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   Grow 'Gaharu' to harvest cash. A young 'Aquilaria' tree. When this tree matures it would be worth thousands.

BRUNEIANS and the government should be more proactive in cultivating species of trees under the Aquilaria genus, popularly known here as "Gaharu", not only for its investment potential but also to replenish what has now become an endangered species of tree.

During a one-day seminar organised by Gaharu Brunei yesterday, Malaysia speaker Mat Hasbollah Sudin of Gaharuman Resources, talked about the different types of Aquilaria tree, their value, how to grow them and the different products that can be made from the trees.

The Aquilaria genus is best known as the main source of agarwood, more commonly known in Brunei as "Gaharu", translated to mean fragrant wood. Some may recognise it by another name, "oud". Agarwood is a resinous heartwood that forms in the tree when it is infected with a type of mold. The tree produces a dark aromatic resin in response to this attack.

The fragrant oil extracted from the agarwood is popularly used in the Middle East as perfumes. A quick survey of the website of Arabian Oud company, the largest Arabian fragrance retailer in the world, revealed that a 3ml bottle of pure "oud" oil can cost from $65 up to nearly $400.

Due to the demand for agarwood, the wild trees have been almost depleted and now considered endangered. The tree is also a protected species in Brunei.

The Brunei Times recently reported that the Royal Brunei Police Force had set up to base camps in Tutong and Temburong to try to combat the problem of people stealing these trees. However, a member of Gaharu Brunei said that protection isn't enough.

"The Forestry Department needs to replenish these trees when they are stolen or cut down," said the Gaharu Brunei member, who wished to be known as Fikri.

"We have green and trees everywhere, but it's not really worth anything. Growing Gaharu means that we're being eco-friendly as well as producing something that has value," said Fikri.

"Oil and gas is going to run out, so here is an opportunity to diversify," he added.

Fikri expressed that one of the reasons people did not grow the trees was because of lack of knowledge. "People think that you can't grow the tree and cut it down since it's endangered but this isn't true, that only applies to the ones growing in the wild," he said.

Another reason why Bruneians are not keen on cultivating Gaharu is because of the time it takes to mature.

"Sure it takes a long time, but people need to think in terms of the future. This is could be an investment for your children or your grandchildren. Anyway, you can still reap the benefits in the first year of cultivation as the leaf shoots can be used to make tea," he explained.

"We want to promote the cultivation of Gaharu because we believe it will benefit the people of Brunei. Rather than having the wood stolen, which doesn't benefit us at all, we can cultivate it and sell it legally."

Fikri said that he believed most of the products made of Bruneian Aquilaria trees were illegally obtained. "Here's an example, a few years ago there were some visitors in Brunei from Oman and they asked us to find "Gaharu" and we couldn't. They said Bruneian Gaharu is one of the best in the world," said Fikri.

He went on to explain that Gaharu Brunei does not want to monopolise the opportunity to sell the agarwood, but rather to get the public aware of this prospect.

"We want to attract people's attention because this is something good. There were people who said, 'Why have this seminar? Just keep it to yourself and reap the rewards', but we're not going to be selfish. People want to do business, so here's an idea. We can't depend on oil forever."

Yesterday's seminar was the first organised by the group and was attended by 20 people. The participants were given certificates at the end of the seminar to mark their attendance. The Brunei Times