Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Fijian women take the lead on cocoveneer

ACIAR is funding innovative research and training to help Fijian scientists conduct research on how to produce high-quality veneer products from ‘senile’ coconut stems. On this International Day of Rural Women we would like to highlight this important project that is building the capacity of Fijian women and enhancing livelihoods in the South Pacific. In many Pacific Island countries there are vast areas of coconut palms  that are too old to produce fruit, which provide little use to farmers. However with ACIAR’s help, Fijian locals are developing a better understanding of how to turn unused resources into a higher value, profitable product.

Eric Littee (QDAFF) , with Sainiana (measuring veneer), Temo and Elenoa from Fiji Department of Forestry.
Photo: Tony Bartlett.

In August this year, Australian researchers began training Fijian project staff on how to use new spindle-less lathes and are now conducting research trials on how to produce high-quality cocowood veneer. ACIAR  supported the acquisition of a spindle-less lathe for the Fijian Department of Forestry’s Timber Utilisation Division complex at Nasinu.  Australian researchers from the Univeristy ofTasmania and Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry worked together to identify, purchase and modify the equipment needed for research. Lathes purchased from Malaysia were modified to include safety features that complied with Australian requirements.

A spindle-less lathe works on the basis that the log is rotated against a peeling knife. Pressure is applied by multiple rollers positioned against the log surface. The aim is to produce veneers of consistent thickness with a smooth surface. This is relatively straight forward when working with small diameter, eucalypt logs which have a more uniform density. Challenges arise when working with coconut stems as these have very different anatomical properties to trees, and are very dense on the outside but are less dense in the centre.

The Fijian co-ordinator Ms Moana Masau pulling coconut veneer sheets from the clipping machine.
Photo: Tony Bartlett.
Fiji’s Conservator of Forests, Mr Samuela Lagataki, says that these days about half of recruits coming into the Department of Forestry are women. When ACIAR visited the Timber Utilisation Division’s facilities to watch some of the first processing of coconut veneer, the local women were very interested and active in the research. As soon as the veneer sheets started to come off the lathe, the women enthusiastically lined up to learn how to measure and record the thickness of the sheets.  

Project team with the new Spindle-less lathe and trial peeling of coconut stems.
Photo: Greg Nolan, UTas.
The project’s co-ordinator in Fiji is Ms Moana Masau,  who is employed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). With the support of ACIAR, Moana is now half way through a Graduate Certificate in Timber Processing and Building, conducted by distance education with the University of Tasmania. Moana has an active role in trialling the first veneer processing using the new spindleless lathe.

This ACIAR project has another 2 years to run and there is still plenty more research to be done in the area of cocoveneer production. Over the next 2 years these young Fijian women and the rest of the project team will play a leading role in developing an innovative high-value product that will enhance livelihoods and options for landowners to revitialise the land occupied by these senile coconut plantations.

Producing coconut veneer on spindle-less lathe. Photo: Tony Bartlett.

Senile coconut plantation. Photo: Tony Bartlett. 

By Tony Bartlett, ACIAR Research Program Manager for Forestry


  1. Wow, Excellent post. This article is really very interesting and effective. I think its must be helpful for us. Thanks for sharing your informative.
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    1. The Solomon Islands is eagerly waiting for this technology to become available.
      - Dan Etherington for the Coconut Technology Centre

  2. This type of assistance is vital if we are to not only help our near neighbors and engender closer ties with them but also further develop economic benefits for them and us.
    Harmony Ball


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