SHILLONG, Sept 3 - With a global market share of US $8 billion, it is not called the �Wood of the Gods� for nothing and Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma is sniffing a rural economy turnaround through Agar plantation in the State.
�The global market share of Agar (Aquilaria Khasiana) by-products is US $8 billion and the market is growing,� Sangma said during the launch of Megha LAMP here today, an initiative to link the rural economy with the markets.
Agarwood is used for many religious purposes in India and abroad, such as manufacture of Agarbatti (incense sticks) to Agar oil. It is also in high demand in the Arab world where the oil is used to manufacture high-end perfumes. Agar is also highly prized for its medicinal properties.
In fact, All India United Democratic Front chief, Badruddin Ajmal built a successful business empire from Agar plantation and now manufactures perfumes which are sold in the Gulf region.
Recalling the 70s, Sangma said, Agar plantation formed a major chunk of the rural economy in Garo Hills and some of the most affluent businessmen in South Garo Hills region were Agar planters.
But, over the years, the planters lost interest and there are just a few remaining in the region, which Sangma wishes to change through his Green Economy initiative. In fact, Agar is a �potential endangered species� and listed in Appendix II by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Although, Agarwood is a prized raw material and more expensive than sandalwood, there are challenges to extract Agar oil from the wood. It is sometimes a complicated process as it requires a fungus to infect the tree. The infection could be natural or artificially inoculated.
After the fungal infection, the Agar tree develops a natural resistance against the fungus by developing a resin and the wood turns dark and heavy at the trunk and roots, which is the ultimate prize for the planters who distill out the resin.
�The Ministry of External Affairs recently asked from the Horticulture department for one litre of Agar oil to be gifted to some foreign dignitaries,� Sangma said. He informed the gathering that a Tola (about 11 grams) of Agar oil cost about Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 in the global market.
Sangma seems excited about the prospect of Agar plantation and this could be gauged by the number of Agar plantation programmes he is inagurating.
In August alone, Sangma has launched the plantation of this tree in Umling, Ri-Bhoi district and in Betasing in South West Garo Hills. The District Horticulture Officer launched Agar plantation programme in Nongstoin, West Khasi Hills.
�Tomorrow, I will launch the Agar plantation programme in Chokpot, South Garo Hills in which 4,000 farmers have already registered,� Sangma informed the gathering.