The eaglewood tree produces a fragrant resinous wood that is highly sought after in parts of Asia and the Middle East where it is used for religious and medicinal purposes. High-quality resin can attract very high prices per kilogram. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), a species of eaglewood, Gyrinops ledermannii, was first harvested for resin production in about 1998 in the Yapsiei, May River and Ama areas of Sandaun Province. Since then, there has been a significant expansion in the rates of harvesting and export of eaglewood resin (which is often referred to in PNG by its Indonesian name ‘gaharu’). Gaharu is primarily harvested in parts of Sandaun, East Sepik and Madang provinces, although a limited amount of harvesting occurs in other parts of the country. The presence of eaglewood has also been confirmed in Gulf, Central, Southern Highlands and Western provinces and there are anecdotal reports of its presence in Enga, Milne Bay and Oro. In PNG, eaglewood grows in rainforest between 70 m and 600 m altitude (but has been recorded at over 1000 m), and where mean annual rainfall ranges between 1700 mm and 5200 mm and is not strongly seasonally distributed. It is important to note that only a small percentage of eaglewood trees contain gaharu. The resin is produced as a chemical defence following injury to the tree. The ability to recognise which individual trees contain gaharu is important for the sustainable management of the resource.
The natural distribution of eaglewood is associated with some of the poorest and remotest rural communities in PNG. This presents both the opportunity to increase income levels in these communities and the challenge of overcoming problems associated with poor access to markets and information. Access to information is particularly important because destructive and inappropriate harvesting and management practices have already led to the severe depletion of trees in some areas. WWF (formerly The World Wide Fund for Nature) has developed a plan, already implemented in some communities, that assists villagers to manage
their eaglewood resources through ‘14 steps for sustainable gaharu harvest’.
According to official records, there are two main gaharu exporting companies operating in PNG, which between them employ about 24 agents who purchase gaharu from several hundred rural households. Prices are determined by the grade of gaharu. Currently there are five grades designated according to the colour, shape and density of the wood. The PNG Forest Authority introduced pricing guidelines in early 2001 to
prevent unscrupulous buyers from exploiting villagers who may not be aware of the true value of gaharu. The top grade of gaharu currently attracts a premium price of US$560/kg.
The unreported and unlicensed trade in gaharu is thought to be much larger than the legal trade and is a threat to the sustainable management of eaglewood. The main destination for gaharu from PNG is Singapore, with smaller amounts exported to Malaysia and Indonesia.