On the island of Aneityum, Southern Vanuatu, the forest echoes with the sound of chainsaws and falling trees. A community-based company is busy milling pine that New Zealand helped plant as far back as the 1970s, as part of a project to counter soil erosion.
The Aneityum Project has turned out to be a model example of sustainable community engagement; not only is it environmentally sound, but it promotes local economic development, since the timber is highly marketable and snapped up as soon as it reaches Port Vila. This sustainably grown local timber would otherwise have to be imported.
Aneityum has a population of about 900 and its main source of income is tourism (cruise ships) followed by small scale logging of these pine plantations. It is best known for nearby Mystery Island, one of the main tourist attractions for the cruise ship industry.
In the past, nothing grew on the hills, but the pines have allowed the soil to build up and the reforestation has provided shelter for other types of plants to grow. The pine largely regenerates itself, and takes minimal effort to look after. Currently the hills are covered by about 800 hectares of pine ready for harvesting, and the Aneityum Forest Timber Community Project (AFTCP) has said it would like to expand the pine forest.
Acting Director of Forestry, Hannington Tate says the project started as a New Zealand initiative against soil erosion and was a pilot for ‘industrial plantation’ at the time.
“The Vanuatu Department of Forestry is proud of the harvest that is taking place and sees the project as an icon for NZ support in the forestry sector. The trees re-generate naturally. What the Aneityum people need now is support in best management practices (e.g. in identifying good trees and thinning) so that they get good quality trees for timber,” says Hannington.
The AFTCP has six board members and six staff (a caretaker/manager, a scaler, a supervisor, one mill operator, and two driver/mechanics for mending equipment). In the long term, the project will benefit the community. In the short term, the board is focusing on getting new equipment and documenting a business plan.
New Zealand has been involved with the project on several levels since the 1970s. In 1994, NZ funded four-wheeled motor bikes and provided a kiwi volunteer. Volunteer Services Abroad has had volunteers involved in the soil erosion control part of the project. In 2008 New Zealand provided two short term training awards (STTA) at Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua for two people connected to Aneityum Forestry: Tony Keith (National Diploma in Forest Management) and Kerry Peter (Certificate in Solid Wood Manufacture). Broken circular saw blades are now being fixed by a trained mechanic who is a former NZ STTA student.
The New Zealand Aid Programme is continuing to support forestry in Vanuatu by providing training to 25 DOF staff over three years and supporting the establishment of community forestry nurseries on 12 islands, including Aneityum, to grow indigenous, timber (eg sandalwood), nut and fruit trees.