The popularity of East Africa Sandalwood in Uganda has surged in recent times, driven by the high demand for its wood, which is essential for producing Sandalwood oil. The perfume industry highly values Santalol, the active compound found in sandalwood oil, due to its enduring sweet aroma. Unfortunately, this increasing global demand for Sandalwood oil has placed the tree in jeopardy. In recognition of the urgent need for protection, Sandalwood was listed as an endangered species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2013. Consequently, stringent measures must be implemented to control international trade of this species and its products to ensure its sustainability and conservation.
To address the challenges posed by selective harvesting, land-use changes, and habitat loss, the National Forestry Resources Research Institute (NaFORRI) has embarked on research activities aimed at conserving and safeguarding the species. The research primarily focuses on domestication methods, particularly the propagation of Sandalwood, in order to facilitate the large-scale production of high-quality planting materials. Scientists are currently developing protocols to aid in the domestication efforts of this valuable tree, exploring propagation techniques using both seeds and cuttings.
In addition to these endeavors, NaFORRI is implementing a project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The project aims to enhance institutional capacity for the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing in Uganda (ABS project). Its ultimate goal is to conserve Uganda’s genetic resources, as well as the associated traditional knowledge, and ensure the equitable and sustainable utilization of these resources while sharing the benefits derived from them.
Specifically, NaFORRI is undertaking activities as part of Project Component 3, “Strengthening ABS Management at the Local Government and Community Level,” which will span a two-year period. The institute’s focus lies on improving the conservation and sustainable use of sandalwood genetic resources in the Karamoja region through suitable propagation techniques, assisted regeneration methods, and raising community awareness.
This project is expected to yield significant outcomes, including the development of technologies, innovations, and management practices for sandalwood regeneration in Karamoja. Additionally, it will enhance the capacity of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) in Karamoja to sustainably regenerate and plant sandalwood, thereby improving livelihoods. The project also aims to establish community partnerships to facilitate increased access to sandalwood germplasm.
Sandalwood in Uganda is primarily concentrated in the Karamoja region and is mainly sold to oil processing factories within the country, as well as across the borders in Kenya and Tanzania. Furthermore, the oil is exported to India for use in cosmeceutical and pharmaceutical industries. Despite international measures to protect the species, sandalwood experienced massive harvesting between 2012 and 2015. Reports indicate that approximately 10 tonnes of sandalwood were harvested monthly for oil extraction during that period. In response, the Ministry of Water and Environment banned sandalwood tree harvesting throughout Uganda where they were reported to exist in 2015. Unfortunately, this stringent measure did not deter illegal harvesting, highlighting the pressing need for comprehensive conservation efforts.