(Brown, C; FAO, 1997)
Fiji is comprised of around 300 islands with a land area of 18,270 km2. The two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, make up 87% of the total land area. These islands are volcanic in origin, with steep mountain ranges dividing each island and encouraging orographic precipitation patterns. The whole country is subject to cyclones. The eastern sides of the islands, with an annual rainfall in excess of 2,500 mm, support tropical rainforest, while the western portions receive 1,000 - 1,700 mm annually and support a higher proportion of grass and savannah lands. About 51% or 9,350 km2 of Fiji is forested.
The Fijian population totals around 800,000 inhabitants, with 90% of these living on the two main islands. Fiji is characterised by racial diversity, and under the current government regime, some racial tension. In 1994, 54% of the population was estimated to be ethnic Fijians, while 44% was comprised of ethnic Indians. Fiji, compared with the other island countries, is more urbanised and industrialised, with the French territories being probably the only more advanced economies.
The production forest estate comprises 2,670 km2 of indigenous forest, and 1,450 km2 of plantation forest (although this figure includes 400 km2 of coconut). Around 650 km2 of the indigenous production forest had been logged to 1990. Another 6,300 km2 of forest is protected and other non-commercial forest. Since 1967, an estimated 1,200 km2 of forest have been converted to non-forest landuses. This has resulted in a marked change in the distribution of forest types. The drier lowland forests of the main islands have borne the brunt of this deforestation.
Fiji has had the most aggressive plantation establishment policy of any of the Pacific Islands. The main softwood plantation species grown is Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea), mainly under the management of the Fiji Pine Commission. The main hardwood species are mahogany and teak managed by the Fiji Forestry Department. Most of the commercial forests, including the plantations, are located in the dry western ends of the main islands.
Fiji is a producer and exporter of woodchips, sawn timber and plywood/veneer. Total roundwood production in Fiji is presently approaching 550,000 m3. Roundwood production more than doubled between 1986 and 1989, with pulpwood and sawn timber production the most important components. As with most other aspects of its forest industry, Fiji's processing industries are more sophisticated than other Pacific Islands. Presently, Fiji's production of sawn timber is estimated at around 150,000 m3, with around half of this exported. Almost two-thirds of the production is sourced from the natural forests. Plywood/veneer production is a smaller, but still significant industry. Sandalwood remains a viable production option.
The forestry future for Fiji is promising. The country has invested strongly and early in plantation reforestation which will provide for an expanding harvest over the coming twenty years. The World Bank (1990) quotes a study by Cameron et al which forecasts Fiji's total log production to reach 1,148,000 m3 by 2010, and 1,800,000 m3 by 2020. This will be a significant expansion on current production, and given Fiji's determination to process domestically, a significant source of foreign exchange revenue.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Papua New Guinea is the second largest country of the South Pacific behind Australia. Its land area of 452,000 km2 is comprised of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and a cluster of small island groups. Most of the country is mountainous with the highest point, Mt Wilhelm, an impressive 4,500 metres. There are also however, extensive lowland plains in basins of the major river systems.
The total area of natural forest in Papua New Guinea is estimated (PNG Forest Authority: 1995) to be 360,000 km2 (78% of the total land area). However, similarly to the Solomon Islands, the potentially operable estate is considerably smaller at around 126,000 km2, and the presently commercially viable forest area is estimated at 88,000 km2. The World Bank (1990) quoted an estimated annual sustained yield for the PNG forests at between 3.6 (with a 50 year cutting cycle) and 6 million m3. The latest PNG Forest Authority estimate is 4.9 million m3 with a 35 year cutting cycle.
At present official statistics indicate the PNG forest products industry is operating in the vicinity of sustainable yield management. Log exports in 1994 totalled 3.1 million m3, accounting for almost 99% of PNG's forest products export revenues. No clear figure exists for additional harvest, but the World Bank (1990) quotes a projection of domestic sawn timber and plywood consumption for 1993 at 500,000 m3. This projection appears significantly beyond PNG's processing potential, and even if it were achieved, at a conversion rate of 35%, the harvest remains below the PNG Forest Authority best estimate for sustainable yield. The major questions regarding sustainability are as to the accuracy of this best estimate and the extent of illegal or unrecorded logging in PNG.
Plantation establishment in PNG has been sporadic, dependent on availability of funds, supervisory personnel and land. However, by 1992 PNG's plantation estate totalled around 43,000 hectares, with the Forest Authority managing around 18,000 hectares, provincial departments a further 10,000 hectares, and the private sector making up the remaining 15,000 hectares. Eucalyptus and Pine species together make up roughly half of the estate with Araucaria spp. and Tectonis grandis the other major species. The major difficulty in continuing plantation expansion is land availability, particularly since almost all the available Government land has been planted. Presently 4,000 hectares of plantations are targeted for establishment each year.
The forestry industry in PNG has significant potential for further processing development. Log exports completely dominate forestry exports (PNG is the world's second largest exporter of tropical logs). Despite a number of discussions with multi-national forestry companies, the Independent newspaper (12/4/96) reported no off-shore processing investment has come to fruition. The most recent available description of Papua New Guinea's existing processing capacity dates to 1992, when the PNG Forest Authority reported 49 fixed sawmills with a total capacity of 207,000 m3 and an output of around 160,000 m3. As well as a number of mobile sawmills (estimated 600) there was also one plywood/veneer mill utilising plantation grown Araucaria, one woodchip mill, and almost 30 furniture factories.
Papua New Guinea's forestry future is likely to remain controversial. The Government is caught between the country's cashflow needs and its stated desire to manage and protect the forest resource. For example, PNG Forest Authority (1995):
The economic circumstances also resulted in some pressures on the Forest Authority to return to the era of granting logging permits irrespective of whether projects were sustainable.
While PNG's topography guarantees it will retain a high proportion of forest cover, it, like the Solomons, is not reaping a substantial portion of the value of its resource. Insufficient resources are being reinvested to ensure ongoing sustainability, and particularly, the development of processing facilities. While a major decline in the forestry sector is presently less imminent than in the Solomons, PNG needs to look very closely at its development strategies and ensure it maximises returns from resource liquidation. In the present regional wood supply climate it is, however, questionable whether Papua New Guinea can profitably develop a substantive wood processing industry.
The Solomon Islands is an archipelago comprising seven major islands and a host of smaller ones. The total land area is 27,990 km2. Much like the topography of Vanuatu, the islands generally comprise a narrow coastal strip rising to steep mountainous country. Most of the Solomon Islands experiences high rainfall (3,000 mm/year) and is vulnerable to periodic cyclone damage. The population of the Solomons is presently in excess of 350,000, and with one of the fastest growth rates in the world is projected to continue to grow rapidly. Agricultural pressures associated with population expansion are likely to place further pressure on both existing forests and reforestation efforts on agriculturally viable land. Agricultural pressures associated with population expansion are already placing pressure on existing forests, less so on reforestation efforts. This is particularly apparent on the island of Malaita, especially in north Malaita where population pressures are already high. The Solomon Islands' population is dominated by the native Melanesians who comprise 94% of inhabitants.
The Solomon Islands is extensively forested with 88% of the country under forest cover. More than 80% of the country is under high rainforest with the remaining 8% mainly swamp forest, including mangroves, and upland forests. The rainforest has generally fewer species than surrounding countries, with around 60 which reach large sizes. The major species harvested are Pometia pinnata, Calophyllum spp., and a mixture of whitewoods. Despite the extensive forest cover, a very large proportion of the forests are presently non-commercial given the steepness and inaccessibility of location. Almost 22,000 km2 of forest can effectively be designated as primarily protection forest, but this is in no way its legal status. Oliver (1992) identifies a commercially exploitable natural forest area of only 2,540 km2, of which 1,300 km2 had been logged by 1990. The more recent Solomon Islands National Forest Resource Inventory (1995) (SINFRA) is more optimistic. It estimates 5,985 km2 of potentially merchantable forest (defined as below 400 metres and on slope of less than 300) though this estimate is reduced to 2,782 km2 after deducting areas of ecological significance for environmental protection, etc. The area of degraded forest is estimated at 2,560 km2.
The Solomon Islands has operated a plantation establishment programme for almost 30 years. Annual plantation establishment has averaged around 1,000 hectares/year with the current plantation estate standing at around 29,000 hectares. Most of the older plantings are in indigenous species, particularly Campnosperma brevitola, while the more recent plantings have been dominated by exotic species particularly mahogany and eucalypt species. The initial plantings were planned to supply the domestic market, more recently the focus has turned toward the export market. In 1989 a joint venture plantation establishment project between the Solomon Islands Government and the Commonwealth Development Corporation began planting a planned 13,500 hectare estate for pulpwood and sawlog production on Kolombara Island. The major problem in forestry in the Solomon Islands is land ownership. The 30,000 hectares of land that is now under plantation was all planted on Government owned land for this reason. Some of it, including the Commonwealth Development Corporation project, has now been given back to local communities.
The Solomon Islands processing industry is not well developed. The sawmilling sector has significant potential for development. Presently, around 30,000 m3 of sawn timber is exported annually, while log exports totalled 592,000 m3 in 1994 (FAO). The Solomon Islands report to the 1996 Heads of Forestry meeting reports a 1995 harvest in excess of 700,000 m3 and a 1996 harvest on target to comfortably exceed 800,000 m3. The report suggests a sustainable harvest level of 325,000 m3, with an average harvest volume of 50 m3/ha. Earlier estimates of harvest volumes in the Solomon Islands suggested yields were closer to 30 m3/ha. Taking a mid-point with the natural forests yielding 40 m3/ha, this suggests an area in excess of 200 km2 (approaching one-tenth of SINFRA's recommended harvestable area estimate) is being cut over annually. The Solomon Islands is the world's sixth largest exporter of tropical hardwood logs (though exporting less than one-thirtieth of Malaysia's total in 1993). In 1988 there were 34 fixed site sawmills licensed by the Solomon Islands Government, though there are some 700 sawmills operating in the Solomon Islands if all the portable chainsaw mills are included. Probably only half these are working at any one time due to lack of spare parts, no maintenance, etc. No panel products have been produced since a veneer mill closed in the early 1980s.
The future for the Solomon Islands forestry industry seems patchy at best. Although the non-commercial upland areas will ensure that the Islands retain a good proportion of forest cover, literature from the early 1990s made a general prediction that most of the commercial natural forest would likely be logged out by the turn of the century. While at current estimates of resource, this prediction seems a little premature, there appears to be little doubt that harvest levels will need to curtail quite sharply from recent levels to avoid this logged-out scenario during the first decade or so of the 21st century. A mini-boom in plantation establishment in the late 1970s means that there will be several years around the turn of the century when plantation forests will be able to maintain similar wood output to the present. However, from very early next century the forest industry will, of necessity, begin to decline in the face of dwindling log supplies. From an industry point of view, this decline may be mitigated somewhat if a global or regional supply shortage forces log prices sufficiently high to make the harvesting of less accessible sites economic. Nonetheless, the basic story at present appears to be that of a resource being harvested too quickly and unsustainably with few of the benefits being re-invested to ensure the long term viability of the forest industry. Given this situation, there is unlikely to be significant investment in upgrading processing capacity, so log exports can be expected to continue at their current level unless Government intervenes directly.