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Govt Invests $500K in Forestry Science and Research

Trees, forests and sustainable forestry can help the world recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and fight against impending environmental problems like climate change and biodiversity loss.
For many years, Fiji's native forests have served as the backbone of its timber economy. Today, the concern is whether that the stocking in our native forests will gradually decrease over the next few decades.
However, the Government is adamant about reversing this cycle through the Ministry of Forestry’s massive landscape restoration programme aimed at greening Fiji and addressing our social, economic and environmental protection needs both for current and future generations.
This is through the 30 Million Trees in 15 Years initiative, which has resulted in more than 15 million trees and mangroves being planted since its inception in 2019.
In recent decades, there has been growing interest in the contribution of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) to livelihoods, development and poverty alleviation among the rural populace.  
The Ministry is today very serious about diversifying into other timber species and especially NTFPs which have a high market value and can be harvested within a short span of time.
The Forestry Research Division (FRD) is making a paradigm shift on its research focus and priorities involving a shift from timber-focused management to far greater focus on protection, conservation and multiple-use management that gives attention to a wide range of goods and services. In order to do this, FRD is committed to being an agent of change and transforming the forestry sector.
To see this vision materialise, the Ministry received an increase in the capital budget of the Research & Development of Wood and Non-Wood Species in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
The $500,000 allocation for research into developing new forest products that can increase economic opportunities for resource owners, cottage industries and the sector is a bonus. This is an increase of $485,000, or more than 400%.
Prime Minister and Minister for Forestry, Honourable Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, said the $500,000 investment by Government was to strengthen science and research into developing new forest products that could increase economic opportunities for resource owners, cottage industries and the sector. 
"This funding will support in-depth studies of identified tree species, trial tests, specialised equipment, as well as collaboration and consultation. As part of the Ministry’s diversification programme and associated value chains for the forestry sector, the Ministry has identified six potentially high-value non-timber species to research on," Mr Bainimarama said.

Research and Development of Wood and Non-Wood Species

This increase in budget is expected to strengthen the Ministry’s collaboration with stakeholders to include market and scientific research to ensure Fiji gets our end-to-end business processes right in order to harness the full potential of the forestry sector.
The Forestry Research Division’s vision is to provide the knowledge base for a dynamic and sustainable forestry sector that addresses climate change, biodiversity and environmental issues and, most importantly, to greatly enhance the forestry sector's contribution to Fiji’s economic growth.
To identify ways and means of sustaining the forestry industry, the Ministry will work closely with its partners, academic and scientific institutions, stakeholders and civil society organisations interested in conservation and community development.
The Ministry will study lesser-known species (LKS) this fiscal year in addition to expanding its research into NTFPs. NTFPs are any product or service other than timber that is produced in forests. The NTFPs of immediate focus identified for research include agarwood, bamboo, beach mahogany/dilo, candlenut/sikeci, coconut for the production of veneer and sandalwood.
Permanent Secretary for Forestry, Pene Baleinabuli, said the Government would provide increased support for community-based management of natural forests and the establishment of community plantations.
Community forestry ventures with timber, wood fibre and non-timber products will continue to be promoted as an effective means of increasing local participation in forestry enterprises to the economic and social benefit of the local community.

Dilo, Sikeci and Bamboo
Except for coconut, the rest of the NTFPs of immediate focus are high-value and short-rotation species.
Bamboo, dilo and sikeci can be harvested in three years (seeds only for dilo and sikeci).
According to research, a litre of dilo and sikeci oils is selling for $300 to $400. They are used mostly for scented oils, although they can be used for a broader range of products, including as part of traditional medicine for skin care.
Both dilo and sikeci can produce fruits for an average of 60 years.
Mr Baleinabuli said sikeci, in particular, can be inter-cropped with other agricultural products like dalo and cassava, promoting climate smart agriculture and these trees can be part of our carbon trade.
A classic example is that of businessmanAbhay Chaudhary, who is on a mission to invest in candlenut trees to manufacture products in order to assist local communities, particularly young people, with economic prospects for a sustainable future.
And Mr Chaudhary's pilot candlenut farm project with the landowners of Telau in Tailevu, is raising eyebrows of potential with landowners participating in carbon trading by planting more trees that they will be able to conserve and sustainably manage.
Bamboo is a fast growing carbon sequestration and storing group of giant grass species. It is also used for a wide range of products, from edibles to furniture, home finishing, and home construction, including multi-storey buildings. Bamboo is also described as the modern steel for construction. The Ministry is researching on this too as part of the forestry sector’s increased offering to forest-based communities and to diversify the focus on timber extraction especially from Fiji’s native forests.


The Ministry is also strengthening its research into agarwood, which is similar to sandalwood but of higher value and can be harvested in seven to 12 years.
The Ministry continues to conduct research on the tree species Agarwood or Alpasita. This is after public interest in the scientifically named Aquilaria, introduced into Fiji from South East Asia about a decade ago.
Considered as the ‘Wood of the Gods’, this tree species has been mentioned from time immemorial in history and religious books, including the Bible.
With a surge of interest from Fijians claiming that this tree species has a lot of monetary value when sold to overseas markets after the extraction of sweet-smelling oil, the Ministry has also embarked on research trials to determine this. Much research is still required to ensure resin production in the heartwood of agarwood trees, which are odourless when grown initially. This species is similar to sandalwood but requires intervention at around 5 to 7 years, to induce resin production in the heartwood.  This resin is what fetches high values from agarwood trees. 
The additional funding will ensure research into the chemical, physical and biological methods of inducing artificial infection for agarwood enhancement/production. Without this research, agarwood trees will not produce resin that contains the highly prized sweet smelling oil that agarwood is valued for.

Coconuts to veneer and plywood

Fiji currently imports 99.9 percent of veneer and plywood, so our locally produced coconut veneer/plywood will substitute for the imports. Senile coconut trees can be converted into veneer and plywood.
The Ministry is in the final phases of research on this together with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and hopes to roll out production shortly.
Farmers who own senile coconut trees, currently estimated to be around 60,000 hectares, will be among the happiest, as the trees will no longer take up valuable space or rot, allowing the rhinoceros beetle to thrive.

As of 2020, the Ministry has developed a database on sandalwood and continues to reach out to farmers to have an appreciation of the existing resources and to also consider the next phase in the development of this species.
Sandalwood can be harvested within 15 to 20 years. The Ministry’s database suggests that the existing number of trees and expected volume of sandalwood oil could generate over $600M in the next 10 years. To date, there are 141,511 standing sandalwood trees in a total area of 353.4225 hectares around the country.
Sandalwood can be a medium to long-term investment. Farmers could plant the tree together with other short-term crops. With Government support to re-establish this valuable resource, the future looks bright for sandalwood as the foundation has been established for a lucrative comeback! 


The socioeconomic benefits of forests, including the role of NFWPs for generating income, food and nutritional security, basic human needs, and improving quality of life were documented by FAO in the State of World’s Forest 2014 report (SOFO 2014).
"Part of the intent is to diversify forestry's product offering and help absorb the pressure on our native forests. Most of these NTFPs will be left 'hanging' and therefore wasted if we don't conduct deeper research on them with the view towards converting them into large-scale commercial use," Mr Bailenabuli said.
"I want to thank the Ministry of Economy for the increased research funding. We will reach out to other Ministries and research institutions for ongoing or new collaboration in research, including both market and scientific research, to ensure we get our end-to-end business process properly refined," he added.
Research and science are vital to inform policy that will modernise and transform the forest sector.


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