Frankincense is one of the mainstays of Hellenic worship. Orphism dictates it as primary incense offering for many of the Gods and it's mentioned in many ancient writings as a sacrifice. The rocky Cal Madow mountains of Somaliland, a self-declared autonomous republic in Somalia's northwest, are one of the few homes internationally to wild frankincense trees. One of the species located in the area is endemic and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Currently the trade is facing a crisis: interest in the natural product is rising at such a rate that trees cannot regenerate fast enough.

Frankincense is still very much used in religious ceremonies, but it is no longer only reserved for honoring deities. Multimillionaire markets such as the French perfume business count the tree fragrance among their top components. While local people in Somaliland have harvested frankincense for millenniums, the current rhythm to meet the global appetite for essential oils leaves few options for sustainability - and these ancestral forests cannot replenish fast enough to survive the current overharvesting. Ahmed Ibrahim Awale, president of the Somaliland Biodiversity Foundation, told DW:

"Frankincense has been harvested in a sustainable manner for millions of years, but the rise in the global demand has completely changed it. [No longer being able to harvest sustainably] will be a disaster not only for the people of Somaliland, but for the whole world. It will be the end of unique species and of a millenarian heritage."

In the last six years, the price per kilogram of raw frankincense has shot up from one to around 6 US-dollars. With Somaliland suffering one of the worst droughts across the Horn of Africa region and with a rate of rural poverty of around 40 percent, it isn't hard to imagine why local people keep jeopardizing their forests and their lives. But while this might work for local people in the short-term, it could be disastrous in the coming years.

Harvesting in an unsustainable way means making a higher number of cuts per tree to extract as much sap as possible and tapping the trees year-round rather than seasonally. These practices weaken the trees, impede them from recovering and, ultimately, means they end up dying.

To avoid a point of no return, Awale said the first main goal is to raise awareness among the affected communities. With this aim environmental groups are working together with governmental agents and local communities, not only to inform but also to find much-needed solutions. Each local community should be able to impose their own regulations and decide on their own means of sustainability, but for this, they need support:

"The communities understand the gravity of the situation, but it is very complicated to find solutions due mainly to economic problems. We encourage our government and development agencies to intervene in the area and help those communities finding a sustainable way of livelihood."

The Gods who were offered frankincense within Hellenismos in the Orphic tradition: Ares; Boreas; Corybas; the Kourêtes; Dikaiosynê; Dike; Fortune; Helios (+ manna); Hēphaistos (+ manna); Herakles; Hermes; Mnemosyne; the Muses; Notos; Ouranos; Tethys; Themis; the Titans; Zephyros; and Zeus (+ manna).