down to Earth had, in July 2018, reported on how the government’s policy was leading to illegal harvesting of red sanders.
Red sanders (Pterocarpus santalinus), known for its rich hue and therapeutic properties, is high in demand across Asia, particularly in China and Japan, for use in cosmetics and medicinal products as well as for making furniture, woodcraft and musical instruments. Its popularity can be gauged from the fact that a tonne of red sanders costs anything between Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore in the international market.
The dichotomy of trading
Though a farmer can grow the tree, he/she requires permits to fell and transport the wood, which was difficult to obtain. Moreover, the price of this wood in the domestic market is less than half of what it is in the international market as the demand is low.
At the same time, the farmer could not even export it earlier as the foreign trade policy prohibited it. Ironically, the Indian government had itself asked for quotas to export red sanders from CITES as the tree is categorised as a species that needs protection.
“The Indian government should also create a separate Timber Development Board under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare as a single-window system for all farming activities to facilitate export process,” he adds.
Why the restrictions?
The tree is endemic to several districts in Andhra Pradesh and some parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. But overexploitation prompted the Union government in the 1980s to recommend inclusion of red sanders in Appendix II of CITES, which says “trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival”.
“The species was listed in Appendix II of CITES in 1995, and subsequently export of red sanders was prohibited in 2004,” says SK Shanmugasundaram, a retired conservator of forest from Tamil Nadu. “States too regulated the trade of red sanders through a process of multiple permits,” he said.
In 2010, when the CITES was planning to suspend trade of red sanders obtained from India, the government submitted a Non-Detriment Finding (NDF) report saying it must be allowed to export from cultivated sources.
So in 2012, India got an export quota on red sanders from CITES, under which the country could export 310 tonnes of red sanders obtained from “artificially propagated” sources (grown on farms) and 11,806 tonnes of wood from seized sources.
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