Today’s Wise Man is a Gift Short: Frankincense Production Declining at Dramatic Rate

It’s hard being a wise man. If the three wise men were to deliver their gifts to the boy king in 2011 they’d have an awfully hard time coming by some frankincense. A new report shows that frankincense production of the fragrant resin has been declining for several years and that the boswellia papyrifera tree, which produces frankincense, could be nearing extinction in the next 50-years.

USA Today reports that as many as 7% of boswellia papyrifera trees, which produce frankincense in northern Ethiopia, are dying every year. Frankincense seeds are also dying before they grow into saplings.

Dutch and Ethiopian researchers released a report today in the Journal of Applied Ecology saying that boswellia papyrifera trees are declining so dramatically that frankincense production could be cut in half over the next 15 years and in 50 years, 90% of the trees could be gone.

Frans Bongers of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said:

“Current management of Boswellia populations is clearly unsustainable. Our models show that within 50 years, populations of Boswellia will be decimated, and the declining populations mean frankincense production is doomed. This is a rather alarming message for the incense industry and conservation organizations.”

CBS reports that frankincense is harvested by making a small cut in the bark of the tree every two or three weeks during the dry season. A resin emerges to heal the cut which is harvested by frankincense farmers. Bongers says that the harvesting isn’t the cause of the tree’s decline.

Bongers said:

“Frankincense extraction is unlikely to be the main cause of population decline, which is likely to be caused by burning, grazing and attack by the longhorn beetle, which lays its eggs under the bark of the tree.”

USA Today reports that Europe imports about 400 tons of the fragrant resin each year. The frankincense is used to make perfumes and traditional medicines in China, while the rest is sent to churches around the world.