Frankincense facing severe population decline, ESO says as it concludes conservation project

12 Feb 2018
POSTED BY Y Magazine

The Environment Society of Oman (ESO) presented findings from its Frankincense Research and Conservation initiative with project sponsor HSBC Bank Oman.

Despite its prominent role in Omani society, frankincense trees are currently undergoing severe population decline due to overgrazing, insect infestation, and unsustainable harvesting methods. While frankincense is produced by tapping the Boswellia sacra tree for sap, researchers closely monitoring the effects of tapping have recorded its harsh impact on the trees when not done properly.

Dr. Mohsin Al Amri, Project Manager and Researcher, said, “For millennia, frankincense trees have served as an important source of income and cultural symbol to people throughout the Sultanate, being used for medical and cosmetic purposes as well as food flavouring. Despite that, frankincense numbers have continued to decline as overharvesting and unsustainable practices take their toll.

The ESO Research and Conservation project was launched in 2010 to promote sustainable harvesting of frankincense trees.

Among other findings, research results have shown that tapping smaller trees results in insufficient seed germination and in turn reduce the produce. The impact of unsustainable harvesting methods may last up to three years and for conservation to succeed, we must continue to fill knowledge gaps, complement research findings and engage all stakeholders as often as we can.”

The research project, ‘Sustainable Harvesting of Frankincense Trees’, started in 2010, focusing on four experimental research locations and monitoring 180 frankincense trees in Dhofar to determine the right frequency of tapping to producing a sustainable yield without adversely harming the trees.

Andrew P. Long, CEO of HSBC Bank Oman said, “The decline of frankincense in Oman is a challenge that requires the collaboration of all stakeholders to protect this important cultural symbol. We are confident that our partnership on this unparalleled initiative will further enhance the community’s understanding on ways to protect Dhofar’s prized frankincense trees.”

The project funds covered both phases of the project, including three field surveys which were conducted between April 2015- May 2017, to closely monitor 180 trees for foliage and seed germination as indicators of their health. The study interestingly found that the trees that were exposed to over-harvesting flowered more than the trees that were under normal tapping practices. This can be explained as a survival mechanism in the trees, triggered by the sense of risk. Additionally it was found that larger tress seem to enjoy higher ability to produce intact healthy seeds than smaller trees.

Following the research and monitoring of these trees, awareness and advocacy campaigns were conducted with key stakeholders, to reach out to the farmers and educate them on the usage of sustainable harvesting techniques which are vital to the continued survival of this endemic Omani species.

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