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Environmentalists have voiced concern that the government’s moves to promote commercial cultivation of Wallapatta (Gyrinops Walla) for export may in fact benefit illegal Wallapatta smugglers if not implemented properly.

Speaking to The Nation, Director of the Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) Sajeewa Chamikara said while environmentalists welcomed moves to promote commercial cultivation of Wallapatta, it was still ‘far too soon’ to think about exporting the plant.
Cabinet last week approved a proposal made by President Maithripala Sirisena in his capacity as Minister of Environment and Mahaweli Development, to promote the exportation of Wallapatta plant and to cultivate the plant for commercial purposes.
What makes Wallapatta so valuable is ‘agarwood’. First-grade agarwood is reported to be one of the most valuable raw materials in the world. “The point is it would take about 10 years for artificially grown Wallapatta trees to produce good agarwood resin. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect commercial exportation of Wallapatta in the short-term,” Chamikara pointed out.

What worries environmentalists according to Chamikara, are moves to allow the possession and transportation of Wallapatta on commercial basis based on a permit issued by a respective authority. “As it would take almost a decade for artificially grown Wallapatta trees to produce good agarwood resin, we can safely say that 100% of the permits issued for possession and transportation of Wallapatta would be given to trees that have been illegally felled”.

The ECT Director noted that studies conducted in the recent past had revealed illegal felling of trees by smugglers looking for Wallapatta was one of the biggest threats to the existence of wetland forests in the country. The government has to first create the necessary groundwork to commercially grow Wallapatta. There needs to be extensive research with the participation of universities, to ensure that the best results are obtained, Chamikara stressed.

“What concerns us is the undue hurry to allow possession and transportation of Wallapatta when it’s clear it’ll take quite a long time for the commercially grown ones to produce the resins. This would only aid those already engaged in this illegal trade,” he argued.