Muscat: A substantial decline in tree density, up to 85 per cent over the last 20 years, and a decrease in production of frankincense from 10 kg to 3.3 kg per tree have rung alarm bells regarding changes in the ecosystem of Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve.
Ali bin Salem Bait Said, as part of his research on frankincense or the Boswellia sacra Flueck population at the Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve in Dhofar mountains, investigated the real situation of the trees and analysed protection policies to maintain the sustainable production of frankincense.
The study results showed that frankincense trees covered 50 per cent of the protected area with an average density of 2.3 tree/ha. A substantial decline in tree density, by as much as 85 per cent, has been noted over the last 20 years. Average production of frankincense in the southern valleys of the reserve was 3.3 kg/year, compared with 10 kg/year before.
“Grazing is the main source of income for locals, followed by government jobs and marine fisheries. On the other hand, the percentage of locals tapping frankincense is only 17. As many as 34 per cent of locals believe that the trees have deteriorated as a result of drought, while 25 per cent attributed it to faulty tapping methods and frequent over-tapping. Only nine per cent singled out overgrazing as a cause for frankincense degradation,” Bait Said said.
Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve is the biggest nature reserve in the Sultanate. It covers an area of 4,500 square kilometres, i.e. some 1.5 per cent of the size of Oman. Jabal Samhan was announced as a nature reserve in 1997. It has been classified under the second category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s classification as a national park primarily managed for the protection of its ecosystem. The nature reserve is characterised by its wild and coastal landscape. It includes greatly endangered animals such as the Arabian Leopard, and other species such as the frankincense tree.
Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve is one of the main areas that produces frankincense in the Sultanate, particularly Hujri, one of the best types of Omani frankincense.
“The legislation on conservation of biological diversity has not reduced degradation of frankincense trees. Apart from poor implementation, the legislation was mostly supervisory or regulatory in nature, with limited use as an economic instrument,” the researcher said.
He added: “The increasing number of residents adjacent to the reserve, economic development, and government support for industries associated with frankincense, represent major causes of the trees’ deterioration. Sustainability scenario is considered to be the best option to maintain frankincense trees and their habitats.”
Bait Said suggested a number of policies to reduce the degradation of frankincense trees and their habitats, including the revision of nature reserves, the law on conservation of biodiversity, enforcement of range land law and livestock management, establishment of a database of communities and their flocks, their sources of income, their craft products, and the environmental services provided by the reserve.
The development of a plan of action to conserve frankincense trees and to give them priority is of prime importance.