The Red Sandalwood Smuggling Trade: Insights into India’s Illicit Export

The Red Sandalwood Smuggling Trade

Investigating Red Sandalwood Smuggling: Unveiling India’s Illicit Trade

Between 2016 and 2020, India witnessed a staggering surge in the illegal export of red sandalwood, commonly known as Red Sanders, totaling over 1.9 crore kilos (or 19,000 tonnes). While this issue might seem distant to many, its prominence was underscored by the popular movie “Pushpa: The Rise,” shedding light on the reality of red sandalwood smuggling.

Incentives for Smuggling


Demand and Utility:

Red sandalwood, endemic to Andhra Pradesh, India, holds immense value due to its versatile applications. Highly sought after for its use in luxury furniture and musical instruments, particularly in markets like Japan, red sandalwood boasts a rosy unscented heartwood rich in rare earth elements and medicinal properties. From treating ailments such as diabetes and gastric disorders to being used in the production of natural dyes, red sandalwood’s utility spans across various industries.

Challenges and Decline:

Despite its significance, the growth of red sanders presents a considerable challenge. These deciduous trees grow exceptionally slowly, taking anywhere between 25 to 40 years to mature. Compounded by confusing regulations and the pervasive presence of smugglers, the population of red sanders has dwindled by an alarming 50–80% over the years.


Incentives for Smuggling:

One of the primary drivers behind red sandalwood smuggling lies in the vast price differential between domestic and international markets. While the commodity fetches exorbitant prices abroad, legal growers often find themselves at a disadvantage due to stringent regulations and licensing complexities, compelling them to resort to illicit channels.

Unveiling India's Illicit Trade


Global Impact:

The ramifications of India’s red sandalwood exports extend globally, with China emerging as the largest importer, receiving over 13,000 tonnes of the illicitly sourced wood. The illicit trade network operates seamlessly, exploiting legal loopholes to traffic red sandalwood across borders.

Addressing the issue of red sandalwood smuggling demands a multifaceted approach. Firstly, streamlining the regulatory framework and simplifying the licensing process for legal growers is essential to incentivize compliance. Simultaneously, bolstering enforcement measures and cracking down on smuggling networks is imperative to curb the illicit trade.

Furthermore, fostering international cooperation and leveraging platforms such as the Co


nvention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) can aid in regulating and monitoring the global trade of red sandalwood effectively.


Tackling red sandalwood smuggling requires concerted efforts from stakeholders at both national and international levels. By addressing the root causes of illicit trade and implementing stringent enforcement mechanisms, India can safeguard its precious natural resources while fostering sustainable practices in the red sandalwood industry.


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