A project to preserve a centuries-old piece of culture in Oman

A project to preserve a centuries-old piece of culture in Oman

To conserve and sustain one of Oman’s most precious and valuable natural resources, more than 2,000 frankincense trees have been planted over the past 12 months in the country’s southern Dhofar region.

The effort, as part of an initiative between the Environment Society of Oman (ESO) and cosmetics company Neal’s Yard Remedies, also involves educating frankincense harvesters and growers on how to plant and care for their trees.

The project, which began in 2009, aims at preserving the centuries-old methods of caring for the trees, which, in addition to putting Oman on maps of both the ancient and modern worlds, has been an integral source of income for the Dhofari people for millennia.

So far, 2,200 trees have been planted as part of these efforts. 1,500 of these were planted in 2019, although plantation efforts only began in November last year, with a further 700 seedlings put into the soil in 2020, despite the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest step of this initiative saw both organisations reach out to farmers in the communities of Sadah and Thumrait, where nurseries have been set up to house more than 1,000 frankincense seedlings.

“Frankincense trees have also played important environmental roles: they grow on marginal land not suitable for ordinary agriculture, protect the soil from erosion, produce good biomass and provide shade,” says a statement from ESO.

“In the past few years and after close monitoring of the growth patterns of frankincense trees, researchers noticed that the tapping has been too harsh, often leading to the degradation of the tree beyond repair,” adds the organisation.

Several key government and private agencies are involved in ESO’s frankincense conservation efforts, including the Office of Adviser of His Majesty for the Conservation of the Environment, the Office of the Adviser to H.M the Sultan for Cultural Affairs, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, the Office of the Minister of State and the Governor of Dhofar, and the Environment Authority, while funding for this project is provided, in part, by HSBC.

“Changes in the climate over the past few years might have also had an impact on the growth of frankincense trees. Accordingly, it was important to monitor these two factors and record their impacts on the sustainability of frankincense farming in Dhofar,” ESO went on to say.

“This long-term research project had, in the past, focused on four experimental research locations in the Governorate of Dhofar and aims to determine the right frequency of cutting to produce a good yield without adversely harming the trees,” the organisation explained.

Neal’s Yard Remedies, based out of the UK, rely on quality imports of the frankincense resin – which has the scientific name boswellia sacra – to craft oils that are sold to customers around the world. The company, as part of its commitment to environmental conservation, participates in sustainability efforts alongside non-profits such as ESO in countries from where their raw materials are sourced.

“We are working to mobilise local Omani knowledge in order to help protect frankincense trees and harvest this fragrant gold in ways that are beneficial for the environment,” explains Susan Curtis, the natural health director for Neal’s Yard Remedies. “Oman has proved to be a great example in agricultural sustainability and our partnership with the ESO serves as a stepping stone to implement more environmentally responsible business practices."

“Project Frankincense is our pioneering initiative to propagate, cultivate and care for the sustainable production of frankincense in Oman,” she adds. “There is a positive sustainability movement in Oman, working to support the regeneration of frankincense trees and help protect them from unsustainable practices. We're proud to use the most sustainably sourced frankincense available, that is also distilled locally therefore supporting local collectors and businesses at the same time.”

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