Man’s Exploitation: The Impact of Oud Exploitation on Local Communities and Ecosystems

Continuing our study of Oud, we dive into the exploitation of this unique plant that we have labelled as a luxury symbol.

The soaring demand for Agarwood, or Oud, has fueled severe exploitation, endangering both ecosystems and local communities. 

There are several different species of Agarwood trees that produce Oud:

Aquilaria, Gonystylus, and Gyrinops

Overharvesting has pushed species like Aquilaria malaccensis toward extinction, with wild populations declining by over 70% in some areas. 

All species of Aquilaria, Gonystylus, and Gyrinops are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II, mandating export permits for international agarwood trade

As of 2007, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorised the following agarwood species as threatened, and believed to be extinct:

Despite laws against harvesting agarwood-producing species in Southeast Asia, their high value keeps wild populations at risk. Most are generally labeled as Aquilaria spp. or A. malaccensis making it hard to track and identify the specific species traded. 

In many rural areas of Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and India, harvesting agarwood stands out as one of the few profitable economic opportunities. Due to limited alternative income sources, these communities heavily depend on the agarwood trade for their livelihood. 

Agarwood harvesting offers crucial income but introduces risks. Market volatility leads to economic instability, and heavy investments in harvesting can lead to debt when market prices drop or regulations increase. Over-specialization in harvesting skills hampers employment diversification, while unsustainable practices threaten ecological health. The high value of agarwood also attracts exploitative international traders, disrupting local economies and eroding traditional cultural practices. 

The high profits from Oud attract organized crime to illegally harvest Aquilaria trees, often disregarding legal and sustainable limits and depleting resources. This involvement can escalate into violent clashes over access to agarwood, causing harm and even fatalities within local communities

These illegal activities lead to community destabilization. Normal life is disrupted, law enforcement is undermined, and the quality of life deteriorates, creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. 

  • Some species of Agarwood being threatened with extinction or believed to be extinct
  • Rural communities face the risk of debt, economic instability and being exploited by large corporations
  • Oud can also attract illegal activites from groups taking advantage of Oud’s high and profitable value

This is the second part of a three-part series exploring Oud. Future installments will delve into how we, as conscientious consumers, can make informed purchasing decisions. By gaining a deeper understanding of luxurious and branded products like Oud, we can better appreciate their true value and significance in the mainstream market. This series also highlights the importance of resisting impulse buying driven by trends and the allure of expensive, popular items, encouraging more mindful and meaningful consumption.

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