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Export value at $10 per kilogram of scented wood

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Radio Tonga News, Aug. 27, 2008) - The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries & Food has raised concerns on the conservation of sandalwood trees or ahi in Tonga, due to the fact that they are slowly going into extinction.

Communications Officer of the Ministry, Taia Leha said that there was too many unnecessary cutting down of sandalwood trees and uprooting of young sandalwood plants as well.

He revealed that the Ministry has put up regulations to inhibit the export of sandalwood from Tonga, whether by an individual or a company, beginning this year. Taia said people could face penalties if found to be leaving the Kingdom with sandalwood without a permit from the Ministry.

Because the tree is valuable and it takes years to grow before it can be logged, it was important that they be conserved and not cut down prematurely. Taia said this was also one of the reasons why there were fewer seeds to grow more sandalwood trees and the ministry had to bring in seedlings to try and re-plant the trees in the Kingdom.

Taia said the sale of sandalwood had gone up to 20 pa΄anga [US$9.80 ] per kilogram before the ban on exporting sandalwood, and this was considered a very high price.

In 2000, Finau Uata of Ha’apai sold a mature sandalwood tree that was in his compound for 10,000 pa΄anga [US$5,000]. He said the tree was centuries old and was considered a family heirloom but because it had started to rot, they thought it would be best to sell it off.

The forestry department has said that it is crucial that the sandalwood trees be preserved as it was a good revenue earner for the country.

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