Marayoor sandalwood receives record money in online auction; one tree alone fetches ₹1.25 crore

A total of 68.632 tonnes of sandalwood in 15 different classes were auctioned. Out of this, 30,467.25 kg of sandalwood were sold out.

BySouth First Desk

Published Sep 15, 2023 | 4:56 PM Updated Sep 15, 2023 | 4:56 PM

Marayoor sandalwood reserve. (KA Shaji)

The Marayoor sandalwood trees in the Idukki district of Kerala are known for their unparalleled fragrance and this month, the state Forest Department received record sales revenue through its auction.

Officials said that the department got ₹37.22 crore in the auction, where big companies and institutions like Karnataka Soaps, Oushadhi, Jaipur CMT and India Limited, KFDC, and Devaswom Boards participated.

The sandalwood collected from private lands and those from forest areas were auctioned. Forest officials said that the amount collected towards the sandalwood from private lands will be handed over to the landowners.

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One tree auctioned for ₹1.25 crore

“Just one sandalwood tree on a private land at Marayoor was auctioned for ₹1.25 crore. Its roots alone were sold for ₹27.34 lakh,” Vinod Kumar, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Marayoor, told PTI.

He said that with more private entities coming forward for sandalwood farming, it should be noted that 4,226 kg of sandalwood collected from private farmers were also auctioned, fetching more than ₹3 crore. “This amount will be handed over to the landowners,” Kumar said.

Apart from Marayoor sandalwood, fragrant wood from other divisions of the Kerala Forest Department was also auctioned. “9,418 kg of sandalwood from other divisions were auctioned,” the DFO added.

This is the second online auction conducted this year, which was carried out for over two days in four sessions. A total of 68.632 tonnes of sandalwood in 15 different classes were auctioned. Out of this, 30,467.25 kg of sandalwood were sold out.

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The auction

On the first day, ₹28.96 crore and on the second day, ₹8.26 crore worth of sandalwood were auctioned. Karnataka Soaps alone bought 25.99 tonnes of sandalwood at ₹27 crore.

The auction also included white sandal bark and roots. White sandal bark fetched a minimum price of ₹225 per kg. On the first auction in March this year, sandalwood was auctioned for ₹31 crore.

Located close to Munnar, the Marayoor Sandalwood Reserve is spread over 1,460.77 hectares and is managed by Kerala’s Forest Department. The reserve has 57,000 such highly-priced trees and their estimated value is ₹3,000 crore.

Other than keeping these trees safe, the Marayoor Forest Division oversees the entire procurement, processing, and retailing of sandalwood across the state.

Wherever and whenever a sandalwood tree is uprooted or completes its lifespan, it is transported to Marayoor for processing and retailing.

The processing happens at high-security workplaces in Marayoor and buyers from across the country reach this little-known place on a daily basis to procure the best sandalwood.

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A total of 16 products

The forest division is selling 16 sandalwood products at present — these range from pieces of wood to sandalwood oil.

Besides being the single-largest source of sandalwood in the country, Marayoor is a crucial forest terrain that connects the national parks of Eravikulam, Chinnar, Kurinjimala, Anamudi, and Pampadum Shola.

Animals from the Munnar forest division frequent these forests and it also supports the adjacent reserves of Kodakkad and Theerthamalai.

Marayoor has many wild animals, including elephants and the Indian bison, and supports numerous streams and creeks that irrigate the Kanthalloor-Marayoor agricultural regions.

The Marayoor forest division made headlines recently by using solar energy for conservation — the first time in the country.

As the premium sandalwood trees remain a target of timber smugglers, the reserve installed over 200 solar lampposts in crucial areas, ensuring more visibility for guarding officials.

In the absence of grid connectivity to get conventional energy, the forest division leaned on non-conventional energy using storage batteries.

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The discovery of Marayoor

An example of effective forest management, the reserve owes credit for its discovery by the outside world to British-Indian botanist TF Bourdillon, who was appointed as conservator of forests by the princely state of Travancore way back in 1886.

On 29 December 1892, Bourdillon reached Kilikoodu Mala alias Kilikoodu Hill on the upper reaches of present-day Munnar and spotted an exclusive 12-square-km forest of Santalum album or Indian sandalwood.

Endemic to South India and Southeast Asia, the Indian sandalwood tree is considered divine by Hindus and many indigenous cultures.

Its distinct fragrance and perceived medicinal qualities make it a high-value species vulnerable to overexploitation.

With the degradation of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka sandalwood forests at the hands of notorious brigand Veerappan, Marayoor now enjoys large-scale global attention as the hub of original, naturally-grown sandalwood.

(With PTI inputs)