- In the Philippines, a ‘liquid gold’ rush has led to poaching of the world’s most expensive tree Lapnisan or agarwood.
- The rare and highly-coveted oily resin is produced by a mature Lapnisan tree after it is infected by a mold.
- Because there is no way to check if the Lapnisan has been infected, poachers indiscriminately cut trees.
- These trees are traded online using codenames, despite the blanket ban placed on it by the Philippine government.
With extremely high market value, high worldwide demand, and limited supply of this so-called ‘liquid gold’, there is a mad scramble between Philippine poachers and forest guards in the deepest parts of the jungles due to indiscriminate cutting of the world’s most expensive tree, the Lapnisan or agarwood.
The liquid gold rush is happening in the thickest jungles of Mindanao and the Visayas in the Philippines. The treasure: the highly-coveted resin of the said tree.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) declared a blanket ban on buying and selling, collecting, and transporting any part of the tree. But, because the Philippines doesn’t have the technologies to find out if the host tree has agarwood, the hunt has resulted in indiscriminate poaching of potential host trees.
A closer look at Agarwood and its value
Lapnisan is a 10 to 12 feet non-timber wood which is not very valuable in itself. But when infected by the mold Phialophora parasitica, it becomes the rare and costly “Wood of the Gods”. You can tell that the tree is infected by the dark color of its wood.
Because it takes about 20 years for this tree to mature, it is a very rare species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature suggests that agarwood production occurs naturally to only 7% of the trees.
Considered as ‘liquid gold’, the sought-after oily agarwood resin is a treasure all on its own. A liter of this dark, fragrant resin produced by an infected Lapnisan tree can fetch millions of dollars. The production can take many years but like good wine, it becomes more valuable as it ages. It has a rare and mythic status and soft floral notes. The unique woody scent with accents of musk, vanilla, and bright fruits is also believed to be the most powerful natural aphrodisiac.
According to the US National Institute of Health (NIH), the global prices for agarwood wood chips range from $20 to $6,000. It rises to $10,000 to $15,000 per kilogram for full pieces of wood. The oily resin can go as high as $30,000 per kilogram.
Protection and Illegal Trade for Lapnisan
As with other Southeast Asian countries, Lapnisan is an endangered species in the Philippines. DENR warned that poachers of the tree may face charges for violation of the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines and the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (Republic Act 9147) if caught.
Nevertheless, trade continues on social media platforms. There are illicit groups that use code names. Some masquerade agarwood as gadgets in their deals, which makes it hard for the Philippine government to track.
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