Friday, March 14, 2014

Dr. Upul Subasinghe attended International Sandalwood Conference in Bangalore

Dr. Upul Subasinghe presented a paper on Sri Lanka Sandalwood at the the International Sandalwood Conference held from 26 to 28 February 2014 at the Institute of Wood Science and Technology, Bangalore, India. Sandalwood researchers from different countries attended the conference to share the research experience with each other. Those participants represented India, Sri Lanka, Australia, USA, France etc and used the conference as a forum to discuss the Current Trends and Future Prospects which was also the theme of the conference.

Dr. Subasinghe's presentation was based on his research on the distribution of Sandalwood scientifically known as Santalum album and the variation of oil content and quality across different geographical regions of Sri Lanka. Until recent times, little was known about the Sandalwood growing in Sri Lanka and therefore the participants were curious about the oil contents and the distribution and therefore they had many matters clarified from Dr. Subasinghe. The paper presented at the conference was given below.

Santalum album distribution in Sri Lanka and the variation of oil contents and compounds

ABSTRACT

Santalum album has a cultural and economic attraction mainly because of its fragrant oil produced in the heartwood. Due to this reason, the demand and value are increasing which has created a high market interest.
Early studies indicated that S. album showed a highly localized distribution in Sri Lanka. However, recent studies have proven that it has a wider distribution in the country. According to the literature, sandalwood oil content and quality vary within the trees growing in the same area. Therefore this study was designed to identify the oil content and oil quality variation in three districts of Sri Lanka, namely, Badulla, Kurunegala and Hambantota. All three districts belong to the Intermediate zone, however, with different rainfall, temperature and elevation figures.
Core samples and whenever possible, cross sections were extracted from randomly selected trees in each district. Oil was extracted by hydro-distillation and the different compounds present in oil were measured by gas chromatography analysis.
The results showed a large variation of oil contents present in the sampled trees. Selected oil compounds, i.e., cis-α-santalol, cis-β-santalol, epi-β-bisabalol, epi-β-santalol and t,t-farnesol showed little or no variation between the three selected districts. However, cis-t-bergamotol was high in the sampled trees of Hambantota district. Those compounds did not have significant correlations with tree parameters, geographic and topographic parameters, i.e., dbh, heath and heartwood content.

Key words: Santalum album, oil quantity, oil constituents, cis-α-santalol





Friday, November 2, 2012

Illegal sandalwood trade growing even in Western Australia

A programme made by the "ABC News" of Australia revealed that the illegal sandalwood trade is very high in Western Australia which has a slow growing native sandalwood species called Australian sandalwood. This species, scientifically known as Santalum spicatum growing in arid and semi-arid zones plays a significant role in their economy. The Forestry Products Commission of Western Australia has launched a sustainable sandalwood harvesting programme from the wild under strict monitoring of scientists and the government has appointed one private company called Wescorp Sandalwood Pty Ltd for processing those wood. At the same time, those scientists try hard to increase the sandalwood resources in the country.

The value of Australian sandalwood timber metric ton is about 150,000.00 dollars and therefore it has grabbed the attention of the greed who are looking for quick money. The programme made by the ABC News started with a raid of a group of sandalwood poachers who came into the wild for harvesting sandalwood trees with machinery and camping gears. They pull out all large sandalwood trees which were grown over hundreds of years without thinking about the sustainability.

According to the news, 300 MT of sandalwood timber are illegally harvested each year in Western Australia and since March 2012, the authorities were able to capture 170 MT. The view of the public is that the current law and fine system are not adequate for saving this valuable resource and therefore the government is in the process of reconsidering those aspects.

A fully grown Australian sandalwood tree

The entire programme can be viewed by the following link.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-30/illegal-sandalwood-trade-in-wa/4342570

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandalwood smuggle: Caught in the act

The Rivira Newspaper revealed that, a 150 kg sandalwood bulk smuggled to Pakistan was caught by the Sri Lanka Customs on 25th October 2012. A 28 year old Pakistani national has been arrested for smuggling the above sandalwood bulk hiding in betel leaves that were to be exported also to Pakistan. Being Pakistan is one of the main buyers of Sri Lanka grown betel leaves, daily export of betel leaves is not an uncommon practice. Due to the perishable nature, those are transported by air and therefore the smuggler may have thought to use the same way to transport the sandalwood bulk. When questioned, it was revealed that those logs were obtained from the trees illegally felled from Sri Lanka Government Forest Reservations.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Destruction of sandalwood in Jaffna: Another ill-effect of war

Although sandalwood is known to grow well in the montane areas of the intermediate climatic zone of Sri Lanka, there were many evidences that it grows in the driest areas of the country - Jaffna. Jaffna is located in the flat lands of the dry zone in the very northern part of Sri Lanka and it has suffered due to the war prevailed over 25 years. 

In a recent visit, it was surprising to see the value of sandalwood written on the top of a wall of an abandoned and half-ruined Hindu temple as "EMULSION OF SANDALWOOD PASTE ENGULFS HARMFUL ORGANISMS ON SKIN" in both native Jaffna language (Tamil) and English.




When inquiring about the presence of sandalwood after seen this temple, it was possible to locate an area in Jaffna where sandalwood has grown successfully. Later on the visit to those lands, it was unfortunate to discover that almost all large-diameter sandalwood trees were felled and burnt for land clearance by the owners, not knowing the real value of it. On the field visit to those lands, it was, however, possible to see a few small-diameter sandalwood trees are growing. There is also a tendency of cutting those trees also for land clearances for growing other crops. 



Moreover, it was possible to know that an entire sandalwood plantation established in Mullathivu was bulldozered by armed forces to clear the landmines.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sandalwood Rackets: Why They Were Not Caught?

Neth FM, one of the popular radio channels in Sri Lanka had a program on 17th April 2012 regarding illegal sandalwood trade. The most highlighted issue in the program was the illegal felling of sandalwood trees from Buddhist Temples in many areas of the country. Those trees in the temples were kept due to the religious and cultural values and not due to the monetary values. Therefore Buddhist Priests let those trees to grow for a long time and the size of such trees could be the most attractive feature for those ruthless people. The other reason could be the very low security in the temple premises.

The producers of the program repeatedly questioned the inability of the Sri Lanka police to catch the crimes at least when the heavy logs of sandalwood are transported to different locations from the illegally harvested areas. They suspected that the very powerful people may be behind this illegal sandalwood trade and that could be the reason for not having the crimes caught.

During the program villagers from many areas of the island made telephone calls complaining about thefts of their trees. The population of naturally grown sandalwood in Sri Lanka is declining at an alarming rate and therefore actions should be taken immediately to sop these rackets before it becomes too late.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Indian Sandalwood in Sri Lanka: Current Issues


Indian sandalwood scientifically known as Santalum album of the family Santalaceae grows well in the hilly areas of the intermediate zone of Sri Lanka. 


Indian sandalwood may be the mostly mentioned tree species in the ancient literature found in India and Sri Lanka. In Subhashitha (Sinhala advisory poems), written by Algiyawenna Mukaveti before about 500 years, it is said that, "Good people with high qualities do not get hurt even due to very harsh actions by others. In fact their qualities spread as sandalwood spreads its fragrance wider and wider as it is cut and beaten".

In Guttilia Kavya (written by Ven. Vetteve Thero in Kotte Kingdon of Sri Lanka in 1400s), it is said that, "ladies applied fragrant sandalwood paste in their bodies prior to participate for the musical contest". 

Lo Veda Sangarawa (another ancient Sinhalese writing by Ven. Vidagama Maithriya Thero) says "having delicious food and applying wonderful sandalwood paste ..."

In addition to that, Great Writings in Eastern Literature such as Buddhist Jathaka stories, Dhamma Pada, Vinaya Pitaka (400 BC) etc mentioned sandalwood trees.

Due to very low germination and slow growth rate, its population is not in the increase at present. In addition to that, illegal felling done at a fast rate due the high value and high demand of sandalwood oil (santalol) cause a rapid decline of sandalwood population in Sri Lanka. Due to this reason, protection of this priceless resource has become a real issue for the villagers in the intermediate zone. permits from the relevant government offices are required for felling and transporting sandalwood in Sri Lanka. Although very tight protection mechanisms are used in addition to the prevailing law, still those trees are harvested ruthlessly by certain groups. They sell those trees at cheaper values to certain "unknown" merchants in the area. The picture below illustrates a desperate attempt of a villager in Welimada, Sri Lanka for protecting his mature sandalwood plant by wrapping its stem using a tin sheet. He says that there would be a noise when this tin sheet is unwrapped prior to cutting the tree.




The most unfortunate thing in illegal sandalwood felling is that, the thieves carry only one to two meter long stem sections and leave the roots and upper stems on the ground. The poor villager not only looses the tree's most valuable area, but also faces problems in selling what left on the ground by the thieves because of the permit issue. The other heart-breaking view is the sacrifice of the immature small trees by thieves. They cut the tree up to the suspected heartwood area and then if there is no typical sandalwood smell, they leave the tree. Due to the low diameter, the tree falls with the very next wind to the ground.




Government has not made a proper attempt to promote sandalwood growing among villager. In fact there are no sandalwood forests of mixed forest owned by the government of Sri Lanka. However, it should be appreciated that the private sector such as a leading forestry investment company, Sadaharitha Plantations Limited came forward to establish sandalwood plantations in large scale as an investment opportunity for the people living in Sri Lanka and overseas.