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In Sri Lanka, the sweet smell of agarwood draws calls for trade protection

23 / 08 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

COLOMBO — When forest officer Anura Herath carried out a raid in July 2012, he was ready to seize high-value timber. But instead he discovered strips of blackish bark, stems and other wood chips in the possession of the men he nabbed. Puzzled, he sought expert advice, leading authorities in Sri Lanka to their first look into the multimillion-dollar trafficking of agarwood. Agarwood is a resinous wood from tree species in the Aquilaria and Gyrinops genera. The dark resin, secreted as a self-defense mechanism against fungi, bacteria or insect infestation, is highly aromatic, and the resin-suffused heartwood is a prized natural perfume. Agarwood was traded across the ancient Silk Road for centuries, but demand had risen sharply in the past 30 years. Today, hundreds of tonnes of agarwood are traded annually, involving at least 18 countries, according to a report by the wildlife trade watchdog, TRAFFIC. A Gyrinops walla plant found in a home garden. Image courtesy of Nimal Gunatilleke. Overexploited and depleted Malaysia, the global leader in agarwood exports, has overexploited seven of its 18 agarwood-producing native trees, now risking their extinction. Similar overexploitation has occurred across other range countries, and in 1995, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listed the main agarwood-producing species, Aquilaria malaccensis, in CITES Appendix II, tightening trade restrictions. A decade later, all Aquilaria and Gyrinops species were listed in Appendix II, in a bid to better regulate the global agarwood trade. But as with measures to clamp down on trade in other forms of…

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