The namesake returns to Sandalwood Island
The eponymous tree is being replanted on Indonesia’s Sandalwood Island, now known as Sumba, by farmers trained by the World Agroforestry Centre
A group of farmers gathered at the home of Elton Ndohang in Kanatang Village, East Sumba, Nusa Tenggara Timur province, listened intently as Ndohang explained the importance of the sandalwood tree not only to the cultural life of the Sumbanese—who use it for traditional ceremonies and medicine—but also to nations on the other side of the world.
‘Sandalwood has played an important role in our traditional lives as Sumbanese’, he said. ‘This makes us responsible to cultivate sandalwood trees again. Don’t think that planting sandalwood will cause you any difficulties. It has high value in international markets, which will definitely help improve our lives’.
Sandalwood is a class of woods from trees in the genus Santalum. The woods are heavy, yellow and fine-grained and, unlike many other aromatic woods, they retain their fragrance for decades; indeed, the most prized woods are those kept for 20 years or more before the oil is extracted. Sandalwood oil—along with the wood itself—has a distinctive fragrance that has been highly valued for centuries and which has led to these slow-growing trees being over-harvested.
This was the case on Sumba, beginning when the Dutch, the former colonial rulers of Indonesia, became aware of the value of its sandalwood forests in the 18th century. In 1756, the Dutch East Indies Company signed an agreement with some of the Sumbanese nobles that led to removal of much of the sandalwood trees on the island, producing vast, arid grasslands, which were further expanded in the 2000s when most of the remaining forests were cut.
Ndohang, who is a self-taught grower of sandalwood, was helping train farmers from neighbouring villages on 6–7 March 2017 as part of a program to re-establish the tree in East Sumba under the Indonesian Rural Economic Development project, a collaboration between the World Agroforestry Centre, World Vision Indonesia and Lutheran World Relief, with support from the Australian Government through AusAID.
He showed the group how to produce good-quality sandalwood seedlings using host trees and how to know if a seed is good or not. The farmers asked many questions during the interactive session and practised what they had been shown: selecting seeds; sowing them together with host tree seedlings to which the sandalwood links via the roots; selecting seedlings from those that had already germinated; mixing soil and fertilizer and adding to containers; and transplanting the already-germinated seeds.
Later, Rimba Bintoro, a sandalwood researcher from Laiwangi Wanggameti National Park, explained some of the more theoretical aspects of sandalwood propagation, the best spacing between the trees, how to make planting holes and artificial shade shelters, management of the growing trees to produce good-quality timber and how to harvest for use in cultural ceremonies without damaging the trees.
‘It was a bit of surprise for me to see the enthusiasm of the participants’, he said. ‘They were very curious and asked good questions. I am sure that after this training there will be more farmers planting sandalwood trees’.
His prediction will be proven right, according to at least one of the participants, Tawuru May Njahu from Wunga Village.
‘I’m a female farmer and very happy to have been part of this training as it is very useful’, said Njahu. ‘I didn’t know how to grow sandalwood properly but through the training I’ve learned all about sandalwood, from choosing good seeds to selling it to the market. Hopefully this kind of training can be held more often for other tree species so we can learn to plant even more trees and see Sumba forested again’.
The training concluded in the mixed plantation of sandalwood, teak, mahogany and gmelina owned and managed by Mehang Potinggata in Mondu Village, about one hour from Kanatang. The trainees could see for themselves the results of planting sandalwood. Most of Potinggata’s trees were sourced from remnant forests and either removed in their entirety to his farm or propagated from cuttings or seeds. He intercrops the trees with forest yam, which is usually eaten during times of famine, a not uncommon occurrence in arid and rocky East Sumba.
After the training, the farmers are being helped with implementing what they learned, being given updates on new information and brought together regularly to improve each other’s knowledge and skills.
Information on sandalwood cultivation (in Indonesian)
Rahayu S, Wawo AH, van Noordwijk M, Hairiah K. 2002. Cendana deregulasi dan strategi pengembangannya. Sandalwood deregulation and development strategy. Bogor, Indonesia: World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Southeast Asia Regional Program.
ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global partnership for a food-secure future.
We would like to thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.
 Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandalwood
 Sumba Information: history and culture: http://www.sumba-information.com/history-culture.html