Let’s talk more about sustainability. Climatic changes, increasingly unpredictable rainfalls and wildfires have ravaged parts of Africa. Frankincense resins throughout the world, as with many medicinal plants, are threatened by their ever-growing popularity, over-harvesting, and destructive natural forces.
The rise in popularity of essential oils has had the most significant effect on the natural population of these trees. Local harvesters try to meet large-scale corporate demands from the essential oil companies; but harvesting much more than the trees can handle jeopardizes the trees’ well-being.
Once the tree is weakened, this makes the trees vulnerable to disease and insects, which can destroy them.
Frankincense trees are becoming endangered in certain areas of the world. In Oman recently there has been a major typhoon which destroyed many of these trees. Before this, abusive tapping was a major problem but the government and several organizations have stepped in to ensure this does not happen again.
There are rumors that the trees in Somaliland and Somalia are endangered. This is not true. I speak to many farmers, distillers and those very concerned about these trees and all of them have told me the trees are doing just fine and are in fact abundant.
You have to understand, the majority of these trees grow in remote places in Somaliland and Somalia nowhere near villages. It takes a lot to even get remotely to these remote trees. You also have to understand this is the livelihood of these people. Frankincense trees and their livestock. Most harvesting families treat the trees extremely carefully allowing them to rest in between tapping. Without these trees the people would surely not survive.
Recently, there have been a few vocal stakeholders who are trying to convince the world that blockchain technology is the way to go in Africa pertaining to the trees. Some Frankincense companies are using this in their marketing, which they say will further the timely keeping of how and when these trees are tapped and how much resin comes from each tree.
What is a blockchain? A blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions that contain information and data and distribute it across a network. Time based data is chained together to verify that it has not been changed.
So why does this concept not work where these trees grow? IT infrastructure is basically non-existent where these trees grow and there is no real electric grids in these remote places.
Most of the people recharge their phones from their cars or diesel generators or some small scale solar panels. The block chain data needs to be uploaded to the network and sent back to a server that will hold the information. The data is only as good as the person who is entering it. Do you really think the frankincense harvesters, the majority of whom don’t even use email nor have a sophisticated computer, and have spotty wireless service are going to adopt this new technology successfully? Not to mention the amount of work and cost of maintaining the servers, the software, the training, and the immense amount of electricity used for this process. Do you think the harvesting communities have the money to implement this? Of course they don't, which means the control of their natural resource and livelihood will not be theirs, but those who have the means (i.e. typically non-Somali owned companies who profit off frankincense).
The farmers have been doing fine all these years with their traditional methods of harvesting. To bring this into a country for a company’s wealth gain is not helping anyone except for that company's bottom line. .
This just shows how some companies are exploiting the market for their own self and accumulating money for themselves. This is not a real solution to sustainability, it's smoke and mirrors, in my opinion and other intelligent people I have spoken with feel this will not work at all.
And then there is the other manufactured problem I've seen lately. Some people are telling you to purchase resin and or essential oil from only Kenya because they feel the other resins from other regions are not sustainable. As I said above this is not true. While Kenya does grow different Frankincense resin, considered sustainable because the trees are not tapped, if you purchase your resin from only one place those trees will wind up being endangered and so will the essential oil that comes from these trees.
My feeling on this? I am a clinical Aromatherapist and I have been taught to purchase my essential oils “all plants including Frankincense” for a therapeutic reason. Yes I sell Frankincense Essential Oils, most are from the resin I sell and in very small quantities and those I do purchase I make sure they are coming from good honest farmers that grow these trees. I do not on one hand tell you to purchase only from one country, tell you not to purchase essential oils at all, and on the other hand distill larger quantities of resin and sell the essential oil. This is hypocritical!
I am not telling you to never purchase essential oils. I am telling you to use your essential oils for a purpose only. If you are looking to make your house smell nice or even looking for the medicinal properties of the essential oil, use a few drops only in blends, or better yet take a piece of resin which is not so highly concentrated , and burn it. You will get the same effect and you will be using so much less. It takes 1 pound of resin to make approximately 15 milliliters of essential oil. I know from firsthand experience. I have distilled resins and this is basically what I found it yielded
Also: Buyer Beware. When you purchase resin please make sure you get them from a reliable source. It MUST have the full Latin name on the label. If you are getting it from a bin, then the seller has to know which resin and grade it is. If he does not- do NOT purchase it. Unfortunately some merchants put stones and plastic mixed in the resin and you have no idea if you are getting the real deal. When you get it home and try to burn it this is the only way you will know. If you make an herbal infusion thinking you have the “real deal” and you do not realize this, you can get a major rash on your skin.
OK end of rant.
Some of my information is taken from my dear friends at Boswellness - you can read all about block chains in their full article here:
Robin B. Kessler, CCA
I am a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist who specializes in Seniors and Hospice. My passion is also these resins and support those who keep the sustainability of the all plants.