AGARWOOD, more popularly known locally as gaharu, is the resin-embedded heartwood that forms in the Aquilaria and Gyrinops trees when they become infected with a type of mould.
Thanks to its fragrance, agarwood has been treasured by many cultures for centuries and is used as incense, perfume, medicine and even in sculptures.
The increased demand and escalating price of agarwood over the past 20 years have led to rampant harvesting in the wild, raising concerns that these trees, native to South-East Asia, may face extinction.
Depletion of wild resources in other South-East Asian countries has prompted illegal collectors to sneak into Malaysian forests, many of which are forest reserves, for the pricey commodity.
Aquilaria and Gyrinops have been listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The export of these items is closely watched by Customs, while the Malaysian Timber Industry Board is tasked with issuing the permits.
As for trading, the Gua Musang Guideline — which provides reccomendations on the harvest, trade and processing procedures for agarwood — states that all gaharu traders are only allowed to buy Aquilaria products from contractors registered with the state Forestry Department.
They also have to report to the department the amount of agarwood bought and sold, among other requirements.
Cultivation is another proactive effort to maintain the number of these trees, and they are infected artificially to produce agarwood in a sustainable manner for economic growth.