Agar Farming in Tripura needs Scientific Intervention

Pawan K Kaushik, Scientist
Forest Research Centre for Livelihood Extension, Agartala

Forest Research Centre for Livelihood Extension (FRC-LE), Agartala
Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education

Aquilaria malaccensis Lam. Syn. A. agallocha Roxb. (Thymelaeceae) is a resinous tree and commonly known as agar. The tree is distributed in South and South East Asia from the foothills of the Himalayas to the rainforests of Papua New Guinea.

Agar tree is a medium size evergreen tree attaining a height of 15-40 meter and diameter of 0.6- 2.5 meters. The plant has a straight bole, but may become fluted. The wood is soft, light, elastic and white to yellowish-white in colour. Leaves are oblong-lanceolate with undulating margin and up to 9 cm long. Flowering occurs during April-May and seeds mature in about three months. Multiplication of the plant is through seeds, which have a short viability period.  

A specific fungus (identified to be Phialophora parasitica) is responsible for this physiological host-parasite interaction. Various symptoms of infected agar tree were recorded to identify the infected tree. Infestation of borer, Zeuzera confetra was observed on agar tree in different study sites. Fungal species viz., Fusariumsp., Rhizopus sp., Aspergillus sp., Mucor sp., and Penicillium sp., were isolated from the infected host tissue. Natural infection occurs in the wood when trunks of standing trees are bored by a larvae of a stem borer mainly Zeuzera conferta walker. It is seen that the larvae of Z. conferta bore the standing tree trunk of A. agallocha and make tunnels inside the tree trunks. Fungus enters the plant through this vertical hollow sometimes – zigzag tunnel inside the stem, which serves for easy spread of infections. 

Agarwood has been prized as incense from ancient times. It is traded in several forms, ranging from large sections of trunk to finished products such as incense and perfumes. Agarwood chips and flakes are the common traded forms. The major constituents of Agarwood oil are sesquiterpenes, the chemical structure  which makes them very difficult, hence extremely expensive, to synthesize. Although synthetic Agarwood compounds are used to produce poor-quality fragrances and incense sticks, there are currently no synthetic substitutes for high grade incense or oil. 

The use of Agarwood oil for perfumery extends back several thousand years. In India various grades of Agarwood are distilled separately before blending to produce attar (scent). Minyak attar is a water-based perfume containing Agarwood oil, which is traditionally used by Muslims to lace prayer clothes. Agarwood essences have recently been used as a fragrance in soaps and shampoos. 

Agarwood has also been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, and continues to be used in Ayurvedic, Tibetan and traditional East Asian medicine. Agarwood and its products are described as aphrodisiac, alternative, anodyne, antidiarrhoeal, antiasthmatic, astringent, carminative, cordial, diuretic, laxative, stomachic and tonic and incorporated into the preparation of several pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. 

Presently, market value and demand of first grade Agarwood is extremely high. First grade Agarwood is one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world, with prices in Agarwood oil fetches similarly high prices. A mature Agarwood is sold for around Rs. 5000/- to Rs. 4 lakhs per kg. The resin based oil obtained from naturally inoculated Agarwood is sold for Rs. 6 lakhs to Rs. 15 lakhs per kg whereas oil from artificially inoculated Agarwood is sold for Rs. 6 lakhs to 10 lakhs per kg (based on the market scenario 2018). 

Agar oil is an export-oriented product and the demand is very high in the international market. The large gap in the demand/supply situation is due to the scarcity of raw materials, lack of favorable policy and schemes, and also due to lack of infrastructure and machinery for extraction of oil. 

A lot of scope is available in Tripura for promotion of Agar farming on farm boundaries and fringe areas. The state govt. is also giving much emphasis to promote the industry of Agarwood processing and extraction of oil for its trade from the state. Due to certain eco-climatic variations, the natural infection through the borer insect has been a problem in major portion in the state. Hence, a well-tested scientific intervention developed by the scientists at RFRI, Jorhat has a potential scope for artificial inoculation of Agar trees for agarwood production.


Photo Credit: Ainul Bakshi, Nagaon, Assam

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