Photo Report: Sustainable Agarwood Production in Vietnam

Since 1995, The Rainforest Project has been working to preserve the endangered agarwood tree or gaharu (Aquilaria spp.) in Vietnam and other southeast Asian countries. Agarwood resin is highly prized in many countries, from the Middle East to Japan, for perfumes and incense, but has nearly vanished due to reckless harvesting. With the backing and funding from the European Union, universities around the world, and The Conservation Agency, The Rainforest Project has assembled a coalition of scientists, officials, farmers, and foresters to develop a sustainable method of agarwood production.

Above: a Vietnamese forester assists in experiments that will examine how resin is formed in Aquilaria trees.


To save the agarwood tree, The Rainforest Project uses the latest technologies and research facilities available at the Plant Pathology Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, and the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation Analytical Laboratory Lab in Washington DC. These scientists analyse the experimental findings for the benefit of the Vietnamese rainforest and its people.

Furthermore, The Rainforest Project has flown Vietnamese scientists to the US for advanced training, so that they can learn to perform research in their own country. Scientists at the National University of Ho Chi Minh City are conducting the field studies on how to encourage resin production, and have supervised in-country biological and chemical analysis.

Above: a micrograph shows the cell structure of one of our experimental Aquilaria; white areas indicate resin deposits. By studying such samples,The Rainforest Project has made substantial advances in the knowledge of how agarwood resin is formed and how it can be produced sustainably.


Thoughout the project planning and at each step of the way, The Rainforest Project has worked closely with the local people, as we believe that only projects which are supported by the area residents, and seen by them to be beneficial, will have a lasting impact.

For example, to plant Aquilaria seedlings at  our several experimental sites, we have worked out cooperative arrangements among various groups, with:

Through community meetings like the one shown above, the area residents have worked out an agreement on how to share the responsibilities for, and the benefits from, the coming  agarwood production.

Scientist with Aquilaria planting ACCOMPLISHMENTS

In two years,  The Rainforest Project has found:

  1. Aquilaria plantations can be successfully developed as an agro-forestry enterprise
  2. Aquilaria can be artificially induced to yield the extremely valuable commercial product known as Agarwood
  3. Using technology developed exclusively by TRP, Aquilaria trees can be induced to produce resin nearly ten times faster than in nature
  4. There is a sure long-term market for a wide range of agarwood products with stable or rising demand and a rapidly diminishing supply scenario.
  5. The development of agarwood plantations is an ideal way of generating income and employment for low-income families living in and around project areas.
Above: a Vietnamese scientist, on TRP staff, stands with a promising young specimen of an agarwood tree, planted through the efforts of The Rainforest Project.

-- May 1998
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