Agarwood has potential to be a future cash crop in Pakistan: WealthPK

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ISLAMABAD: Agarwood, or oud, has the potential to be a future cash crop in Pakistan.
Prospects of successful seed cultivation are about 90-98%. Tropical areas in Pakistan are suitable to grow agarwood/black gold or “the wood of gods”, said Abrar Hussain, in-charge of Horticulture Training Institute of Pattoki (HTIP), a non-governmental organization established by the local people. Abrar stated that the HTIP is working to promote agarwood cultivation in Pakistan.
Talking to WealthPK, Abrar said the HTIP is importing agarwood seeds from Indonesia.
“Shelf life of agarwood seed is seven to eight days only. That’s why seed is imported on demand or according to need for the preparation of seedlings. Each seed is sold at Rs300 normally. Seedlings become ready to plant after the span of a year,” he said.
An agarwood plant takes at least eight years to mature, but some plants apparently mature at the age of four to five years as well. At the maturity level, the tree is ready for fungus inoculation if it does not occur naturally.
“Due to its economic value, people are keen to cultivate agarwood in Pakistan. That’s why we are importing it. But if the government takes interest, it can be a most productive cultivation for the national economy,” he said.
Abrar said the National Agriculture Research Centre (NARC) must start a research program for agarwood cultivation in Pakistan. “It will help the farmers in getting training from the most relevant people concerning its cultivation,” he said.
Dr. Rifat Tahira, Principal Scientist Plant Genetic Resources Program, Bioresources Conservation Institute of NARC, told WealthPK that agarwood is a valuable non-timber forest product.
Oud formation turns tropical evergreen agarwood trees into a valuable commodity. Oud is the defensive aromatic resin/sap of agar tree against fungal disease. Its self-defence system creates black resin around the infected area. Such black shield is the precious oud or black gold. Native areas of agarwood are Burma, few parts of Thailand and Assam, etc. It can be grown in other tropical places, but it is not certain that without specific temperature or conditions, fungus will grow in it. For this purpose, agar tree is made infected with mould or bacteria invasion through inoculation process. As a result, few trees can be infected.
“To get the essential oil from agarwood, only the infected part is soaked in water for a month or more. After this period, oil is distilled through steam distillation. Agarwood oil can never be extracted from leaves, roots or other healthy branches or trunk. Black agarwood is considered precious as it is full of essential oil and its sinking ratio is higher. Sinking test shows the percentage of oil in wood. Its fragrance notes of rose and old woods. Its fumes also create the feeling of warmth,” Dr. Rifat said.
Principal Scientific Officer in NARC Dr. Aamir Sultan said while talking to WealthPK that few people have started agarwood cultivation in Pakistan, but at official level there is no research study about its adoptability in the country.
“If experiments prove its adoptability in our tropical areas, it will be a great prospect in our farming segment,” he said.
From ancient times, agarwood is used to scent the holy places, carve the artifacts, craft the religious ornaments, heal the patients, fumigate the clothes against lice and other micro insects, and for preparation of incense sticks. Book of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is incomplete without the description of agarwood.
The international agarwood market size is anticipated to rise at the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.72% by the year 2026 worth $968.26 million. First grade agarwood costs $100,000 per kg and its essential oil is named as “liquid gold”.
It originates mainly from South and Southeast Asia. Agarwood is highly esteemed in many religions. Three of its major products i.e., agarwood, oil and agarwood powder are marketed mostly. People burn agarwood chips for fragrance or to prepare tea. Its leaves are also used for brewing tea. Its oil serves as the base note to produce perfumes or essential oil formulations.