In a tradition dating to Biblical times, men rise at dawn in the rugged Cal Madow mountains of Somaliland in the Horn of Africa to scale rocky outcrops in search of the prized sap of wild frankincense trees. When dried and burned, the sap produces a fragrant smoke which perfumes churches and mosques around the world. But now these last intact wild frankincense forests on Earth are under threat as prices have shot up in recent years with the global appetite for essential oils. Overharvesting has led to the trees dying off faster than they can replenish, putting the ancient resin trade at risk.
(Frankincense) is something that is literally given by God to humanity, so if we don’t preserve it, if we don’t take care of it, if we don’t look after it, we will lose that.
Shukri Ismail, Somaliland’s minister of environment and rural development
In the last six years, prices for raw frankincense have shot up from around $1 per kilogram to $5 to $7. The rise in demand is the result of stronger marketing in the essential oils industry, which labels frankincense as the “King of Essential Oils”. Now over-tapping is destroying the trees across the Cal Madow, as tappers try to extract as much sap as possible and make too many cuts per tree. They also tap the trees year-round rather than seasonally, preventing the trees from recovering.