Y Magazine

What should we do to stop the severe drop in frankincense trees?

A sustainable harvesting method, legislation to regulate tapping and a permitting system and a certification scheme could address the frankincense crisis, THE ESO tells Y.



Excerpts from the interview:

What are the human activities that harm these trees?

Each tree has a certain capacity to produce the resin that we call frankincense. The resin is obtained by tapping the tree or wounding it, said Maïa Sarrouf Willson from Research and Conservation of the Environment Society of Oman (ESO).

Also read: Why does the famed fragrance of Oman face a drop in production?

The substance comes out in the form of liquid and is then dried off. If the tapping goes beyond the point of what the tree can bear (i.e. too many wounds, or taps on its trunk) it will affect its capacity to flower and the production of healthy, mature seeds that can germinate.

  

She pointed out that over-tapping could lead to the death of the tree in extreme cases.

“A sustainable harvesting method is one which can generate a certain amount of resin, without harming the health of the tree.”

What is the government doing to stop this?

The ESO initiated a research project for the conservation of frankincense trees in Salalah in 2010, sponsored by HSBC Oman. The project, led by Dr Mohsin Al Amri and his assistant Bader Al Shanfary, aimed to understand the sustainable tapping methods of frankincense trees.

The initial research was done in four project sites in Dhofar, monitoring the tapping of trees.

In 2016, the ESO organised two workshops to share these findings with government entities in Dhofar, and organised around six public audiences with local communities from 2015 to 2017 targeting areas such as Salalah, Mirbat, Sadah, Hadbeem, Taqah, Mander and Dhalkout among others

So, should tapping be banned?

No, tapping should not be banned, said Willson. “Frankincense is and has been part of the economy of both Dhofar and Oman for centuries, and should remain that way. Legislation should be in place to regulate the tapping.”

But why don’t we see any radical change in the prices of frankincense in local markets?

Although there are no market studies that indicate the source of frankincense on the Omani market, it is assumed that most of it comes from farms, according to Willson.

“But it is the state of wild frankincense trees that is in peril,” she said, adding that “one of the recommendations of the project is to initiate a population estimate of wild frankincense trees in Dhofar, which could contribute to updation of the conservation status of this tree.”

Willson added: “Further recommendations include the development of permitting system and a certification scheme for Omani frankincense.”