Production & Trade of Sandalwood
According to the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), in 2012 world market demand for sandalwood was thought to be around 5000-6000 metric tonne (5500-6600 US tons) per year.” The ACIAR adds that, “this figure incorporates demand for a number of different products, sourced from a variety of sandalwood species.”
Also in 2012, the India Times estimated that the global sandalwood production was around 4000 metric tonne (4400 US tons) per year. The India Times adds the breakdown of this number: “Officially, India produces about 400 metric tonne of sandalwood; the unofficial figure is about 2,000 tonne, which is smuggled. Australia produces about 1,800 tonne of the Australian variety; about 350 tonne comes from Timor, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar India, [and] Indonesia.” (India Times, source, 2012). Below is a more detailed list of sandalwood oil produced by different countries:
(ACIAR, source, 2012).
spicatum currently constitutes the majority of Australian sandalwood production. In addition to natural stands of this sandalwood species, large plantations of S. spicatum have been established in Western Australia in the past decade. These plantations are owned by not just corporations, but also by the Australian government and independent farmers. Australia expects to produce around 65,000 metric tonne (71,600 US tons) of S. spicatum sandalwood oil by 2020 (ACIAR, source, 2012).
According to Western Australian Sandalwood Plantations, Taiwan is currently the biggest importer of Australian S. spicatum sandalwood, which they use to make incense for use in Buddhist and other spiritual tradition’s practices (WA Sandalwood, source).
In addition to S. spicatum plantations, Australian TFS Corporation planted the first S. album plantation in Australia in 1999, the largest S. album plantation in the world. This plantation is set to compete with India’s S. album sandalwood oil production, which has decreased considerably in the past several decades (Live Mint, Wall Street Journal, source, 2014). The sandalwood trees in these plantations were harvested for the very first time in 2014 with positive-looking results in the quality of the wood. Australia expects to produce around 100,000 tons of S. album oil by 2020(Australian Center for International Agricultural Research[ACIAR],
India was once one of the largest sandalwood oil producers in the world. Kannauj, one of India’s oldest cities, was long regarded as the hub for distilling the sandalwood-based, traditional Indian perfume called attar, and because of this business, Kannauj “dominated the world market for sandalwood oil for a long time, exporting roughly 100 tonne—half [of the total world sandalwood] production—at the peak during the late 1980s and early 1990s.” The first and largest modern distilling and perfumery company in Kannauj was established in 1880. Over time, the company broke into separate firms, and the firm Indian Fragrances & Chemicals produced around 800 kilos of sandalwood oil every month at its peak (Forbes India, source, 2014).
Today, however, due to the exploitation of sandalwood, many Indian sandalwood plantations and distilleries have shut down. India’s total shipments of sandalwood to other countries have decreased to 5 metric tons, and foreign markets are buying foreign species of sandalwood oil such as S. spicatum from Australia. Kannauj’s attar industry is almost completely gone (Forbes India, source, 2014).
Though it has long been one of the largest consumers of sandalwood products, China has only very recently joined the sandalwood cultivation industry. In the past decade, China has begun planting S. album sandalwood plantations, and around 60,000 seedlings are currently established per year. Experts state that “the effect of this potential increase in supply on international prices is unclear at this stage.” China does hope, however to compete with the growing market of Australian-produced S.album
(ACIAR, source, 2012).
Although Vanuatu currently produces very little sandalwood contributing to the sandalwood oil industry (around 80 metric tonne per year), recent efforts to conserve its native sandalwood S. austrocaledonicum and to establish sustainable, community-run sandalwood plantations have been extremely successful. Between 2000 and 2006, Vanuatu planted around 14,270 sandalwood trees per year (99,890 trees in total), which was significantly greater than the amount of sandalwood trees planted for the previous seven years (1993–99) when the annual planting rate was 478 trees. With these new sandalwood plantations established, Vanuatu hopes to “sustain annual production at around 120–150 tonne between 2020 and 2025 and possibly over 300 tonne by 2029–30.”
Vanuatu’s sandalwood report adds that “By this time, the planted resource would therefore represent about a fourfold increase in annual harvesting rates and subsequent value of the industry, when compared with the current 80 tonne annual quota. With a continuation of the current planting activity, the Vanuatu industry can consolidate and improve its position as a small, niche producer within the international marketplace”
(ACIAR, source, 2012).
Hawaii has also been working hard recently to develop a sustainable sandalwood essential oil industry, harvested from its native sandalwood trees. Because the United Plant Savers added all four of Hawaii’s sandalwood species to its “At-Risk” list, Hawaii sandalwood cultivators are now extremely focused on creating sustainable sandalwood growth. According to Hawaii’s report included in the 2014 International Seminar on Sandalwood:
The Division of Forestry and Wildlife is interested in growing a Hawaiian Sandalwood industry and seeking expertise and resources to help guide the State of Hawaii in making appropriate management decisions for this species. Thanks to connections made at the International Sandalwood Conference in October 2012, the Division has been working with a number of organizations throughout the Pacific and looking for support from countries that have more development market and/or conservation initiatives to provide information that would support management of this unique tree (Sprecher & Mann, source, 2014).
France and the United States are currently the largest importers of sandalwood oil, while China and Taiwan are the largest consumers of sandalwood (India Times, source, 2012). China follows closely behind France and the US as a top sandalwood importer as its prosperity and consumption of sandalwood oil steadily increases (Rural Industries Research, source, 2006).
Like sandalwood oil production, the dollar value of sandalwood oil has also changed drastically over time, increasing to record high prices. Prices for sandalwood also vary according to species. S. album, which has the highest santalol content, rose to more than US$105,500 per metric ton (1000 kilograms) in 2013, from just over US$4600 a decade earlier, according to TFS Corporation. Australian sandalwood S. spicatum isn’t as valuable, though a metric ton still sells for A$15,000 (US$13,900)—more than twice the price of copper—up from A$3,000 (US$2,800) a decade earlier (Wall Street Journal [WSJ], source, 2013).
Most recently, Australian sandalwood was trading at A$16,000 (US$14,800) per metric tonne in January 2014, for good quality, un-cleaned logs (WA Sandalwood Plantations [WASP], source, 2014). In March of 2014, TFS Corporation shipped 100 kilograms (100 liters) of sandalwood oil to a global pharmaceutical company at $4,500 per kilogram. A TFS executive mentioned that the Chinese wood market was willing to pay even more for sandalwood than this price paid by a company in the U.S. pharmaceutical market. This is the first sandalwood oil produced by TFS Corporation’s sandalwood plantations in the Ord River region of Western Australia, established in 1999 (source, 2014).