Known as the “impenetrable forest” for its dense and difficult to access biodiversity, the Gran Chaco forms part of the Atlantic Forest, which is the second largest forest in Latin America. Its unusual soil and climate combination have created an unique biodiversity with some native plants that don’t exist endemically anywhere else in the world. One example is the Guaiacwood tree or Bulnesia sarmientoi. Unfortunately, the Gran Chaco Forest is also one of the most rapidly deforested areas of the world. Paraguay has regulations and policies that are helping to minimize deforestation, still much of the forest has already been cut and continues to be cut down for cattle grazing and other agricultural production.
Currently, more than 100,000 kg of guaiacwood oil is produced and exported from Paraguay each year, primarily for the fragrance and perfume industries. With such high volumes of export and little oversight, it is hard to believe much of it is being done legally or sustainably. This is why we have been working closely in Paraguay for several years now with a trusted and transparent partner that has been setting up a first-of-its-kind ethical sourcing operation for Guaiacwood oil. Our sourcing partner is the only company certified by the Union for Ethical Biotrade (UEBT) at the highest levels to ensure that harvesting and sourcing is truly done sustainably. Our partner has spent more than three years gathering proper permits, networking, and building a distillery to responsibly bring Guaiacwood essential oil to the world.
Why source Guaiacwood at all from the Gran Chaco Forest? Sustainable sourcing through well managed forests actually helps to not only preserve but regenerate forested lands! As our partner responsibly manages and maintains these forested areas—as well as compensates the local landowners for the value of the wood used for Guaiacwood essential oil—these landowners are motivated to keep their forests thriving and honor their value.
What is Guaiacwood?
Locally, the trees or harvested wood of Guaiacwood is known as “palo santo.” However, Palo Santo Bursera graveolens is separate and distinct from Guaiacwood Bulnesia sarmientoi. Although the oils have some similarities, they are distinct in their different chemistries and aroma but most importantly in their ability to be harvested sustainably and ethically. Palo Santo or Bursera graveolens has had a long and troubled history in terms of sustainability and illegal harvesting. However, Guaiacwood (Bulnesia sarmientoi) harvesting and production can be sustainably sourced which is why we deliberately worked with our partner to provide this essential oil.
Guaiacwood trees grow in clusters, and the wood density of the tree is among the most dense in the world. The wood is so dense, in fact, that it sinks in water and one log can burn all through the night. These are not the only unique features of Guaiacwood. Due to the high oil content and initial oxidation, when cut, the wood turns a deep, rich hue of blue for a time before fading.
How does it work?
Our sourcing partner currently manages nearly 13,000 acres for local landowners who have all committed to not converting their forest land. Through the production of this pure essential oil, we’re able to compensate the landowners more than they would earn from any land conversion activity. Our partner’s aim is to reach 50,000 acres of sustainably managed forest area by 2025.
Their land management program for Guaiacwood includes carefully monitoring the rate of harvest which is on average only 2-3 trees per acre every 20 years! When a Guaiacwood tree is harvested, the roots of the tree are always left for regeneration, which is also sometimes known as coppicing. Coppicing can actually extend the health and longevity of a tree. As an added benefit, the new, young growths also sequester more carbon as they regenerate than an old tree that has plateaued in growth.
Only wood from the trunks or branches of these resilient trees is used for distillation, and leftover sawdust fuels a biomass boiler, further adding to our environmentally friendly process. Guaiacwood is a difficult, complicated oil to produce for a number of reasons. Its density requires that it be ground into sawdust or chips far finer than your average wood oil to distill. And after distillation, if the essential oil is left at room temperature it becomes semi-solid. This is why doTERRA Guaiacwood comes in a base of Fractionated Coconut Oil, which allows the oil to be delivered at a consistency that will easily pour from your bottle.
During the years of preparation to make this oil available, our sourcing partner identified several key needs of the local Guaiacwood harvesters. First, because the harvesting region is extremely remote—approximately eight hours by car from the nearest city—the workers had few to no resources during the days to weeks they spent harvesting. They lived off of jerky and similar food, building makeshift tents from branches and tarps or sleeping in hammocks. They weren’t treating the water they drank and had no true shelter from the elements. In response, our sourcing partner funded the creation of air-conditioned living units. Ensuring these units, made by converting shipping containers, were temperature regulated was extremely important as it regularly reaches well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, they are outfitted with a washer and dryer, rainwater collection system, and refrigeration so they can keep fresh food.
Our harvesters also earn higher wages and have their travel expenses paid to visit their families more regularly. Our sourcing partner provides trainings on safe drinking water and proper working gear—gloves, boots, goggles, etc.—and best safety practices.
The Guaiacwood distillery is located near El Cerrito School. El Cerrito is a vocational boarding school for teenagers focused on developing trade skills and agricultural product development. It is managed by Fundacion Paraguaya, whom the doTERRA Healing Hands Foundation has worked with in the past in Petitgrain sourcing areas. Each student creates their own personal business plan and focuses their studies on the areas where they have the most interest—agriculture, hospitality, or other. El Cerrito has its own organic garden, which feeds everyone who attends and sells its excess produce locally. Everyone who attends graduates with their high school degree as well as specialized vocational training from the school. Our sourcing partner has committed to donating 1% of all Paraguayan-derived revenues to El Cerrito School.