Gaharu spells new hope for the rural folks
Published on: Sunday, May 23, 2010
By: Tan Sri Herman Luping
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There is a new crop, the products of which could revolutionised the income of the rural people - farmers - and thus raise their standard of living to a new height. The crop is known as gaharu.Gaharu is actually the resin that appears on the tree when the tree is attacked by foreign bodies or bacteria. Like a human body whose immune system is triggered when attacked by bacteria, the same principle applies to the gaharu tree.

An immune defense system is triggered when the tree is threatened by bacteria.

The bacteria is nearly always injected into the tree to trigger the resin to appear. Some gaharu trees produce the resin without being inoculated with bacteria. It is a natural process, but not very often.

The resin is harvested for its many uses - the most popular one is incense, frankincense and myrh used during religious rites.

And also for making perfume. The gaharu is prized highly in the Middle East. The tree itself also produces oil when distilled and the product is also used to make expensive perfumes, soap and for other body use.

Both the resin and the oil are expensive.

The gaharu resin is also one of the spices used to embalm the bodies of dead persons.

An account in St.John's Gospel, mentioned that one Nicodemus of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus from Pilate so that he could give him a proper Jewish burial.

As was customary, he used spices to embalm the body and the spices used was a mixture of spices which included myrrh and aloe - both extracts from gaharu.

The objective by an NGO is to encourage farmers to plant at least two crops, one short term and the other long term. The long term is the gaharu which takes about 5 to six years to gestate and produce.

The short term crop recommended is lemon grass. The latter takes only about nine months to grow and ready for harvest and there is a ready market for it.

Former Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Harris Salleh is actually heading a group of community leaders to start a pilot project to encourage farmers to plant these two crops in their own plot of 1-acre lands.

He said he wanted to see these pilot projects work successfully so that others can see and emulate the efforts - thereby improving their own annual earned income.

Pilot projects have been identified and planting started in some villages.

The idea also is to compliment government's efforts at eradicating poverty.

According to the rough working paper on the planting of these two crops, the initial amount of capital needed is around RM15,000.

The money is used to clear and prepare the field (1 acre) for planting.

The aim is to plant 450 trees of gaharu and 12000 clumps of lemon grass on the same land.

Half of the lemon grass (6000) is harvested on month nine after planting.

The expected income for this is RM20,000 based on a price of RM1.50 per kilo.

There is no middle man in this venture as the farmers themselves can sell the crop directly to a ready buyer - a factory producing lemon grass tea.

The lemon grass is harvested twice a year giving the farmer an expected income of around RM40,000.

The projected income from the gaharu trees is between RM600,000 and RM1,350,000 after six years when the gaharu is cut down to be distilled for its oil and also from the resin.

Gestation period for the long term crop, the gaharu, meanwhile is five to six years.

On the fifth year of planting, the trees should be ready to be inoculated with bacteria to encourage the tree to produce the resin called gaharu.

The bacteria used to inoculate the trees are expensive, about RM600 per injection!

And in one tree, as much as ten injections are made and if, after three months the resin starts to appear, the tree is inoculated further.

For it means the tree is a producer of resin. Some trees do not produce resin.

Ideally, both crops should be planted in the same 1-acre field.

The lemon grass is planted in between the gaharu trees.

In practice, however, it is not always possible. If the field used to plant the two crops was a former padi field, there is an immediate problem in respect of the gaharu, according to the experts.

For according to Dr Anthony Tibok, an expert on the subject of gaharu and owner of a gaharu plantation in Kuala Penyu, gaharu is basically a jungle type of tree and would grow well under other trees in the jungle.

It needs shades for it to grow to its full potential.

Too much Sun and too much water can affect its growth and even kill it.

Dr Tibok and his partner, a lecturer at UMS, Dr James Alin of Kuala Penyu have a company called Sudah Gaharu Sdn Bhd.

The plantations (about two 50 acres each plantation) are in Kuala Penyu.

Some of the gaharu trees planted amongst the rubber trees are already very big for they are now more than 5 years old. Some are producing resin already.

The bacteria used to inoculate the trees are expensive because it is imported, but Dr Tibok is now working on his own formula so that it could be obtained cheaply. His company also produce seedlings to sell.

Dr Tibok and Dr Alin went to give a free talk to the farmers in Penampang on gaharu.

From this talk given by Dr Alin that we learned a lot about gaharu and its uses and how to plant it.

A constant expert service is needed to help monitor the gaharu while it is growing to make sure that each tree is producing the resin.

The long gestation period of the gaharu tree means it is necessary for a short term crop to be planted so that farmers can get some income in between. Hence the lemon grass is recommended.

Lemon grass can easily be grown. And it is reputed to be a 'hardycrop', growing even in poor soil.

But it is recommended to use organic fertilizers like cow dung or goat droppings.

There is already a ready market for the lemon grass.

There is a factory in place to produce lemon grass tea in the Beaufort district.

These two crops are sure to give rural farmers a head start and can be the catalyst for their future well being.

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