Safe­guard­ing the trade

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH -

GA­HARU poach­ers are not only chop­ping down agar­wood trees from our forests but wip­ing out the wildlife too. Ac­counts of poach­ers car­ry­ing tiger claws, bear paws, por­cu­pines and even rhino horns along­side sacks of ga­haru hint at the im­pact of op­por­tunis­tic hunt­ing. Lo­cals have also been known to par­tic­i­pate in il­le­gal har­vest­ing ac­tiv­i­ties but they are no match for the work of in­ter­na­tional crime rings.

“For­eign­ers take ev­ery­thing. They specif­i­cally go in for ga­haru but set up traps for food and high-value species for the wildlife trade,” says Ta­man Ne­gara Pa­hang su­per­in­ten­dent, Ab­dul Kadir Abu Hashim.

“Most of the lo­cals harvest the ga­haru in small quan­ti­ties and sell it to mid­dle­men.”

Pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Bu­mipu­tra Ga­haru En­trepreneurs (Peng­harum) Datuk Dahlan Taha sees the poach­ers as a hin­drance to Malaysia’s ef­forts to es­tab­lish it­self as an in­ter­na­tional trad­ing cen­tre. “Il­le­gal ga­haru col­lec­tion eats into the share of li­censed ga­haru traders and de­prives the Malaysian public of a large amount of tax on the com­mod­ity.”

Tack­ling the is­sue is a chal­lenge, how­ever. The Forestry Depart­ment has de­clined to give the num­ber of ar­rests re­lated to ga­haru poach­ing. In any case, con­vic­tions rates might only re­veal a small por­tion of the theft as most ar­rests re­sult in im­mi­gra­tion charges re­lat­ing to visa over­stays or il­le­gal en­try into the coun­try or for­est re­serve. Il­le­gal re­moval of pro­duce from per­ma­nent re­served forests or state­land forests car­ries a jail sen­tence of up to 20 years and a fine not ex­ceed­ing RM500,000 un­der Sec­tion 15 of the Forestry Act 1984 but it ap­pears that in­cen­tives for the crime out­weigh the po­ten­tial costs.

Two Thai poach­ers ar­rested in Ke­lan­tan in 2005 re­vealed to re­searcher Noorainie Awang Anak (who co-au­thored the CITES re­port Wood For The Trees: A Re­view Of The Agar­wood (Ga­haru) Trade In Malaysia) that they would con­sider re­peat­ing the of­fence. The men’s fam­i­lies were sup­ported by syn­di­cates which em­ployed them and they said that if caught, life in prison would be less stren­u­ous than spend­ing months search­ing for ga­haru in the jun­gle. The men, aged 17 and 28, said they would not dare ven­ture the same thing back home as harsher meth­ods were used in deal­ing with such crimes.

Ga­haru es­tates

With prom­ises of lu­cra­tive prof­its from the “liq­uid gold”, many are in­vest­ing in ga­haru plan­ta­tions. Also, there is a scuf­fle to come up with the best and most cost­ef­fec­tive in­oc­u­la­tion tech­nique to in­duce karas trees to pro­duce ga­haru. Wor­ries that small­hold­ers might fall vic­tim to the empty prom­ises of fly-by-night in­vest­ment schemes prompted the for­ma­tion of Peng­harum.

Dahlan says com­mer­cial ga­haru plan­ta­tions are largely still in their in­fancy but it is im­por­tant that Malaysia nur­tures this grow­ing in­dus­try as re­ly­ing on wild ga­haru col­lec­tions is un­sus­tain­able.

The for­mer Forestry Depart­ment deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral says in­oc­u­la­tion tech­niques might not pro­duce the same kind of high-grade ga­haru found in the for­est but they can be used to cater to cer­tain mar­ket de­mands or spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

He says some Peng­harum mem­bers are de­vel­op­ing the method called SGT3 (Ser­a­pan Gubal Teras 3) which al­lows the har­vest­ing of dif­fer­ent types and grades of wood from live trees, a step for­ward from most cur­rent meth­ods which re­quire the felling of the en­tire tree.

There are three vari­a­tions of the SGT3 method. The first pro­duces Kayu C ga­haru, cur­rently sold to Tai­wan and Dubai for US$7 to US$10 (RM21 to RM31) per kg, where it is dis­tilled into oil or used as in­cense. This method re­quires an ap­pli­ca­tion of a liq­uid for­mula over the bark. An outer layer of bark is then har­vested af­ter six months, af­ter which the process can be re­peated.

Har­vest­ing wood chips af­ter one to three years pro­duces Kaler Gazi which is sold to Viet­nam and In­dia for US$7 to US$100 per kg (RM21 to RM310). A slightly mod­i­fied tech­nique whereby har­vest­ing oc­curs af­ter three to six years pro­duces Gubal. Sold lo­cally and to In­dia, this type is mainly used as in­cense and priced be­tween US$800 and US$1,200 (RM2,480 and RM3,720) per kg.

Dahlan thinks that in the fu­ture, there will be a mar­ket for even lower grade ga­haru as the younger gen­er­a­tion prefers per­fumes that use the oil as a com­po­nent; the oil can be dis­tilled from lower grades of ga­haru.

“It would also be help­ful to see a more stream­lined pol­icy for ga­haru, which falls un­der both the purview of the Nat­u­ral Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry (karas trees) and the Plan­ta­tion In­dus­tries and Com­modi­ties Min­istry (ga­haru and plan­ta­tions).” –Natalie heng

an agar­wood es­tate. Grow­ing ga­haru on a com­mer­cial ba­sis is still in its in­fancy.

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