A ton of red sanders timber costs about Rs 1.5 crore in the international markets, as it’s highly demanded for making musical instruments and furniture.

Pushpa posterScreengrab
Flix Environment Thursday, December 16, 2021 - 20:11

Pushpa: The Rise, starring Allu Arjun and Rashmika Mandanna in the lead roles and Fahad Faasil as the antagonist, is all set to hit the theatres on December 17. The pan India movie that revolves around the smuggling of red sandalwood trees from the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, is ready to tap the markets of the Hindi heartland, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, along with the Telugu states. It’s releasing in multiple languages and there’s great interest around the film — and around red sandalwood, which is grown only in Eastern Ghats, especially in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra.

Red sandalwood — also known as red sanders, saunders wood and ruby red — is a highly regulated wood that is red in colour and has medicinal properties. There’s a high demand for the wood in the national and international markets. However, the legal export of this wood is strictly governed. There’s a huge smuggling network therefore to take the wood out of Andhra Pradesh, which is threatening the extinction of the species that’s endemic to the Eastern Ghats. In fact, the number of red sanders trees in Andhra has gone down by 50% over two decades, as earlier reported in The News Minute.

So why do these trees grow only in the Eastern Ghats? What are the conditions that make the Rayalaseema region suitable for red sanders? Experts point to the soil in the area — its water content, acidity, aeration and the availability of nutrients. ‘Edaphic conditions’ in other words. “Soil in this region is unique,” says N Nageswara Rao, an Indian Forest Services officer from Tirupati, who is the Chief Conservator of Forests for Andhra. “You don't find a similar composition anywhere else, and this kind of soil is making it feasible for red sandalwood to grow in this region,” he says.

“For the growth of red sanders, soil needs to have a proportionate amount of Quartz, which is adequately available in this region,” he explains, adding that the climatic conditions and the environment, along with the soil, make it the right place for red sanders’ growth.

Historically, this is the only region where red sanders grow in abundance — and that, experts say, shows that the edaphic conditions have remained the same over the centuries. “Since Hiuen Tsang’s times (7th Century AD), it is known that red sanders were being smuggled from this region to other countries, which means, the rare red sandalwood was available here since then,” Nageswara Rao says, referring to the Chinese Buddhist Monk who travelled extensively in India.

According to a research paper titled ‘Red Sanders in Rayalaseema Region of Andhra Pradesh: Importance to Commercial & Medicinal Value’, red sandalwood approximately occupies about 5160 km2 of the forest landscape of southern Andhra Pradesh, and a few sporadic areas of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. V Ramabrahmam from Yogi Vemana University, Kadapa, explains in the paper, “It is a light-demanding moderate sized tree growing up to 8 m tall with a trunk 50–150 cm diameter. It is fast-growing when young, reaching 5 m tall in three years even on degraded soils. It is not frost tolerant, being killed by temperatures of -1°C but stays well at semi-arid climatic conditions.”

According to reports, this rare plant species is listed as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), due to its over exploitation. A ton of red sanders timber costs about Rs 1.5 crore in the international markets, as it’s highly demanded for making musical instruments and furniture, apart from its use in colouring foodstuff and medicinal preparations.

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