by Mynou de Mey
When I was doing the International program in essential oils at Purdue University last year, one of our professors, Dr. Keith Shaw, spoke extensively about deforestation and its impact on the rainforests of the Amazon.
One of the problems is while it is ok to apply non-destructive harvesting of aerial parts of plants, such as the leaves or the end branches which regrow fast enough, it is not the same when you cut down a tree. This affects the eco-system around that tree and we need to take into consideration the length of time a new tree (ready for e.o. production) may take. As I understand from Sylla's material, in the case of the aniba trees, it may take up to 40 years!
Another problem existing is to locate these clippings and chippings. They are usually scattered over large areas and on difficult terrain, and are not found in just one place...
Additionally there is really no information available on the biology of all non-timber forest products in order to ascertain whether the harvest would be sustainable and therefore cost effective...
In the case of Rosewood essential oil, most of the oil production is for the perfume industry as it is quite an important ingredient of many fragrances. Brazil has become the sole supplier of this oil to this market, following a reduction in production from 500 tons in 1950 to 150 tons in 1990. This is also due, as I understand, to the substitution of synthetic linalol for the cheaper perfumes, as well as the escalating sales from the Chinese Ho-Wood and Ho-leaf oils. (Much cheaper to obtain and also not as threatening to the eco-system as the deforestation of rosewood trees.)
The destructive production of Aniba roseodora and A. duke in Brazil is quite well organized as it went from being situated at first deep inside the forests of the Amazon and now is taking place on the river banks to provide easy shipping by raft. I understand that many experienced scouts are sent to locate the different species of Aniba, until they can dispatch workers to bring the poor trunk ? usually in one meter lengths ? back to the distillery on the river bank, where this is all being processed.
It takes approximately six months before the wood reaches the distillery and it has to be done during the rainy season, when the river is high enough to provide easy access for the shipment by raft. Additionally clippings, and chippings as you say, are left behind and are totally wasted, representing approximately 60% of the raw material.!!! outrageous!
The young branches are the one providing the best quality yield... but when one is faced with carrying the more easily transportable wood, they are often discarded. More loss of raw material is experienced before distilling as the trunk has to be cut and sawed... Equipment is supposedly very old, therefore the labour is more costly and intensive... the people don't get paid properly, therefore here a socio-ecological impact... showing abusing treatment of the workers. The entire process is totally not practical, destructive and senseless.
Except from a few areas that are now protected by the Brazilian Environmental Institute, this over-exploitation of wild aniba trees still remains unrestricted. All new trees available have been dependent upon the slow growth of seedlings that have been planted. This over-exploitation is most responsible for the dwindling down of the hundreds of distilleries of the sixties (1960s) to just about 20 in the eighties.
A survey done in 1992 showed that the two species have been totally DESTROYED, ELIMINATED within a few years even though they had been quite prolific previously. There are no longer trees available that have 1 meter girth in accessible places and the aniba trees you find today are just about 230 cm in girth....
Therefore, I feel it is safe for me to say that Rosewood is an endangered species...since already two species can no longer be found and if we continue to be part of senseless deforestation we may sooner than we think see the disappearance of other very useful oil producing plant materials.
I personally feel that in our field we should be equally conscious of our impact on the ecology and socio-ecology. This is affecting not only the timber and plants themselves but the eco-systems. This is a serious issue, not to be taken lightly...
I don't buy the New York Times any longer, since I have seen an interview being conducted (a few years ago) at their headquarters in New York, when the big cheeses did not want to comment on their disrespectful and destructive behavior towards our friends the trees... according to the journalist conducting the interview, the New York Times is guilty of the felling of trees, some being over 200 years old!
I hope that this has shed some light on this issue... I don't obviously have all the information at hand, but have provided some of what I have learned at Purdue University, obviously something taught by a gentle friend of the Earth.
Copyright © 1998 Mynou de Mey, Regional Director for NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy).
Contact Mynou at: firstname.lastname@example.org or through The American Institute for Aromatherapy & Herbal Studies
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