SILANG, Cavite — The government for the first time has allowed a private company to import and propagate seedlings of agarwood, known as the "wood of the gods" and among the world's most expensive trees, in the Philippines.
Allowing farming of agarwood, which is endemic in the Philippines, under a legal blanket is part of the conservation measures of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, an official of the agency said.
“Kapag hindi ni-regulate iyan, ang mga tao, mae-engganyong kumuha sa wild. Ipinagbabawal iyan. Puwede tayong magtanim, puwede tayong mag-engage sa trade, pero kailangan ang pinagmumulan nito ay sa tamang pamamaraan o ligal na pamamaraan,” said Theresa Tenazas, OIC of the Wildlife Resources Division and legal unit head of DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau.
(If this is not regulated, some are enticed in getting it in the wild. That's illegal. We can cultivate and engage in trading it, but it should be in the legal and right process.)
Agarwood is a black gold hidden in the deepest parts of the jungles in Mindanao. A kilogram of first-grade agarwood is worth P5 million, according to its 2010 price market value as provided by the DENR-BMB.
This means that a whole tree could cost tens of millions of pesos.
“Ito ay isang napakamahal na species ng kahoy kaya nga nae-engganyo ang mga tao na mag-engage sa illegal trade nito dahil na nga sa kita na makukuha nila sa kahoy nito,” said Tenazas.
(This is a very expensive species of tree that's why some are lured in engaging in illegal trade of the tree.)
The aromatic resin obtained from the tree is one of the most famous and most expensive on the planet. It has a very long history of use in religious and wedding ceremonies, as incense and perfumes, for medicinal value and food ingredients.
Agarwood may face extinction sooner if not cultivated, and if discrete sourcing and extraction in its wild habitat will continue unabated, environmental authorities said.
“Itong Aquilaria malaccensis ay endemic sa Pilipinas... Maraming species ng Aquilaria. Pero itong partikular na Aquilaria malaccensis ay matatagpuan lamang sa Pilipinas at karamihan nito ay matatagpuan sa Mindanao,” said Tenazas.
(This Aquilaria malaccensis is endemic to the Philippines. There are many species of Aquilaria. But the Aquilaria malaccensis can only be found here in the Philippines, many of which in Mindanao.)
Other Aquilaria species can also be found in parts of Asia but they are indigenous, she added.
Since 2019, the DENR was able to confiscate illegally-harvested 82.37 kilograms of highly-expensive lapnisan or agarwood chips, equivalent to at least P12.72 million.
P1.2-M PER TREE
Zambales-based Iba Botanicals, Inc. is the first company that secured the legal rights granted by the DENR-BMB and Bureau of Plant Industry to legally import, propagate and sell agarwood seedlings within the Philippines.
Iba Botanicals has a wide market of clients both local and abroad for its essential oil.
The flavor and fragrance market is a multi-billion dollar industry. By 2025, it is forecast to grow to $28.64 billion, according to Ben Mead, founder and CEO of Iba Botanicals.
“If you harvest the tree, it’s just a white wood. No value. Very light wood. But once you stimulate the tree, the inside of the tree turns very dark, brown color, and it’s very fragrant. That’s the agarwood, that’s the valuable component,” he said.
“So, we will provide inoculation services, or we will contract with foreign expert companies to come and provide these inoculation services. It’s a very well proven process. While this is the first time it’s being done in the Philippines, it’s been done in a number of countries around Asia with these species of tree. So we don’t see any issues in replicating the success of the production of agarwood in the Philippines.”
Iba Botanicals partnered with Gourmet Farms, Inc. to promote and distribute agarwood seedlings from their nursery operations in Silang to the public. Larger volumes are also available for commercial scale plantations.
“That is an indigenous tree in the Philippines but it’s been poached and nobody has really developed it,” said Ernest de Leon Escaler, founder and president of Gourmet Farms.
“It’s gonna give 2 to 3 kilos per tree a year after 10 years. At $8,000 per kilo, so you’re talking about $24,000 per tree. So, that’s P1.2 million per tree. I think that’s a good investment for anybody. So, if you have children, plant a few trees for them. After 12 years, may pamana na sila (they'll have inheritance),” he added.
The partnership will provide training seminars to address all the necessary requirements and techniques needed to successfully cultivate the trees, from propagation to harvesting, licensing and permitting, and marketing.
In Silang, saplings of agarwood are already for sale at Gourmet Farms’ café for P1,000 each.
There’s a minimum set of requisites for plantitos or plantitas who just want to grow the agarwood in their backyards,. But there’s another layer of legal requirements for someone who wants to establish a commercial plantation or someone who wants to propagate and sell the seeds.
One interested buyer of agarwood is the town’s mayor Corie Poblete.
“My lolo left us a vacant lot here na puwede hanggang mga 4 hectares. So, [bibili ako] kung ilan ang puwede. And if not, if it doesn’t earn, you know what? It’s okay because we have children. Iyong wood, ‘di ba that’s very good for our climate, very good for our environment. I love trees and I hug trees,” said Poblete.
Tenazas hopes that while mankind seeks economic benefits from the environment, conservation and protection of wildlife resources and biodiversity in general should also be observed.
“The love for the environment would also include economic development, not the selfish motive only of making yourself rich at the expense of the nature and at the expense of biodiversity,” she said.