Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Teak fever in Solomon Islands

Me go long Solomon Islands lookem wat now one fella projek long ACIAR doem. In other words, in October 2014, I travelled to Solomon Islands to participate in an end-of-project review of an ACIAR forestry project on teak production. While I may not have picked up the local lingo in 5 days, I certainly learnt a lot about forestry in the Pacific.

Before setting off, my supervisor mentioned that I would be visiting some beautiful sites. I certainly was not disappointed. From the air, spectacular coral reefs and blue lagoons stretched for miles, interspersed by lush green islands and mountain ranges. From our boat we could see tropical fish darting between coral as we passed villages on stilts by the shore. They send me on all the tough assignments!

Village by the water (Photo: Jack Koci/ACIAR).

The beautiful scenery was one thing, the humidity was another. Stepping off the boat in Munda in Western Province, I was immediately struck by the intense heat and humidity. Originally from far northern Queensland, I thought I would be used to the so-called ‘balmy conditions.’ I was wrong. Within minutes I was dripping with sweat. It seemed the one year I had spent in Canberra had turned me into a dreaded southerner.

Travelling to field sites on Kolombangara Island (left) and seeking shelter from the storm 2 minutes later (right) (Photo: Jack Koci/ACIAR).

In Solomon Islands, individuals and communities have been establishing high-value timber (predominantly teak) plantings over the past 15–20 years. Like many other tree species, teak should first be planted at a high density, to ensure the stems grow straight and tall. As competition for nutrients, water and light increases; the plantings should gradually be thinned (removed) to allow the best performing trees to ‘fatten up’ and reach full market potential. Unfortunately, many growers have been reluctant to thin, believing that they will lose money as each tree has a potentially high value. As a result, the plantings have become overstocked, with growth reduced to a minimum and poor market potential.

Smallholder teak plantation on Rendova Island (Photo: Jack Koci/ACIAR).

The project we were reviewing sought to find a planting system that would allow growers to plant high-value timbers, such as teak, in a way that would encourage thinning and that would also lead to better management of the land. This in turn, would allow for income generation throughout the life of the plantation. This was achieved by alternately planting teak with flueggea (Flueggea flexuosa), a species that is widely used for housing and construction. Growers can profit from thinning flueggea, while the teak is left to grow out. Food and cash crops can be grown between the trees, ensuring the land is productive throughout the 20–25 year rotation.


Inner (left – with author) and outer (right) parts of a Nelder wheel, Kolambangera Island. The Nelder wheel is an experimental layout in which trees are planted where linear spokes intersect with the concentric arcs in a wheel design. Using this system it is possible to plant trees at many different densities (Photo: Jack Koci/ACIAR).

A particular strength of the project has been the capacity it has built. People who will benefit in the medium to long term include: Vaeno Vigulu, John Allwright Fellow, who is soon to complete his PhD at Griffith University; Rural Training Centre staff using the agroforestry booklet and demonstration trials in teaching; the local growers making inventories of their plantations; and the forestry officers involved in extension and dissemination.

I left Solomon Islands with a serious case of teak fever and an ever-increasing interest in the forestry sector. Forestry, when performed sustainably and managed appropriately, isn’t the devastating extractive industry it’s often made out to be. Rather, it plays a critical role in supporting rural livelihoods and provides considerable ecosystem services.  ACIAR might make a forester out of me yet!

By Jack Koci, Research Officer, ACIAR.

More information about ACIAR forestry projects in Solomon Islands:
Enhancing economic opportunities offered by community and smallholder forestry in Solomon Islands

Development of market mechanism for teak and other high-value timber in the Western Province of Solomon Islands 

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