Natural Sandalwood now cultivated in Australia
There are shortages of natural sandalwood in India and in Australia which has allowed a market in synthetic sandalwood oil to grow up.
Liz Barbour, Manager of seed technologies at the West Australian government’s Forest Products Commission (FPC) says:
“The race is on to work out how to establish and sustain cultivated sandalwood.
- There are large plantations of sandalwood in the tropical north of Western Australia as well as the traditional areas.
- In the hope of preventing the synthetic oil industry establishing an unbreakable grip on the market”.
The lion’s share of sandalwood production is in India. In Western Australia it was the foundation of a flourishing industry in the 19th century, based on the wheatbelt and the gold fields.
Undersupply was exacerbated by spike disease in India, which caused the loss of natural plantings, while in Australia there was over-harvesting, and alteration of habitat by foxes and other feral animals.
“Steady growth in demand has grown beyond what we can supply. People use the oils for perfumes, religious ceremonies and natural mosquito repellent,” Liz Barbour says.
A collaboration between the FPC, the University of Western Australia and the University of British Columbia has discovered the gene responsible for the production of sandalwood oil.
“Now this key gene has been identified it will be possible to design a test to work out which trees will yield oil.
At present this cannot be ascertained until tropical sandalwood trees are seven years old and native sandalwoods are 15.
So now we have this tool, we can test the sandalwood in seed form and tell straight away if it is going to produce oil or not. We used to have to wait eight to 15 years. This provides us with huge clarity. And we want to see if there is some sort of treatment that will ‘switch on’ the tree if it is not producing.” Liz Barbour says.
In Western Australia about $25million of native sandalwood product is produced annually and there has been a $500m investment into native and tropical plantations, of which substantial harvesting will begin in 2016.
Source: Sep 9, 2009 http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/