The alarming issue of world deforestation has highlighted sandalwood and rosewood, both sources of popular essential oils, as being among those trees which may be at risk of extinction from over-harvesting.
Deforestation is a problem which, thanks to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio, is once again the focus of constant media attention. And yet somehow it still seems to be a distant problem belonging to places like Brazil OrIndia and not really having anything to do with our daily lives.But what about the wood oils that we use as aromatherapists? When Sandalwood (Santal Album) and Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora) oils reach us neatly packaged in sterile bottles it is all too easy to forget where they come from, and ignore the fact that production of these oils may play its own small part in the overall problem of deforestation.
For many centuries Sandalwood in various forms, such as incense, ornaments, furniture and essential oils, has been a major export item for India, one of its main producers. As such it provides a huge income, but still no one outside India seems to know exactly how much sandalwood is harvested annually. The main reason for this is that while many of the organisations concerned with deforestation are willing to admit that India should be included in their research, a lack of financial support dictates that a line be drawn somewhere. Sadly, as India is seperate from the apparently more pressing issue of the tropical rainforests, it falls the wrong side of that line.
It is obvious, however, that sandalwood has been sorely exploited in the past with no thought about its future and that only now with the species suffering severe depletion is the Indian government is beginning to take action. All sandalwood trees are state owned,even if they are growing on private land. No healthy trees are harvested, only those which are dead or dying, and a replanting programme has been introduced. However two factors must bring into question the effectiveness of these programmes. Firstly, it is estimated that up to 30% of all oil available comes from smuggled wood. Secondly, when I spoke to several organisations such as Friends of the Earth, no one knew anything about any replanting or sustainable management going to India.