Monday, 3 March 2014

Who says forestry is men’s domain?

While reviewing the forestry component of ACIAR’s Pacific Agribusiness Research and Development Initiative (PARDI) program in the Pacific recently, I was acutely aware of the substantial contributions that women make to forestry research and the development of related business enterprises.

(L-R) Prof Helen Wallace, Elektra Grant and Votausi
Mackenzie-Reur with a jar of the new tamarind  chutney
This research has been very well led by Professor Helen Wallace of the University of the Sunshine Coast. Helen had previously led an ACIAR project researching improved processing of canarium nuts in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. Under the current PARDI program, Helen leads two forestry projects: one researching enhanced processing and markets for canarium nuts in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, and the other developing processing and markets for tamarind products in Vanuatu. As with other PARDI research, this work has a strong focus on markets with grassroots benefits to smallholder producers.

Helen has also mentored a young researcher at her university, Ms Elektra Grant. Elektra has been spending a lot of time in the field in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands working with the farmers and private-sector partners. She participated in survey research on canarium stakeholders and used some of this work for her Honours thesis at University of the Sunshine Coast. Helen recognised Elektra’s potential and gave her the lead role in conducting research on tamarind processing techniques in the Vanuatu tamarind project.

Votausi Mackenzie-Reur runs Lapita Cafe in Port Vila, Vanuatu. She is well known in the Pacific as a good example of a Ni-Vanuatu woman who is both a successful entrepreneur and a great role model for other women. Votausi has been collaborating with Helen in ACIAR projects since 2008 and says that the current PARDI projects on canarium and tamarind have given her the confidence to invest further in growing her business.
Packets of processed canarium products from Votausi’s Lapita Cafe

Votausi is currently establishing a collection and processing centre in Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo, to enable her to buy more canarium and tamarind from local farmers. She says the results from ACIAR’s tamarind market research gave her confidence to develop Vanuatu Tamarind Chutney as a new line of product. Helen says that Votausi also mentors other women, and was happy to share her insights on establishing small businesses with women in Solomon Islands when she went there on a study tour organised by the project.

Clearly these skilled and committed women all play different but significant roles in ACIAR’s forestry projects. More importantly, through sharing their knowledge and experiences they are benefiting the communities they work with.

By Tony Bartlett, ACIAR's Forestry research program manager

More information:
PARDI (and see PARDI's own website)
Canarium projects:
FST/2010/013 and PARDI's PRA.2010.03 Developing markets and products for the Papua New Guinea canarium nut industry
FST/2006/048 Processing of Canarium indicum nuts: adapting and refining techniques to benefit farmers in the South Pacific
Tamarind project:
PRA.2012.03 Improving processing and marketing to improve the tamarind value chain in Vanuatu

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