Muscat: An Omani tree, which provides some of the finest and most expensive frankincense in the world, is under threat of extinction. The luban tree is an important part of Oman’s natural heritage and it has long been a key source of wealth for the country.
The trees date back to 2000 BC and are found primarily in the Dhofar governorate in the southern part of Oman. “Dhofar traded frankincense with ancient civilisations such as the Babylonians, Romans, and Egyptians,” Ahmad Aufait Al Shihri, a supplier in the Salalah province told Gulf News. A recent scientific discovery has added to the importance of the tree, after it was found that a chemical compound found in the tree could be used in cancer treatments.
Observers say the absence of a specific government agency to help protect the tree has led to its declining numbers.
The Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, and Ministry of Commerce all place the blame on each other for what is happening to the luban.
Ramez Al Mahri, a member of Oman’s Majlis Al Shura says that most of those involved in illicit tapping of the luban trees are from South Africa and they extract the frankincense incorrectly, wreaking havoc on the trees.
Ahmad Al Kuthair, an expert on the tree, told Gulf News that there was a pressing need for an independent government agency to save and protect the luban.
He added that the government should introduce laws to protect the tree and also establish a professional institute to train people on the correct ways to extract frankincense from it.
There is currently a shortage of luban in the local market, according to Al Shihri.
Al Shihri believes that illegal extractors make hundreds of thousands of Omani rials annually at the cost of the prized trees. He urged authorities to do something to tackle the problem.
Ironically, due to the shortage of trained professionals to work in the lucrative sector, Oman imports most of its frankincense from Yemen and Somalia. However, Omani law prohibits the importation of frankincense from outside the country.
A study by Oman’s Environment Preservation Office says that the density of frankincense trees in Jabal Samhan has declined by 85 per cent over the past 13 years. It also says that droughts have played a detrimental role, accounting for a 34 per cent reduction in the numbers of the tree.
Authorities have planted more than 600 of the trees in areas like Samahram, Khor Rori and Wadi Madrakah in an effort to revive their fast depleting numbers.