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In Papua New Guinea, forests cover nearly 29 million hectares or sixty-three percent of the country and ninety-seven percent of these forests are held in customary land ownership. Most of the forests are tropical forests, with over 400 species that are utilised for commercial or domestic use.

There is currently about 86,000 hectares of plantations of mostly exotic species but many of the plantations are of poor quality. About eighty percent of the population live in rural areas and they depend heavily on their forests for fuelwood, housing timbers and a variety of non wood forest products. Most rural landowners practice subsistence farming, although there are markets for vegetables and cash crops such as coffee and cocoa. Most of the subsistence farming occurs on land that has been cleared of forest for more than twenty years.

The Papua New Guinea forestry sector has been characterised by a large-scale log export industry for many years. In 2007, PNG was the second largest exporter of tropical hardwood logs in the world, so the forestry sector is very important part of the PNG economy, contributing nearly forty percent of GDP. Due to the customary land tenure system, extensive consultations must take place between the landowners and the PNG Forest Authority before logging, reforestation and plantation development or even research trials can take place on their land. PNG has five major sawmills, but there is very little value adding processing, beyond the production of sawn timber other than with the balsa industry in East New Britain. The harvesting of primary forests, while within the legislated sustainable yield, is considered by most people to have been conducted in an unsustainable manner.

But forestry in PNG includes many other issues other than export logging. A number of NGOs are working with local communities to implement smaller scale sustainable harvesting and processing with mobile sawmills. The PNG Government is a key player among developing countries in the climate change negotiations related to reducing deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). Large areas exist of community owned secondary native forests (recovering from previous logging), PNG’s plantation-based balsa industry produces about eight percent of the world’s supply of balsa and there is widespread use of agroforestry systems by landowners in rural areas. Fire is an emerging issue in parts of PNG and in the 1997-98 drought uncontrolled wildfires burnt into highland areas causing considerable damage to forest ecosystems.

The PNG Government has development planning policies that aim to build a forestry sector that this sustainable and highly profitable and by 2025 aims to have half of the logs produced in the country processed in domestic sawmills and the plantation area increased to 150,000 hectares.

ACIAR’s forestry projects

Papua New Guinea is one of the most important countries within the ACIAR forestry program with the current projects accounting for about twenty percent of the program. ACIAR’s forestry projects promote the development of landholder and community-based plantations and agroforestry systems using high-value and fuelwood species, as well as improved timber processing and the development of processing industries associated with the indigenous galip nut. Recent work has included the assessment and management of secondary tropical forests. New work will focus on enhancing smallholder incomes from balsa plantations.

Improved Management of Tropical Forests

ACIAR’s project on assessment, management and marketing of secondary forests in Papua New Guinea (FST/2004/061), a partnership between the University of Melbourne and the PNG Forest Research Institute, aimed to improve the contribution that secondary forests make to national and local economies by developing appropriate strategies for their management and marketing.

The project undertook a variety of research activities and has achieved some very significant research outcomes. The research included enhancing PNG’s forest inventory permanent sample plots and analytical capacity, developing community based forest assessment and management planning capabilities with four communities and analysing the possible financial outcomes from a range of forest management alternatives. Yield modelling is inherently complex in species rich tropical forests, but this project developed innovative individual-tree growth models that can be used in combination for forests with virtually any species mixture or size structure. These models have been used to calculate changes in merchantable volume and carbon stocks over time using data from the remeasured permanent sample plots.

The research has shown that basal area in most secondary forests is recovering, that above ground woody biomass is recovering at an average sequestration of 1.12 tonne C ha-1yr-1 and it will therefore take about 75 years to return to the pre-harvest carbon stock. PNG forest scientists can now calculate the impacts of different forest management scenarios on carbon sequestration using actual PNG forest inventory data, rather than having to use default values from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports.

The research also has found that community based small scale portable sawmill operations could be profitable if they process about 1000 m3 yr-1 of logs into sawn timber which can be sold within 170 km of the mill provided they don’t need to construct roads. The work undertaken to develop forest management plans for four community forests, together with the available information on carbon sequestration rates and profitability of small sawmill operations provides communities with the ability to decide how to manage their forests sustainably.

Increasing smallholder livelihoods through agroforestry

ACIAR’s suite of projects FST/2004/050 “Value adding to PNG’s agroforestry systems” , FST/2006/088 “Promoting diverse fuelwood production systems in PNG” and FST/2007/078 ” Germplasm development and delivery to underpin a PNG timber industry based on planted forests” are all conducting research that will assist landowners to grow high value timbers and fuelwood on their land, to provide a future resource for the PNG wood processing sector and sustainable supplies of fuelwood for domestic use and sale. These projects have a range of partners in Australia and PNG, including universities, NGOs and local private sector organisations such as the Ok Tedi Development Foundation and Ramu Agricultural Industries.

The agroforestry project aims to foster the adoption of commercial-scale high-value tree growing by landowners of PNG in a small number of pilot regions. The project has defined commercial tree production systems for priority species, assessed landowner decision-making in the context of the candidate tree species and production systems and developed business models and strategies to facilitate adoption. The project has made good progress working with landowners in the Ramu and Markham valleys in Morobe province implementing agroforestry systems utilising teak and Eucalyptus pellita.

The fuelwood project has conducted a very extensive survey of the use and marketing of fuelwood throughout PNG. About 85 percent of surveyed people used firewood and a significant proportion of the users had to travel between 1-3 km to collect their firewood. Trials of potential fuelwood species with coppicing characteristics have been established in different regions and the production of charcoal from different species will be explored.

The germplasm project is focussing on improving the quality and availability of teak seedlings, through seed collections (local and overseas), vegetative propagation and the development of teak seed stands and hub nurseries. It has also conducted Participatory Rural Appraisals in a number of regions to assist local communities to identify the most highly valued local tree species for inclusion in the project along with teak.

Enhancing the Balsa industry in East New Britain

ACIAR’s new project FST/2009/016 “Enhancing the PNG balsa value chain to enhance smallholder livelihoods” is a partnership between the Australian National University, the PNG University of Technology and the University of Natural Resources and Environment as well as a number of private sector companies involved in the balsa industry in East New Britain.

The growing and processing of balsa (Ochroma pyramidale)is an established industry in the East New Britain and the communities in this region are vibrant and lack the social problems that exist in many other parts of the country. PNG is the world’s second largest balsa supplier after Ecuador and exports in 2008 were worth approximately A$4.3 million. There is about 3500 hectares of balsa plantation, grown on a 5-7 year rotation, and quite a lot of this is grown by small landholders. The processing industries are quite sophisticated, with the largest company employing about 2500 people. Processed balsa is used in a number of specialised engineered products such as wind turbine blades and boats, where lightness and strength are required.

The project will begin shortly and will focus on activities along the value chain for smallholder balsa production including:

• Analysing smallholder livelihoods, decision processes and farming systems
• Identifying and facilitating smallholder organisation and communication strategies
• Optimising value recovery in balsa processing, including wood delivery logistics and primary and secondary processing
• Optimising supply of improved germplasm and crop management for smallholders
• Developing enabling systems for the certification of PNG smallholder balsa
• Providing advice on the outlook and options for strengthening the medium to long term global market position of the Papua New Guinea balsa industry.

The research under this project should assist with the expansion of the balsa industry, improved mechanisms for smallholder growers to manage and market their balsa trees and more efficient harvesting and processing of balsa logs, thereby enhancing returns to growers and processors.

Tony Bartlett
Forestry Research Program Manager

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