Sandalwood cultivators wait for access to open markets

Agriculture Business Top Story

Sandalwood farmers want to sell their crop as agricultural produce and do not want to deal with the forest department.

Private sandalwood cultivators in Karnataka demand permission to sell the wood in open markets  to realize better profits.

Farmer Shivappa Matturu has more than 1300 Sandalwood trees at his farm in Haveri district. “Selling it to private players in the market will fetch us more than Rs 18000 per kg and the government entities buy from us at Rs 10000 per kg. By selling it outside we can make way better profits, but we are not allowed to do so,” he said.The sandalwood farmers’ community has written to the government authorities about this a year ago. Although they have conducted a survey of all the farmlands and considered our demand, the liberalization process has not been completed yet, he added.

Ramesh, a sandalwood cultivator from Chikkballapur district alleges that even though the government allowed us to grow the trees, they did not establish proper marketing channels. He also alleges that there is no transparency in the valuation of wood done by the Forest Department. “We cut and weigh our produce and send it to the Forest Department, they decide the value and we think the valuation is unfair,” he said.

Sandalwood cultivators have requested the authorities to bring sandalwood under agriculture produce. Because, the agriculture department has fair criteria to value the product, which the Forest Department lacks Ramesh said. The cultivators have started forming Farmer Produce Organization’s through which they intend to sell the wood in international markets directly. The Forest Department has considered our plea, Ramesh added.

According to estimates by Karnataka Soap and Detergents Limited (KSDL), there are 700 private cultivators in Karnataka owning a land area of 7000 acres.

Districts in Karnataka growing sandalwood

Private sandalwood cultivators are only allowed to sell the wood to either the Forest Department, KSDL or, Karnataka State Handlooms Development Corporation as per the law.

Sundar Raj, a Senior Assistant at KSDL, said that we have received requests from farmers and we have looked into it. The process is expected to end soon and farmers will be allowed to sell in open markets. “We buy at rates set by the government and the sale process is lengthy, maybe these are the reasons why farmers are demanding access to sell it to private players.” he added. However, the upside of selling it to KSDL is that there is guaranteed timely payment and no involvement by middleman, he mentioned.

Sudhir M, public relations officer at the Forest Department said thatthe introduction of the new sandalwood policy is under the process of approval and the draft has been sent to the government. “The liberalization will happen once we get the approval from the minister. This easing out of the process will benefit and facilitate farmers,” he added. Addressing the issue of under valuation of wood by the department, he said, fair compensation has already been provided to the farmers.

Mallesh Lingachar, Director of Institution of Agroforestry Farmers & Technologists said that the liberalization was long due. Farmers can save a lot of time by skipping the long selling process of the department and directly sell at premium prices in open markets. The demand for sandalwood is high in domestic as well as international markets, as there is a shortage of wood and many manufacturers have come up with many sandalwood -based products. However, farmers will still need to go through a process and take permissions to directly sell in international markets.

Karnataka was known for its sandalwood and was popularly called ‘Srigandhada Nadu’ (Land of sandalwood) or ‘GandhadaGudi’ (Abode of sandalwood). Sandalwood cultivation was largely confined to the forests and the plantations of state governments. But, a policy change by the governments in 2002 allowed people to grow sandalwood, privately.

The Karnataka State Forest Department liberalized the regulations related to sandalwood cultivation to ensure that there is no shortage of sandalwood. After the proposed amendment to the Karnataka Tree Act 1927, the forest department allowed individuals to freely grow and own sandalwood trees. Permission is given to cut a sandalwood tree in private ownership after thorough inspection by the officials.