x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Endangered scents

The smell of frankincense has wafted across the Middle East for decades. But are such aromatic days numbered?

Long before frankincense was an essential element of the Christmas story, its pleasant aroma was ubiquitous across the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.

Egyptian queens, Lebanese traders and residents of the lost city of Ubar were all fans of the gum harvested from the Boswellia family of trees. In use for more than 5,000 years old, it's one of the world's most ancient scents.

Today, it's also one of the most endangered.

Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands said this week that careless stewardship and environmental risk factors for the Boswellia genus could bring a precipitous decline in frankincense yields over the next 15 or so years. By 2060, just 10 per cent of today's Boswellia forests could still be in frankincense production.

Ecologists who carried out the study say the problem rests with mismanagement of the trees, and popularity of the scent.

"In places like Oman and Yemen, it is being cut down systematically," study co-author Frans Bongers told the BBC. "The declining populations mean frankincense production is doomed."

We certainly hope Professor Bongers has it wrong. Nothing induces nostalgia like a sweet smell from the past. We hope the Boswellia, and its fragrance, is around for many more generations to enjoy.