Early September in Salangor saw the inaugural International Scientific Symposium on Agarwood organised by the Faculty of Forestry from the Universiti Putra Malaysia. After twelve months of planning and negotiation the Chair of ISSA Dr Rozi Mohamed, supported by a dedicated team and committee, saw the dream realised; scientific cooperation and information exchange on Aquilaria and Gyrinops the two genus of tree capable of giving Agarwood to the world.
These valuable trees occur as less than thirty different species across a wide region of Asia. The rare agarwood and oud oil produced from them has travelled thousands of miles across continents since the dawn of civilisation. Valued for their odour, fragrance and spirituality these trees were driven close to annihilation in the wild until CITES protection and the subsequent development of plantation and forestry investments started changing the dynamics of this niche forestry sector as recently as fifteen years ago. Today we have plantation managers and foresters keen to start the process of sharing information, technical expertise and knowledge for the greater good of the agarwood industry. Innovation, reputation and specialisation are the secrets to generating good profits, but the core forestry data and knowledge is now moving to “open source” for the greater good of both agarwood and local growing communities thanks to the dedication of ISSA.
As one of the main sponsors of this symposium Asia Plantation Capital also grasped the opportunity to share their own expertise in socially responsible plantations and value added agarwood products with the assembled agarwood enthusiasts. Having introduced the Aquilaria genus to Sri Lanka in 2008, and been an innovator with geographical grouping of specialist plantations in North Eastern Thailand for improved social impact, they were recognised for their great depth of knowledge and participated keenly in the networking and out of conference events.
Head of the APC Agarwood Research Team Dr Pakamas Chetpattananondh, also Associate Head at the Department of Chemical Engineering at Prince of Songkla University in Bangkok, was very enthusiastic about the extensive conference agenda. “ISSA has brought people in academia and industry together to exchange the latest knowledge and information. It is an innovative new forum promoting international co-operation and networking among people in the agarwood field; finally we can be more open in sharing our experiences and knowledge across cultivation methods, inoculation techniques, extraction processes; even studies of agarwood benefits and its use in some traditional medicines”.
In fact it was inoculation that was one of the hottest topics at ISSA 2013 as agarwood is only produced inside these trees when they have been infected by a fungal growth. The technique of reproducing the trees natural reaction to specific fungi is the trigger to produce agarwood; in the wild agarwood will be found in under five percent of trees, but on plantations it can be as high as one hundred percent. Amongst the great debates over these four stimulating days was “whose inoculations are best”, “how much do organic methods now have an edge over chemical inoculation”, and “how are users grading oud from different species and alternative inoculations”; these debates will continue!
Asia Plantation Capital has been leading the way in some areas, with expertise and research by Dr Pakamas both in the laboratory and out on the plantations. R&D is vitally important in driving innovations on inoculating agarwood, distilling oud oil and when adding value in end products such as the range of fragrances and beauty products APC developed in partnership with Fragrance Du Bois (FdB); fragrances such as the Shades Du Bois range by FdB exhibited at ISSA 2013 under the “from Soil to Oil” concept.
What is certain is that the many gathered academics have a multitude of aspects still to discuss, for example traditional medicine uses of agarwood were hardly covered in the conference structure on this occasion but conversations in the corridors were calling for greater scientific cooperation here as well. It will be interesting to see which academics, institutions and plantation companies are ready to take the lead on these further topics in two years’ time when hopefully the next ISSA event will occur.