Sandalwood (Osyris lanceolata) is indigenous to tropical areas of Africa and Asia.
In Kenya, it grows naturally in drylands of Baringo, Samburu, Isiolo, Taita-Taveta, Makueni, Kitui, Machakos and Kajiado counties.
In Tanzania, it is distributed in the Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions, which neighbour Kajiado.
The tree grows in regions with an altitude of between 900 to 2,250 metres above sea level and annual rainfalls of between 600mm and 1,600mm.
Sandalwood is one of the most important trees in the world because of its excellent medicinal benefits.
It has been part of the alternative ayurvedic medicine in India for ages. All parts of the tree are useful in production of medicine.
The roots, seeds, bark and trunk contain chemicals that have been proven to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and even anti-cancer properties.
Oils extracted from the seed can help treat hypertension and can be used as a pain reliever. It can treat wounds, boils, rheumatism and arthritis.
The plant can also treat diarrhoea, gout and even leprosy. In cases of poisoning, it has properties that induce vomiting, thus removing the toxin from the system.
Oil from the tree is also used in cosmetic products such as incense, perfumes and aftershave. It can even be used as a shampoo for those who suffer from dandruff.
A litre of sandalwood oil can fetch as much as Sh250,000 in the international market.
The global demand for sandalwood products is driving the tree to be harvested into extinction.
Sandalwood has been listed under endangered species in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. International trade is tightly controlled.
Both Tanzania and Kenya, where the tree is in danger of extinction, have banned its export but this has only driven the trade underground.