Sujanagar union of Baralekha upazila under Moulvibazar district is the birthplace of Bangladeshi Agar-Agar wood and Agar oil. The Agar entrepreneurs of Sujanagar claim to be the first producers of the product in this subcontinent. Their relatives migrated to Assam (eastern province of India) and started Agar business there. The Mumbai Agar is a product of the migrant Bangladeshi people. According to what they claim, the Agar business in Bangladesh started its journey from Sujanagar about 400 years ago. About 150 factories are producing the fully export-oriented Agar wood and Agar oil at Sujanagar. They are producing premium (high-priced) products by using all local raw materials and machinery.Currently, they earn about Tk 500-750 million a year by exporting Agar products.It is now mentioned as an industry in any government document.
Though the history of Agar industry in Bangladesh dates about 400 years back, Indian literature denotes the existence of Agar wood 2,000 years ago. It is an integral part of religious rituals of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Taos, Sufis etc. In addition, it is widely used in Ayurveda, Unani, Arabic, Tibetan, Sufi and Chinese medicinal practices. The followers of Buddha believe that by burning Agar-wood and taking in its aroma one can reach the ultimate stage of meditation. It has found a mention in the 8th century tombs of Shahin Muslims. Agar trees grow in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand. The leading Agar exporting countries are China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, India, the UK, Laos and Myanmar.
There are few reserves of Agar trees in government-owned forests in Bangladesh. However, some dishonest officials of the Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) often sell these trees on auction to middlemen. They do not have any Agar factories. They do not produce any Agar-wood or Agar oil. The middlemen then again sell the Agar trees to the local or foreign Agar producers. And thus the Agar-oil producers have to pay higher prices. If the government ensures transparency of the auction, the real entrepreneurs will be benefited and the industry will grow further.
According to a study of the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), the world needs 4.5 million kilograms of Agar-wood per year and that is only the official figure. Unofficially, the world demands around six million kilograms per year. However, the producing countries could meet only 35 per cent of the demand led by India, the main producer, contributing only 12 per cent, Indonesia in the second place with seven per cent and Malaysia third with only six per cent. Thailand, Laos and Cambodia come after Malaysia. According to the study, 80 countries use gaharu or Agar products with the Middle East being the biggest importer.
Only 35 per cent of the world’s demand is met by all Agar product producing countries. So there is a gap of 65 per cent between the demand and the supply of Agar products. So it is one of the overpriced products in the world. Bangladesh has a favourable climate for large-scale Agar plantation. We have skilled manpower and indigenous technology to produce the finest Agar wood and Agar oil. A big potential market is there.
So the government should facilitate large-scale Agar production in Bangladesh. It can be the first Bangladeshi premium products to earn the highest amount of foreign currencies, if the necessary policy support is available from the government. Any public-private joint initiative help tap the enormous export potential of it. If Bangladesh does not take any initiative right now, other countries like Brunei, Malaysia etc may seize the opportunity to capture such a big market.