The story of Rangaswamy, a farmer of Ragibaikanahalli in Hassan district of Karnataka, is very interesting. He owns 150 acres of high security farm land with sandalwood cultivation.
After the change in Government policy, any one can grow sandalwood tree, one of the costliest wood in the world. Rangaswamy, one of the farmers out of more than thousand farmers, has started the cultivation of these highly endemic tree. He has more than 15 security persons with guns along with dog squads to patrol these highly expensive trees to safeguard from the thieves. He is spending lot of money and technology to save these trees from thieves.
Sandlwood or Srigandha in Kannada a sacred scented wood endemic to few of southern States of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu fetches Rs 1 crore (approximately) per tonne and highly in demand across the world. According to Rangaswamy, a 15-year-old tree can get 15 kg of heartwood, with each acre supporting 300 trees.
After Karnataka Government liberalised the cultivation and sale of sandalwood trees, many farmers have taken to cultivation of these valuable trees across the State. But the farmers are worried over its safety and security and want the Government to help them protect these trees grown in their farms. Rangaswamy who is spending lot of money to even implant a chip manufactured by Hitachi for alerts of theft says he needs support from the Government.
A Karnataka forest officer says it takes 25 years for the tree to mature and farmers have to spend more in their income in protecting the tree. Karnataka has more than 12000 hectares of sandalwood cultivation. This amounts to 50 percent of the sandalwood cultivation in the country.
The Institute of Wood Sciences and Technology (IWST) is helping the farmers to develop technology to help farmers to protect their trees. The institute is developing a new chip with a longer life battery to protect these trees.
In Karnataka Over 1000 farmers have been cultivating sandalwood under an initiative launched by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Ltd. (KSDL), which produces oil from the wood for its premium brand ‘Mysore Sandal Soap’. The soap is made from sandal oil and exported to several countries.
The KSDL initiative was launched in 2008 to encourage people to grow sandalwood saplings on their farms, estates and gardens. The firm produces saplings at its nursery in Mysuru and Shivamogga and supplies them to interested persons at Rs. 12 a plant.
After the State government relaxed norms on the sale of sandalwood grown on private land there is an increase in cultivation of sandalwood on private lands, with ownership and selling rights remaining with the owners of the land.
Though sandalwood can be harvested in 15 years, experts suggest harvesting the tree after 25 years by which time it would have attained its full growth with sufficient girth.