Agarwood management in the Forests of New Guinea

A fading sweet fragrance

 / ©: Brent Stirton/Getty Images/WWF-UK
Pukapuki local, Tony, cuts into the trunk of an agarwood tree in search of valuable resin.
© Brent Stirton/Getty Images/WWF-UK
An ordinary looking tree by-product from the Forests of New Guinea is driving an unprecedented craze on the island. Agarwood, also known as gaharu and eaglewood, is a much-sought product that is being extracted faster than its natural recovery.
With help from our friends, WWF is trying to make sure that agarwood continues to provide for local people’s needs in the decades ahead – without jeopardizing its natural occurrence.

This fragrant resinous wood, formed in the trees of the genera Gyrinops, Aetoxylon, Gongystylis and, more commonly, Aquilaria, has historically been in great demand from places such as Japan and the Middle East. It continues to be widely exported from places like New Guinea and the Heart of Borneo.

Victim of its popularity

High demand and decreasing supplies are pushing the price of agarwood up. Another side effect is the indiscriminate destruction of trees. 

Now, populations of 8 species of Aquilaria have declined to the point where they have been categorized as threatened, according to the IUCN - The World Conservation Union. Adding to the problem is the inability of planted trees to produce the valuable resinous wood, making plantations to date worthless.

Redressing the trade

TRAFFIC, WWF’s and IUCN’s wildlife trade monitoring arm, has documented in detail the pressures on agarwood. Based on the trends suggesting over-exploitation of this heartwood, WWF has taken a range of steps in PNG to ensure trade is sustainable, including:
  • Assessment of agarwood management areas
  • Development of a framework to promote the sustainable management of agarwood resources
  • Design of a community-based agarwood management plan
To educate and train local communities about the importance of agarwood as a resource, and encourage sustainable management of the industry, WWF has teamed up with local authorities and other non-government organizations under a project funded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Agarwood management teams have been set up in selected locations around PNG to work directly with rural agarwood farmers in practising and promoting sustainable harvest and trade.  

WWF achievements

  • Our knowledge of agarwood distribution has considerably increased over the past few years, as a result of biological surveys conducted by WWF and partners.  These surveys have also resulted in the identification of at least 2 new species of agarwood in PNG.
  •  The Eaglewood Management Area concept will protect the habitat of at least 200,000 ha of agarwood forest. 
  • Training has been provided in low impact harvesting techniques for agarwood.
  • A TRAFFIC study supported by WWF has identified that agarwood is improving village incomes in some areaS of PNG by up to 10-fold.
  • Villages are receiving much higher prices for agarwood sales following training in harvesting and marketing conducted by WWF and partners.
 / ©: WWF - Paul Chatterton
Gaharu, also known as eaglewood. Sepik, Papua New Guinea
© WWF - Paul Chatterton

As part of our work, we’re teaching [people] how to extract the agarwood resin without killing the trees. And, we’re making sure they know its’ real value, so they’re not ripped off by traders.

Leo Sunari
WWF sustainable resource use trainer

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required