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31. Vanuatu

Country data

Total land area (thousand ha)


Total forest area 1995 (thousand ha)/% of total land area


Natural forest 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-1995 (thousand ha)/annual change (%)


Population total 1997 (millions)/annual growth rate 1990-95 (%)


Rural population 1997 (%)


GNP per person 1995 in US$


Source of data: FAO - State of the World’s Forest 1999

General information

Vanuatu is a small island, made up of 82 islands, 70 of which are inhabited. Two major islands account for half of the total land area. Customary land represents the vast majority of land holdings. The majority of the rural population live in a subsistence economy. The largest components of the GDP are the agricultural and industrial sectors and tourism. Offshore financial services are also important. The major agricultural commodities are copra, beef, and cocoa.

The Government’s development priorities for the coming years are geared to the rational utilisation of natural resources and the expansion of the cash economy through an increased contribution of the private sector.

The economy is essentially agricultural with about 80% of the population primarily engaged in subsistence farming of food crops such as taro and yams. Agriculture was dominant in export earning accounting for about 85% of the nation’s export income.

Forest resources

A draft National Land Use Plan was compiled during 1998. It recognises that land is Vanuatu’s heritage and the key to its peace and prosperity. The national goal for land use is to develop land resources in a sustainable way for the benefit of all ni-Vanuatu now and in the future.

Forestry is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The Department of Forestry, officially established in January 1980, was recently restructured with the creation of a Forest Research Division and an Extension Forestry Division (responsible for all reforestation, afforestation and small-scale sawmilling programmes). Forestry is quite important to rural communities. It is one of their main sources of cash income. In addition to the commercial forestry operations, the forests provide a wide range of products for the subsistence lifestyle of most ni-Vanuatu.

Almost 75% of the land area is covered by natural vegetation, with around one third covered by forest. However, the quality of natural forests in terms of commercial forestry is low. According to the inventory carried out in 1993, there were a total of 205,000 ha of mid height forest (>20 m tall) and 234,000 ha of low forests. However, only about 20% of the total forest resource is commercially available, owing to the steep slopes, dissected landform, low density and cultural reasons. The National Forest Policy has adopted the sustainable yield of 68,000 m3/year. This means that a greater proportion of the timber resources can be harvested if a combination of mobile sawmills and conventional logging is used. The Policy allocates 70% of the available timber resources to large processing plants and 30% to mobile sawmills.

The tree plantations are dominated by one species, i.e. Cordia alliodora, and range in age from 14 to 22 years. The National Forest Policy sets a target of establishing 20,000 ha of plantations over the next 20 years.

Small scale farmers plant trees, but the number of hectares can not be accurately measured due to the small scale and scattered locations. In 1998 and 1999, the Forestry Department supplied 7,004 seedlings and 9,608 seedlings respectively to small farmers.

As of 1996, the total area under plantation was 20,910 ha, comprised of local supply plantations (1,160 ha); Aneityum pine plantations (890 ha); Ipota industrial plantations (260 ha); IFP research plantations (350 ha); and Melcoffee whitewood plantations (250 ha).


In early 1991, the Government officially requested assistance from FAO to initiate the Forestry Planning Process. A consultant was retained from November 1991 to January 1992 to assist the Government in drafting an NFAP Issues Paper.

This document was then reviewed at the National Round Table convened in early 1992, after which a final draft was to be prepared for consideration by the Cabinet. The study would aim at establishing the groundwork for which partners could provide support to forest and forestry development in Vanuatu. A draft report consisting of three volumes: Executive Summary, Draft Forest Policy Statement, and the Forest Sector and Policy Options was ready in April 1992. It was suggested by the consultant that the document be circulated widely for intensive discussions among partners in Vanuatu, including politicians at the national and provincial levels, to seek input, acceptance, and also commitment for its possible implementation. Due to a political crisis in the government at the time and other matters, further action on the process was suspended. In July 1994, the process was rejuvenated and an issues paper was submitted for consideration by the Council of Ministers. However, since then, the process has not progressed.

A TSS-1 proposal for a “Forestry Sector Study and Implications on Forest Policy for Vanuatu”, intended to keep the momentum for the exercise, was approved and started at end of June 95, with a duration of two and a half months. Another project, “Sustainable Management of Forest Resources”, which is in the pipeline, would contribute significantly to forestry development. The result of the TSS-1 study was a draft National Forest Policy. It was reported that the Department of Forest has been using the draft as a guide toward sustainable forest management in Vanuatu.

The draft was submitted for approval to the Council of Ministers in mid-1997 but, unfortunately, there is no record of their approval. A new Government was formed in March 1998, to which the Department of Forest is submitting the draft for formal ratification.


Article 7(d) of the Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu is the basis for the formulation of the national forest policy, i.e.

“protect the Republic Vanuatu and to safeguard the natural wealth, resources and environment in the interests of the present generation and of future generations”. Therefore, the principal national goal for the forest sector is: to ensure the sustainable management of Vanuatu’s forest to achieve greater social and economic benefits for current and future generations.

The National Forest Policy (NFP) was developed through a wide consultative process in 1996 and 1997. It was endorsed by the Council of Ministers in 1998. The NFP guides the work of the Department of Forests and this provides a clear indication to investors and donors about how the forestry sector will be managed in the country. The policy is grouped into nine main areas and sets out clear policies, objectives and strategies for each area. The roles of various stakeholders are clearly identified, including national and provincial Governments, customary chiefs, landowners and communities, forest industries and NGOs.

The NFP presents a positive vision for the management of the nations’ forest resources. It is stated that “the Government will work co-operatively with the landowners and the forest industries to achieve sustainable forest management and thereby encourage revenue generation for ni-Vanuatu landowners, economic development for the wider community and conservation of the country’s forest biodiversity”.

The NFP identifies a number of issues and constraints affecting the forest sector, which can hamper the achievement of sustainable forest development. There are 38 detailed strategies to address the issues and constraints identified by the NFP. The main issues and constraints are the following:

· out of date legislation;

· land disputes;

· inadequate land use planning;

· lack of forest management plans at the regional level;

· imbalance between utilisation and reforestation/afforestation;

· inadequate resource knowledge;

· weakness of the institutional component;

· non-compliance of the industries with the code of forest harvesting practices; and

· inadequate funding and management of protected areas.

Code of logging practice

A Code of Logging Practice was developed in co-operation with Australian Aid (AusAID) and in consultation with the industry sector. The Code is designed to foster the application of sustainable forest harvest practices. The Code will be a catalyst for upgrading industry standards. The Code was developed in 1995 with the assistance of the Vanuatu Sustainable Forest Utilisation Project. A revised version of the Code was prepared in March 1998 incorporating minor improvements based on experiences gained so far. The amended Forestry Act, 1997 provides a legal basis for preparing and amending the Code and establishing strong penalties for breaches of the Code.

Currently, most of the logging operations do not comply with all the standards contained in the Code, mainly due to lack of skilled workers. Logging planning requires considerable specialist skills. The Machine operators and tree cutters will require considerable retraining. AusAID, under the Vanuatu Sustainable Forest Utilisation Project, has provided significant training over the last five years.

The Forest Department is developing a competency based assessment system to licence forest operators starting in 2000. Specialised training has been provided for the logging planners and logging supervisors, as well as for machine and chainsaw operators. Forest Officers and some NGOs, such as FSP, carried out this training through their Eco-Timber project.

Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) guidelines were developed in 1997 as the follow up to the development of the Code. The RIL produced supporting documents, including the improved silvicultural prescription using variable diameter species cutting limits for selected forest types.

The Forest Department, in collaboration with the Pacific German Forestry Project, is establishing a demonstration site in Santo, the largest island that has the majority of the commercial logging. A similar one was established in Efate in 1997.


Sandalwood (Santalum austro-caledonia) is an important forest product in Vanuatu. It is used for fine carvings or made into incense or oil for perfumes. There is limited information available about the sustainable management of sandalwood. In 1997, the Government introduced new regulations for controlling the harvest and exports of sandalwood. Taiwan was the major buyer of the sandalwood exports from Vanuatu.

The initial trial operation of a sandalwood oil distillery in Vila by a company was conducted in 1999. It is expected that the production of processed sandalwood will be increased in the years 2000 and 2001.

The Department of Forestry has taken the initiative to implement a minimum cutting limit of 15 cm diameter at 50cm up from the ground. This helps young sandalwood trees to grow to maturity for harvesting and increases the proportion of heartwood that has higher oil content. The quantity of sandalwood harvesting is presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Sandalwood harvesting


Quantity (kg)









Biodiversity and conservation

The work on conservation and protected areas was initiated by an ACIAR research project (PN 9020). This project resulted in the establishment of a Forest Conservation Unit within the Department of Forests in 1995. The Unit manages the herbarium, provides information to landowners on conservation and protected areas, collects information on potential forest conservation sites, monitors existing forest protected areas, and promotes post-logging forest regeneration through awareness and permanent plots.

The formal concept of conservation, protected areas, and national parks is very new to Vanuatu; the placing of taboos has been the traditional method used for conserving resources. This has assisted substantially in conserving forests. However, with the current economic drive and deterioration of traditional cultures, these methods of taboos are losing their importance and reducing their effect in conserving the resources, including trees.

The existing conservation reserves in Vanuatu include:

· Kauri Reserve, Erramango (3,205 ha);

· Big Bay Conservation Area, Santo (4,300 ha);

· Loru Protected area, Santo (150 ha); and

· Nagha mo Pineia Area, Malakula (1,056 ha).

In addition to the above, there are a number of conservation areas proposed by landowners, including:

· Middlebush Tanna;

· South-west Malakula;

· East Santo;

· West-coast Santo; and

· Loh, Torres and Efate.

Some of the constraints affecting the implementation of forest conservation programmes, include the lack of resources, lack of effective co-ordination between the various organisations involved in conservation programmes and the inability to implement the National Parks Act.

The development of a Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan is currently underway with assistance from the GEF and SPREP. The planned activities include the establishment of the Biodiversity Conservation Trust Fund and an inter-agency Protected Areas Group to co-ordinate and share information on protected areas.

Marketing and utilisation

The number of mobile sawmills, sometimes called walkabout sawmills, has increased rapidly over the past years. They have very low production capacity and produce moderate quality timber, but they have the significant advantages of employment and income opportunities for local communities and minimum environmental disturbance. However, their uncontrolled use can cause problems. New regulations for controlling the use of mobile sawmills were developed and approved in 1997.

Log exports were banned from 1989 through 1993. The ban was lifted in mid-1993 but re-introduced in May 1994 and still applies to date. The Government will maintain the policy introduced into legislation in 1994 that logs (other than coconut and sandalwood) should be processed domestically. Any export of unprocessed logs will require the approval of the Council of Ministers.

Logging concessionaires were invited to renegotiate timber licenses based on a sustainable level of harvest, and new licenses were granted in 1995 for significantly reduced volumes. The permissible annual cut was 206,500 m3, but the total harvest was only 44,000 m3 in 1994 - less than 29% of the national sustainable yield level. According to the National Forest Inventory, it is estimated that the total area of log-able forest is only about 117,000 ha, and the total forest resource is about 13 million m3. However, only about 20% of the total forest resource would be commercially available, the rest being unsuitable due to steep slopes, dissected landforms, low sawlog volumes, and for cultural reasons.

Collaboration with partners and international conventions

Many donor agencies have been involved in the forestry sector development in the country. They include AusAID, German Technical Co-operation (GTZ), the European Union, New Zealand ODA, FAO and UNDP.

Donors had contributed substantially to carry out forestry activities by providing support of US$ 462,000; this was more than the Government budget of US$ 385,000, in 1999. Donor funded projects in 1999 is presented in Table 2.

The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) was ratified in 1989. The Convention on Biological Diversity was ratified in 1993.

In the year 2000, the European Union supported project entitled “Landowner Extension and Awareness of Reforestation Naturally (LEARN)”. Key activities include plans to develop methods for post-harvest reforestation of natural forest in participation with landowners.

Vanuatu became a member of the Asia Pacific Forestry Commission in August 1999. In addition, the Vanuatu Council of Ministers have approved Vanuatu’s joining the International Tropical Timber Organisation, expectedly in the year 2000. Due to funding constraints and a limited ability to become effectively involved and meet obligations, Vanuatu has had limited involvement in the international discussions on forestry issues such as the IPF/IFF process.

There are some plants that have significant potential for medicinal purposes and historically many plants have been used to cure and prevent diseases. However, these have not been protected from interested companies or countries that may want to use these plants or patent them. There is an urgent need to develop intellectual property rights so that some benefits can be channelled back to the people or the location where these plants originates.

Table 2: Donor funded project in 1999

Project Name


Estimated budget (Vatu)

Vanuatu Sustainable Forest Utilisation Project



Forest Management Project



Kauri Reserve

N. Zealand


Aneityum Erosion Control Project

N. Zealand


Mangaliliu Community Forestry Project

N. Zealand


Biodiversity Mapping and Training Project



Sandalwood Inventory Project

N. Zealand


Genetics Project (SPRIG)





Note: Exchange rate US$ 1 = 130 Vatu

The Department maintains a policy of open co-operation with non-government organisations (NGOs) and collaborates closely with some programmes carried out with NGOs. The NGOs active in the forestry sector include:

· Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific FSP);

· Industrial Development and Economic Alternatives for Sanma (IDEAS);

· National Komunity Development Trust (NKDT);

· Vanuatu Environment Organisation (VEO);

· Vanuatu Rural Development Rural Training Centres Association (VRDTCA); and

· Wan Smol Bag Treatre.

In addition, Customary Chiefs have an important role in maintaining traditional social structures, including consultations concerning logging plans, identification of taboo sites, and dispute resolution.

Landowners will decide how their forest resources are to be managed, and they will be involved in harvesting and planting trees. The forest industry will negotiate with landowners for timber harvesting areas and implement the approved plans.

Focal point
Adam Gerrand
Principal Forest Utilisation Officer
Private Mail Bag 064
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Phone: 678-23071
Fax: 678-25051


If you treat people as they are, they will stay as they are.
But, if you treat them as they ought to be, they will become bigger and better persons.
(Goethe - quoted from John Adair - Effective Motivation)

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