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Scientists sniff out way to protect Sandalwood

Media release

An international study to protect and repopulate the highly threatened Sandalwood tree has earned a team of scientists a Sri Lanka National Research Council Grant.

The collaborative study between Curtin University, Sri Jayewardenepura University, Sadaharitha Plantations Ltd and Wescorp Sandalwood Pty Ltd aims to identify the geographical location and quality of sandalwood in Sri Lanka to propagate the highly poached natural medicine.

Curtin PhD student and pharmaceutical scientist, Dhanushka Sugeeshwara Hettiarachchi, of Curtin’s School of Pharmacy, said the team would use silviculture, a process involving the control, establishment, growth, composition, health and quality of forests, to establish a healthy sandalwood population in Sri Lanka.

“Ethanol-pharmacologically sandalwood is a very important medicine in Sri Lanka. In Ayurvedic medicine, sandalwood is a key ingredient in topical and several paediatric formulations,” Mr Hettiarachchi said.

“By introducing the plants to protected reserves and to the home gardens of rural villagers in Sri Lanka, people will have access to good quality sandalwood trees and this provides an important opportunity for rural communities to invest in agro-forestry as well as supporting their health needs.”

Mr Hettiarachchi said his role as a pharmaceutical scientist was essential in determining the quality of sandalwood required for propagation of high quality plant stock.

“Findings of this research will be shared with industry and respective government institutions. Also this grant is providing the funds to support a scholarship position for a forestry science graduate, which will add to the research outcomes for this project,” he said.

Mr Hettiarachchi said the introduction of sandalwood as an agro-forestry crop in Sri Lanka would maintain the sustainability of natural sandalwood resources in both the perfume and traditional markets around the world.

“Sri Lanka has just come out of a civil war and rising food and fuel prices are pulling people away from any investments. For villagers, growing sandalwood in their own gardens will provide a secure, easy and economical investment opportunity,” he said.

“Poachers are targeting all the natural sandalwood in Sri Lanka and if the propagation of good quality trees is not started soon, there will be the possibility of losing sandalwood forever from the hills of Sri Lanka.

“A few plantation companies have started growing sandalwood, but systematic identification of the quality of parent trees or suitable environments has not been examined.

“This will be the first time anyone is going to analyse the trees for their quality and start systemic propagation.”

Mr Hettiarachchi said the project had received in-kind support from Wescorp Sandalwood Ltd and Sadaharitha Plantations in Sri Lanka.

The research group is led by world-renowned sandalwood scientist, Adjunct Professor John Fox, of Curtin’s Department of Environment and Agriculture and highly regarded Sri Lankan agro-forestry scientist, Dr Upul Subasinghe, of Sri Jayewardenepura University.

The team presented two papers on seedling establishment and quality parameters of sandalwood at the International Forestry and Environment Symposium in Sri Lanka last year.

Contacts :

Andrea Barnard, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Email: andrea.barnard@curtin.edu.au

Dhanushka (Danny) Sugeeshwara Hettiarachchi, School of Pharmacy, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 2527, Mob: 0419 793 136, Email: d.hettiarachchi@postgrad.curtin.edu.au

Web: www.curtin.edu.au