Sustainable sandalwood - cultivating a fragrant needBy Jo Jacobius and Pascale Cumming-Benson - 02/02/2018
CPL Aromas has a sustainable approach to wild cultivation of Sandalwood in Sri Lanka.
Ethical sourcing is an issue that exercises responsible manufacturers across the world. Nowhere is the need for responsible sourcing of materials more keenly felt than at CPL Aromas, the world's largest ‘fragrance-only' fragrance house. The company, which is based in the UK, has just announced that it has added another ethically-sourced and sustainably-produced essential oil to its fragrance materials palette: the much-prized Sandalwood.
Sandalwood, sought after and widely used in perfumery as an oriental woody note, is now cropped in many places in the world, such as New Caledonia, Australia, Indonesia.
Sandalwood is thought of by the lay-man as a single material but in fact there are different species, each of which plays a slightly different role in a finished fragrance. These varietals include album, apicatum, and austro-caledonicum, and all have their uses in perfumery.
However, perfumers the world over agree that Indian Sandalwood album is the most precious. Costing several hundreds of pounds per ounce, it is a valuable – as well as a valued – addition to fragrances.
According to Francis Pickthall, one of the Directors of CPL Aromas, "This material is celebrated for its exceptionally soft, milky tones and subtly enduring quality. Other varieties have different odour profiles".
The name ‘Album' refers to the white colouration of the highly-fragrant heartwood of the tree. Sandalwood is chiefly used for Fine Fragrance creation, due to its value. Over the years, irresponsible practices due to the high prices of this variety have left the Sandalwood album vulnerable to over-exploitation and even extinction.
Francis Pickthall explains, "Until now, no sustainability programme for Sandalwood album existed in India. To meet this demand, the Sandaforest Sustainable Plantation was founded in Sri Lanka by BioPower in 2007, allowing fragrance houses – including CPL Aromas – to continue to use the best quality Sandalwood, sourced by sustainably-managed practices, far into the future".
Unlike coffee or tea plantations, Sandalwood trees need to grow in a wild environment and they flourish best, of course, in their natural habitat. A 100-hectare forest was found in which initially 3,000 Sandalwood trees were naturally propagated and grown, and the natural propagation methodology was successfully adapted to increase the number of trees in the forest.
"Sandalwood has been subject to theft and piracy, so for us having this agreement ensures us future supply of high quality, reliable Sandalwood," said CPL Aromas' Global Purchasing Director, Nick Moore.
The growers created a Sandalwood album nursery and they have installed water reserves and an irrigation system along with 10km of fencing to secure the property from wild animals and thieves. A natural, organic fertilizer for the forest is being produced at this site.
Over 30,000 trees have been planted over the years, with a survival rate of over 85% due to the favourable growing conditions. It is planned that 5,000 trees will be planted in the next three years and approximately 10,000 trees are expected to grow as a result of natural propagation. The plantation ensures that, for every tree used, another six are planted. Essential oil production is currently 1.2 to 1.5 tons, with a future output of 2 tons being forecast.
The programme currently employs 40 people, including agronomists and specialists in sustainable growing (including organic fertilization). In an area largely comprised of wild land, there are few job opportunities for the local population. The plantation is providing thirty families with long-term work and much-needed job security. The workers' income is 20% above that of the average for the area, and health care and insurance is provided – a rare benefit for many people in Sri Lanka.
As the property was formally a tea plantation, the scheme maintains many of the tea bushes, to give workers an additional source of income. Specific training also aids workers in future employment opportunities.