2003, Heli Markkola, Sustainable Use And Conservation Of Santalum Album, South India


by Heli Markkola

In August 2003,I was fortunate to undertake a travel scholarship to India with the help of the Kew Guild among others. The main aim of the tour was to investigate the sustainable use and conservation of sandalwood in the Karnataka State, Southern India. I also had planned to study the vegetation and medicinal plants of the area.

The trip started with a few days in Pune to visit an ayurvedic medicine factory and learn about the use of plants in this very old tradition. The stay in Pune was unforgettable thanks to the warmth of the people met on the tour.

The following and main part of the scholarship was to take place in and around Bangalore,where sandalwoodnaturally grows. This modern city surprised me after the relaxing time in Pune,but soon I got used to travelling in the autorikshas and bargaining for each purchase.

The Forest Department of the Karnataka State helped to arrange the itinerary, since all visits to sandalwood areas needed a permit. Sandalwood is the most prized oil in the world,used as a perfumery base. The wood and oil of sandalwood has various medicinal qualities,and are used in religious offerings and as incense and carvings. The use of sandalwood dates back thousands of years,being an important part of Indian culture. Sandalwood has been tightly under government control since Tipu Sultan declared it a royal tree in 1792,but the source is now dwindling due to unsustainable harvesting and the extent of illegal logging. Other problems include forest fires,spike disease and grazing.

The itinerary included visits to the Institute of Wood Science and Technology, which has carried out extensive research of sandalwood,Mysore soap factory, and visits to University of Sciences,University of Agriculture and conservation organisationATREE. Mr. Anantha Padmanabha,who co-ordinated my visits, provided plenty of information on various aspects of sandalwood from his long research and trade experience. From Bangalore I travelled to Mysore,which is known as the sandalwoodcity. There I made visits to a sandalwood oil distillation factory, sandalwood depot,nursery,plantation,natural regeneration,and a sandalwood carvers’ village.

After Mysore,I spent few days on the Western Ghats Mountains,visiting the Ponnampet Forestry College. I went for field trips to Nagarhole National Park where I could see wildlife including wild elephants,and to Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary to learn about the different vegetation types,although all I could see were the leaches crawling up my feet! But after the hard climb up the mountain it was enjoyable to freshen in a cool waterfall,until I was told there are leaches in the water as well.

The travel scholarship exceeded any of my expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed it! All the contact people were extremely helpful and I gained a lot from this tour:for example I learned nursery techniques of this semi-parasitic tree, made many contacts and brought back samples for the research use of the Jodrell Laboratory in Kew. But I did not only learn about sandalwood but also about the Indian culture and the depth of it. I came back with peace in my heart,wishing to be able to continue what had only been the start. I would like to thank Kew Guild for providing this opportunity for me!



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