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Research Report

Management guide for sustainable production of frankincense

Mulugeta Lemenih
Habtemariam Kassa
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2011
Pages: 30
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    The drylands of Ethiopia contain numerous tree and shrub species that produce commercial gums and gum resins. The most important of these species is Boswellia papyrifera (Del.) Hochst. Boswellia papyrifera is a deciduous multipurpose tree species of value for its commercial product, known as frankincense or gum olibanum. Frankincense has several traditional uses and a range of industrial applications, including in pharmacology, flavouring, beverages and liqueurs, cosmetics, detergents, lotions and perfumes. Ethiopia is one of the major suppliers of frankincense to the world market and earns considerable foreign currency from such exports. In the 2007/2008 Ethiopian fiscal year, the country...

  2. (pp. 2-2)

    Boswellia papyrifera (Del.) Hochst belongs to the family Burseraceae, which contains up to 600 species in 17 genera (Fichtl and Admasu 1994). One of the genera, Boswellia Roxb., contains about 20 species of shrubs or small to medium-sized trees. The genus Boswellia is distributed across the dry regions of the tropics, with its presence in the African mainland extending from Côte d’Ivoire to north-eastern Tanzania. It also grows in northern Madagascar and in India. Its centre of diversity is in north-eastern tropical Africa (Vollesen 1989, Kuchar 1995, Gachathi 1997). Six species of Boswellia occur in Ethiopia: B. microphylla, B. neglecta,...

  3. (pp. 3-4)

    In Ethiopia, Boswellia species grow naturally in various vegetation formations. The species are predominantly found in the Terminalia–Combretum broad-leaved deciduous woodlands, the Acacia–Commiphora small-leaved deciduous woodlands, and among lowland semi-desert and desert vegetation. These vegetation types are found in the northern, north-western, western, eastern, south-eastern and south-western lowlands as well as along the major river gorges such as Blue Nile, Tekeze and their tributaries.

    Boswellia papyrifera is restricted to the Terminalia–Combretum broad-leaved deciduous woodlands of the north, north-west and some of the northern major river gorges. In these areas, it covers wide ecological and altitudinal ranges, occurring...

  4. (pp. 5-8)

    The B. papyrifera tree produces leaves with the first few showers of small rains, around April in north-western Ethiopia. It sheds leaves at the beginning of the dry season, in October–November. Flowering commences in October. Most of the fruits begin to mature in November and fall from the tree before the second half of January. The sweet-smelling flowers on the red flower stalk (Figure 4) usually develop before new leaves. Recent observations have shown that B. papyrifera displays a slightly different phenology in different sites, according to environmental conditions, particularly rainfall. Thus, the phenological description given here may not...

  5. (pp. 9-12)

    Traditionally, frankincense from B. papyrifera is produced through artificial wounding of the trees, a process called tapping. Tapping is carried out during the dry season. However, it is not clear whether the dry season is chosen out of convenience for tappers or because it is dictated by the physiology of the tree. Traditional tapping¹ involves slightly shaving the external layer of the bark and forming a circular wound of about 1–2 cm high, 1–1.5 cm wide and 0.5–1.0 cm deep. Usually 3 tapping spots are made on each side of the tree, starting at about 0.5 m...

  6. (pp. 13-16)

    Boswellia papyrifera forests are facing several challenges. Four direct factors affecting Boswellia forests are: (1) clearance for crop production by commercial farmers and resettled smallholder farmers; (2) overgrazing; (3) intensive and improper tapping; and (4) increasing forest fire (Gebrehiwot et al. 2002, Eshete et al. 2005, Lemenih et al. 2007). Underlying factors are high population influx, mainly through resettlement schemes, coupled with a weak institutional environment for regulating access to and management of dry-forest resources. These factors have led to uncontrolled conversion and unregulated exploitation of Boswellia-dominated woodlands, resulting in widespread deforestation. Addressing these challenges is a major requisite to...

  7. (pp. 17-17)

    It is not the intention of this guideline to compare and contrast property rights arrangements and argue that one form of arrangement is better than another. However, forestry is a long-term investment; it therefore requires secure ownership and clearly defined property rights, as well as appropriate law enforcement that is effective, efficient and suited to local conditions. Indeed, sustainable management of B. papyrifera requires a policy environment that grants local communities rights to access and benefit from dry forests, with concomitant and enforceable responsibilities to sustainably manage the resources. Unless farmers make clear economic gains from B. papyrifera stands, it...

  8. (pp. 18-18)

    Supporting the economic and ecological roles of B. papyrifera requires further applied research. The most urgent topics for research are: management of natural stands; value-added processing; ecophysiology and ecology of the species; marketing and trade of frankincense in general and enhancing the survival and recruitment of emerging seedlings in particular; and how these interact with sustainable resource base management and institutional arrangements for sustainable management of the resource base. Furthermore, there is no scientific justification for the choice of the dry season as an appropriate time for tapping. Research is required to investigate whether the production of frankincense can also...