A profitable opportunity

Tuesday, 2 September 2014 03:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

IN Sri Lanka, the stink of corruption emanates from the most scented of places. Walla Patta, or Gyrinops Walla as it is scientifically known, is an indigenous herb that is used to produce some of the finest perfumes in the world. Since it is exclusive to the country, trade in this precious plant is prohibited. However, this did not stop an attempt to smuggle it with a variety of people, the latest being a Chinese national, arrested. In 2013 over 13, 000 kilograms worth over Rs. 200 million was caught, indicating a well-organised operation. Several companies have also been attempting to find ways to provide commercial use for the plant, encouraging it as a garden crop and aiming to improve income as well as stop the plant’s extinction.   The main objective is to assess the feasibility of developing and growing a successful Walla Patta commercial plantation that produces the valuable Agarwood resins within a decade and creating awareness among the general public of opportunities in Walla Patta cultivation in one’s home garden. Gyrinops walla is the botanical name of Walla Patta belonging to the Thymelaeaceae family. Eight known varieties of these species are available in forests of the South East Asia countries. Among these genre, only Gyrinops walla, locally known as Walla Patta is found in Sri Lanka. In ancient Sri Lanka, villagers used this wood for rituals and traditional religious ceremonies. However, after 2012, this changed when international demand for the wood grew.   Injury to the tree due to natural causes results in the production of a dark-coloured resinous tissue. This is known as Agarwood and the process of this production is the tree’s response to injury as its first line of defence. According to botanists in Sri Lanka, the presence of Agarwood formed due to natural reasons is found in only 7%-8% of Walla Patta trees. However, due to the wrongful assumption that all Walla Patta trees produce the Agarwood resin, rampant felling is carried out causing harm to immature trees, decreasing the percentage of adult trees that reproduce the valuable resin. Despite the existence of a sandalwood plantation, harvesting and reaping the benefits takes over 20 years. However, within a short time span of just 10 years, research reveals Agarwood cultivation as an ideal home crop in one’s garden, also providing an opportunity to earn a sustainable and higher income.     It is clear that traditional conservation policies are not going to save this precious plant. Instead the Government needs to formulate policies that allow commercial export of Walla Patta, thus ensuring that the endemic plant will be proliferated. Regulation of the product will reduce the black market and promote sustainable trade and farming practices that actually benefit the public rather than allowing well-connected thieves to corner the profit. While private sector steps in this effort are laudable, there is expanding fear that it is not moving fast enough. Moreover, increased crack down of smuggling operations within the last two years shows illicit production of Agarwood is alive and well. Such a black market threatens the legal promotion of Walla Patta for the international market and puts the budding industry in the shadows. In this rare instance when conservation and commercial interest meet, it should be bolstered by better laws and policy initiatives.