AI-Com researchers have this week started planting out sandalwood trees in a new plantation at Natarbora, Manauto municipality, on Timor-Leste’s south coast, which will serve as an important resource for researchers and community members over the coming decades.
A high-value tree native to Timor-Leste, sandalwood is sought after worldwide for its valuable heartwood and fragrant oil, which begins to deposit inside the heartwood after about 25 years of growth. The initial phase of planting, comprising 300 sandalwood seedlings over a quarter of a hectare, will offer researchers new opportunities to test sandalwood growth and growing conditions, and could produce a valuable economic resource for community members in the future.
While sandalwood is endemic to the island of Timor, it’s a hemi-parasitic plant that requires the planting of a host tree nearby in order to thrive – making a multispecies plantation pattern ideal for tree production. Research conducted by AI-Com last year identified several appropriate host species that grow well in Timor-Leste, including three very common plants being used in the Natarbora plantation: Sesbania (known as ai-kalek or ai-turi in Tetun); Leucena (ai-kafe); and Casurina (ai-kakeuk). The Casurina is being planted in long rows, with the sandalwood and other trees planted in between, similar to what is recommended in the AI-Com publication, Sandalwood production and hosts in Timor-Leste, published in 2018.
AI-Com is testing a wide range of different methods for communities to plant and grow sandalwood, including growing sandalwood with cattle forage trees like Leucena; growing with a wide range of other established trees; growing on property boundaries; and growing planted in a plantation, in order to improve the growth and prosperity of this economically, ecologically and culturally valuable tree for future generations of Timorese families.