Time to lift restrictions on planting sandalwood?

The Indian sandalwood tree (Santalaum album) is perhaps the planet’s most expensive wood, because of its cosmetic and therapeutic value. There is huge international demand for it, with its fragrant heartwood priced at over Rs. 10,000 a kilo. This tree grows very well in South Indian soil, especially in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and needs very little water.

Fruiting happens throughout the year, and the tiny fruits attract birds like parrots and cuckoos. And while we eventually cut the trees to harvest the wood, during their lifetime they, like any other tree, function as a carbon sink and generate oxygen.

Ban on harvesting

Growing sandalwood by individuals was banned until 2002. Today, we can grow the trees but it is illegal to cut and harvest the wood, use it or sell it in the open market. Permission is required from the state forest department, which sends its officials to cut the tree and buy the sandalwood.

Such restrictions dissuade most people from growing sandalwood trees. There is also a security threat, as sandalwood trees are scarce and might attract unwanted attention.

“Because of these restrictions, 90 per cent of our sandalwood trees have been lost and soon, these trees may become endangered while other countries grow and export sandalwood freely.”

“If we allow unrestricted harvesting and promote widespread cultivation of sandalwood trees, the acute demand for sandalwood will be met and the security threat around it would also be negated,” says Professor D. Narasimhan, associate professor, Department of Botany, Centre for Floristic Research, Madras Christian College.

Missed opportunity

So, as a nation, are we missing out on a huge opportunity?

“Considering the economic advantage that sandalwood offers, it should be allowed to be grown and harvested on farms and in homes. If one can harvest his own sandalwood tree, it would become commonplace and if allowed to be sold in the open market, it would reduce theft and smuggling,” says city-based builder Jaswant Singh, who grows Indian sandalwood in his home garden.

“If every child is given a sandalwood tree to nurture, the tree would end up fetching him a tidy sum of money by the time he grows up, and this can be an incentive for tree planting. For farmers who find agriculture unviable, commercial sandalwood cultivation offers hope,” says Singh, who has petitioned the government to lift restrictions on sandalwood harvesting.

How to grow it

Growing these trees is quite easy. It requires good sunlight and tends to grow vertically, rather than in girth and reaches around 30 feet in height and 7 to 12 inches in diameter. It thus grows well in smaller spaces too.

The tree starts flowering after around seven years, and the tree trunk develops fragrant heartwood after 10 years.

Sandalwood saplings should be planted in well drained soil and watered frugally on alternate days. Reduce the volume of water as the years go by.

Use organic manure (once in 45 days) only. Sandalwood trees are semi-parasitic in nature. The roots of the tree gather nourishment from the roots of nearby shrubs and grasses, so don’t clear the ground around it.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2022 1:04:24 AM |

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