The demand for sandalwood saplings has increased after the state government relaxed rules on ownership of the trees in 2008.
Earlier, the tree belonged to the state government, while the new rules give ownership of the tree to the farmer. With cultivation picking up over the last eight years due to its profitability, the forest department is finding it difficult to provide saplings to farmers.
According to forest department statistics, 81,000 seedlings were given out this fiscal year (till December 2015) against a demand for 10 lakh seedlings. Last financial year, 2.35 lakh seedlings were distributed and 70,000 in 2013-14.
Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Evaluation) K N Murthy said farmers in Kolar, Chitradurga, Bengaluru Rural, Dharwad, Mysuru, Koppal are demanding more sandalwood.
The cultivation here has gone up tenfold. Since cultivation is increasing, farmers are now applying for gun licences to save the trees from poachers. They are also investing in electric fences, camera traps and additional security to protect the precious crop, which fetches around Rs 8,000 a kg in the market.
Besides financial returns, sandalwood cultivation gives farmers many advantages.
They are no longer mandated to sell the tree to the government and can sell it to the forest department, handloom corporation and Karnataka Soaps and Detergents.
Seedlings are easily available from forest department nurseries from Rs 3-5, depending upon size of the bag. As a result, some farmers have given up other crops and have switched to sandalwood as there is less work and assured sale after 10 years.
Some are growing sandalwood with other crops like vegetables in Kolar, mango in Mysuru and Bengaluru Rural and pomegranates in Koppal, Chitradurga and Dharwad.
Over the last seven years, 1,648 hectares come under sandalwood plantation and the forest department has distributed over 7.76 lakh saplings.
The department has also undertaken to chainlink fencing of sandalwood trees on 637 hectares along with gap plantation, where sandalwood is planted in gaps between other species, in the last four years across Karnataka.
Under the Sirichandana Vana Yojana scheme, sandalwood cultivation in 2014-15 was on 186 hectares, in 2013-14 it covered 60 hectares, 290 hectares came under sandalwood in 2012-13 and 25 hectares were given to the trees in 2011-12. Under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) scheme, in 2009-10, 690 hectares were covered against 200 hectares in 2010-11.
There is also a growing demand for sandalwood from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Punjab. The department is unable to meet the increasing demand from farmers and other states.