New research has found that many Solomon Islands smallholder teak growers are missing out on opportunities to sell their timber for premium prices due to an absence of information and support.
Funded by the Australian Centre for Agricultural Research (ACIAR) as part of the Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI), the unique study of teak farming in the region has shown that there is strong demand for Solomon Islands teak in Australia and New Zealand. However, many growers do not know what is required to achieve ‘premium’ grading.
The study involved detailed investigations of the Solomon Islands teak industry and its people, how the industry operates and the quality of timber produced, together with a review of teak buyer habits across the South Pacific and Australia.
According to PARDI researcher and project leader, Dr Tim Blumfield from Griffith University Australia, teak farming has the potential to provide a sustainable income for many Solomon Islands families and provide a vital injection of money into the local economy, but most growers do not make a good living from their work.
Dr Blumfield’s team has reported that a move towards cooperative marketing and teak value adding is the way forward and that information and training are needed for the emerging industry to reach its potential.
“We are talking about developing an active plantation timber industry which has the potential to produce high-quality and high-value timber. Lack of market access and a general misunderstanding of basic plantation management currently results in low-grade, low-value timber,” said Dr Blumfield.
“There are two fundamental challenges: one is to overcome a lack of infrastructure and gain access to markets, the second is to provide growers with the information and training they need to produce high quality teak.
“If we can do this, we can boost rural incomes and reduce poverty, a significant issue across many of the small island developing States, including Solomon Islands.”
To date, the project has helped local growers assess their plantations and researchers have discussed cooperative harvesting and marketing techniques.
“While many growers are keen to work cooperatively, most of them would struggle with establishment costs for widely-used certification such as the Forest Stewardship Council scheme,” said Dr Blumfield.
“Relatively inexpensive options may be available according to the Pacific Horticultural and Market Access Program (PHAMA) which is now working with teak growers to consider legality assurance. This may be enough to gain access to the Australian market under an agreement recently signed between Solomon Islands and Australian governments.”
The PARDI project is planning a harvesting and on-site primary processing trial in Solomon Islands in the coming months. Timber will be stored and dried on-site at a nominated plantation to make transport from the plantation and to the nearest port or wharf easier. As processed timber, growers will not pay to ship waste as with the commonly-exported round logs from the region, and the product will be of a higher value.