What is Sustainable Forest Management? Guaiacwood: Where Strength Meets Renewal
The concept of “sustainable forest management” was defined at the Rio Summit of 1992 and is a worldwide ambition. It involves managing forests sustainably to preserve their biodiversity, their vitality, and their ability to regenerate. What does this mean in reality?
Far from cities, office buildings, and virtual meetings on Teams, a magical forest proves its endurance and shows us the way: the Chaco in Paraguay.
It is so incredibly dense and hostile that it has been called “impenetrable”. In Latin America, the only remaining old-growth forests are the Amazon and the Chaco. Unlike the Amazon, the Chaco is populated by dry and extremely thorny vegetation, like that of a desert. While it isn’t a comfortable place for humans, this forest is a paradise of natural biodiversity. Its inhabitants include jaguars, pumas, howler monkeys, armadillos, and ants that make giant nests, all living amongst the Chaco’s unique flora of thorny plants, cacti, and guaiacwood, which is one of several plants known to locals as palo santo.
As a raw material, guaiacwood has woody, creamy, smoky notes. It has been receiving coverage in the press recently due to its exploitation and European CITES restrictions. Nelixia has been working for two years to establish sustainable management practices for this resource. Figuring out how to reinvent sourcing to protect an endangered species is an intriguing topic!
There will be a new, more complicated way to source ingredients, which will require a lot of patience and energy, but it’s probably the only way to move forward and ensure that the next generation of perfumers actually know what guaiacwood smells like.
*Since 2011, the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has classified guaiacwood in appendix II and banned the importation of its essential oil into Europe beginning in March 2020.
Reforestation is often used as a way to address a variety of issues, including planting trees to reduce our carbon footprint and planting to protect an endangered species. But if you ask biodiversity experts, they are unanimous: it’s better to preserve the ecosystem rather than “repair” it.
Guaiacwood cannot be planted. The tree grows in groves, following veins of salt in the earth. It regenerates itself through its root system, which connects guaiacwood trees to each other. Attempting to encourage reforestation by planting seeds wouldn’t work (even though this does work for sandalwood). We’re working on an alternative solution that has been approved by INFONA, Paraguay’s national forestry institute.
A significant amount of our work involves raising awareness among landowners about how their forests can have monetary value when left intact. The Paraguayan government allows landowners to convert their properties to pastureland for livestock. This means that five million hectares of trees could be clear-cut by 2025. As a concession, landowners are required to preserve 25% of their land if they convert the rest of their property for another use, but that’s not enough! We offer them the opportunity to earn money by allowing us to manage their forests, which reduces their motivation to cut down trees.
Diagnosing the Forest
The first step in the management plan is to take a precise, thorough inventory of a forest sample. How many species are present? How old are the trees? How tall and wide are they? Collecting all these details is a challenging task that takes a lot of patience and diligence!”.
Once the inventory has been taken, we can establish a twenty-year forest management plan. After the sample is analyzed, trees that are mature enough to be cut are marked. On average, six trees per hectare are cut down, which is enough to allow light to penetrate so the forest can grow back. Tree trunks are pruned by hand at 20 cm, and workers take care to never touch the precious roots that allow the trees to regenerate. Twenty years later, when the plot is mature, the trees will have had enough time to grow back and can be harvested again. Guaiacwood is heavily present in the forest and is not endangered as long as the forest is managed well.
The logistics of manually transporting tree trunks to trucks on the back roads—without ever damaging the ecosystem—is an entirely other challenge. Each trunk weighs about one metric ton, which is why guaiacwood is used to support propellers on boats and to make mill hubs. The wood’s density and oil content make it incredibly resistant.
The forestry institute issues “guide” certificates that allow trucks to circulate in the protected area and ensure the resource is fully traceable.
Act, Then Watch
Before and after every harvest, the plot must be examined every day to monitor regeneration. We examine and record the data so that we can continue to improve the process. The repercussions of forest management extend for several generations. We have to believe in what we do every day to plan for tomorrow, and adapt to the slow pace of tree growth.
An Invaluable Partner: The Paraguaya
Building good relationships is crucial to this type of project. I have been lucky to meet a wonderful foundation that has a vision. One of its founders, the highly respected Raúl Gauto, is a mentor for us. He guides us with a social vision and his UN-recognized methods for eradicating poverty. We teach the principles of permaculture and how to produce organic products to encourage “rural entrepreneurship.” This was the basis of our decision to set up our processing facility at one of the foundation’s agricultural schools, and to take on apprentices.
Being at the Source,
Where it Counts
We’re also very proud to announce that our guaiacwood distillation facility was inaugurated in October 2020. Everything is ready: the stills are set up and we’ve figured out how to avoid using fossil fuels to power the facility (we use only wood energy). We’re now carrying out the initial tests to guarantee quality and yield, and we’re taking steps to earn international certification in 2021. Our objective is to produce 100 metric tons of sustainable guaiacwood oil per year by 2025.
Society as we know itis undergoing a radical transformation. It’s important to redefine new standards for sustainable, fair sourcing. Guaiacwood harvesting is a great example of an alternative approach to resource management. We’re happy to share our commitments and convictions, and we’re devoting all our energy to making your visions and dreams for sustainability come true.
For more information:
Watch the UEBT sustainable development conference: www.youtube...
Discover Nelixia’s method at www.nelixia.com
Since it was founded in 2009, NELIXIA has striven to reinvent the way of sourcing and producing natural ingredients. Convinced that sourcing has to go hand in hand with sustainability, NELIXIA puts social and environmental aspects at the heart of all its operations. Drawing on its experience in Guatemala, the company implemented a certified methodology to develop sustainable and traceable value chains for each of its ingredients. The company works in close collaboration with fragrance, cosmetic, food, spice and aromatherapy companies to promote the rich biodiversity of Latin America and to transform the natural raw materials harvested by local communities. The company now has three production sites and has deployed its sustainable approach in six Latin American countries. NELIXIA is a member of the UEBT and Ecovadis Silver.