Solomons' close to having timber audit system
Timber exporters and importers are developing a system for auditing sawn timber to ensure it is sustainable and legally sourced.
There are hopes an independent organisation can be set up to ensure timber production in Solomon Islands is sustainable and legal.
Logging has long been the mainstay of the Solomons' economy but for many years raw logs have been shipped out, sometimes illegally, by foreign owned and run companies.
The export market for sawn timber from Solomons' community operators has been developing in recent years but consumers' are increasingly demanding to know whether or not it is sourced from legally and sustainably managed forests.
The New Zealand Imported Tropical Timber Group has had a number of contacts with Solomons' operators this year, and the Group's Malcolm Scott told Don Wiseman about their work to develop a timber audit system to satsify this requirement.
MALCOLM SCOTT: The idea has long been established that the timber supply has to be legal and the Solomon Islands government has for the last year really tightened up significantly on permitting of logging operations and of military operations. So what we're attempting to do now is to bolt on to a basic legal framework a system whereby the timber is third-party verified which means that we can identify and track timber from the source right through to the export container.
DON WISEMAN: Who would be responsible for selecting the third party?
MS: That's a very good point and obviously it cannot be the producers and it cannot be the government. It needs to be a function that is respected by both the producers and the government, and to that end we are very fortunate to have the Farmer Group, which is a market access advisor funded by Australian Aid and New Zealand Aid. Farmer will assist in the setting up of such an organisation with both Solomon Island and international involvement.
DW: So a very significant amount of timber that's actually imported from Solomon Islands into New Zealand every year. Would you see, under this arrangement, that that would increase significantly?
MS: I don't know that it's going to increase, but if you flip the coin around, it will allow the timber industry to continue. The point being that without what I call a warrant of fitness the Solomon Islands production is going to be prohibited from access to international markets because it doesn't have the credentials. It has to have a warrant of fitness to enter, if you like, the world-wide wood basket, so with third-party verification market access will be guaranteed, and that in itself will maintain the presence of timbers such as Vitex and Quila into the New Zealand market and the Australian market and, potentially, other world markets.
DW: Let's just get back to this question of sustainability. Just how do you sustainable harvest wood from a forest?
MS: Well you have to measure the growth of timber and generally it's assessed on an incremental basis that if a tree grows 10 percent per annum then, rough and dirty, you can take an equivalent amount out. Like, it might be two or three trees per hectare equivalent to the incremental growth per annum. So, this is part of the technical management that has to go in to the forest planning -- to the management planning of the forestry unit.
DW: You're talking about community harvesters. Ideally something like that sort of harvesting you've just talked about would require helicopters to lift the trees out wouldn't it, rather than crashing down a whole lot to remove those few trees?
MS: Minimum impact logging is very desirable and in fact it is done in the Solomon Islands, but there aren't the resources to do that. The bulk of logging in the Solomons in the foreseeable future will be very fragmented small-scale logging. These people are very skilled in the bush, they know their bush, the land is owned by small groups who are fiercely protective of their land zone and their resource, so they will fell only 10 or 15 trees a year in the main, the income being used for school fees and, say, a medical expense or a new boat, so it's very small scale. But effectively there is something in the order of a seven or eight US dollar millions export business which is very important to the Solomon Islands and part of our approach that is the NZITTG is to protect that minute industry up there that together makes up quite an important income for individual communities.
DW: OK, you had conservationists on your trip last week. What did they think?
MS: Yes we did, we're very fortunate to have Grant Rosamund, the forests campaigner for Greenpeace, and I think Grant was very protective of the principles of Greenpeace, but at the same time with his very considerable practical knowledge of the Solomons, overall we have their support for what we do. Greenpeace have identified strongly with particular social values, but they respect the economic realities and, on balance, I think Greenpeace are very supportive of the work we've been doing and are still with us as long as we protect those principles.
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