Vila Times

Seremiah told regional forum that sandalwood is a highly valued international product

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The Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries, and Biosecurity (MALFFB), and Acting Minister of Sports, Matai Seremiah has described sandalwood trees as an important export product that is highly valued in the international marketplace and which has boost Vanuatu work on increasing the volume and improves its quality to remain internationally competitive.
Minister Seremiah made these important remarks as he officiated the opening of a Sandalwood Regional forum that brought together over seventy delegates from the Pacific, South East Asia and the USA to Vanuatu to converge in this three-day forum to build links between scientists, researchers, industries and famers of sandalwood.
Recounting on the history of sandalwood, the Minister of Forestry said Sandalwood has been harvested and traded by landowners for centuries, which saw the exports to China in the late 1820s and continued for thirty years, after this period, the sandalwood trade continued sporadically, most likely as population’s recovered and small commercial volumes became available.
He added that a modest commercial industry has been operating consistently since the 1970’s, with a current annual quota of 80 tonnes – Sandalwood is used mainly in India, Taiwan and Hong Kong, with smaller markets in Europe, Japan and North America.
“The extraction and export of sandalwood was the first international industry in Vanuatu, way before copra production and was driven primarily by Australian merchants.
“Recognizing its important economic value, Vanuatu Government through the Department of Forests put sandalwood among the five priority species.
“Currently, Government and private promotion of sandalwood planting has led to a rise in smallholder plantings and some large scale plantations,” he highlighted.
The Minister would like to see further new plantings and greater emphasis needs to be put in improving management practices (siviculture) to improve the quality of sandalwood and retain high-value, niche market.
“Sandalwood trees are highly valued for their fragrant heartwood oils, and are recognized as one of the most precious non-timber forest products.
“The oils have been used for centuries for religious and customary purposes, and are now used internationally for cosmetics, aromatherapy, scenting of soaps, perfumery and medicines,” he further elaborated.
Minister Seremiah emphasized that there is a need for Vanuatu to continue focus on genetic improvement of Vanuatu sandalwood and develop appropriate and improved sandalwood planting models that can be adopted by the farmers.
He called for conduct of analysis and hardwood development studies on planted trees for main geographical areas in Vanuatp and to undertake market research to improve value of the planted resource and better understanding of marketable products and requirements.
He again called for removing of market barriers and better regulation of harvesting and processing; and better defining of the sustainability of sandalwood resource and allocations system that is best suited for the future of the Vanuatu Sandalwood Industry.
Introducing the two day program of the forum, Project Team Leader of Asia Funded Project working in Vanuatu and other Pacific sandalwood countries, Dr Tony Page related a success story of a young East Timorese girl who grew her own seedling of more than 100,000 without disease and of top quality; this he said reflects the spirit and value that people have on sandalwood as a high value product.
Senior Research Forest Officer, Toufau Kalsakau said the forum which brought together commercial operators, researchers, policy makers, practitioners and farmers to exchange ideas and research related to the valuable and fragant sandalwood tree extend to field visit today to be carried out in sandalwood plantations such as in Sandal Valley, summit Estate, research plots, and Sandwood Distillery to observe how sandalwood is being process into oil.
Ms Kalsakau said the forum will extend to the island of Tanna where the participants will have a chance to visit some of the bigger sandalwood plantations and continue with their program.
International participants from Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Indonesia, Australia, Hawaii, USA and Vanuatu are attending the regional forum.
The sandalwood trade is regulated and managed by the Vanuatu Department of Forestry through a licensee system that generates revenue from sandalwood heartwood to both Government and farmers.
The event is hosted by the Vanuatu Department of Forests and jointly organised with the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Queensland, Australia.
This Regional Sandalwood Forum builds on current research for development conducted with the generous support of ACIAR (Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research) across several countries in the Asia-Pacific. Financial support for delegates from key producer countries has been provided by ACIAR, USC & The University of Western Australia. Source: MALFFB