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26. Solomon Islands

Country data

Total land area 1996 (thousand ha)


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


Natural forest 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-95 (thousand ha)


Annual rate of change 1990-95 (%)


Population total 1997 (millions)/Annual rate of change 1995-2000 (%)


Rural population 1997


GNP per person 1995 in US$


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

General information

The Solomon Islands gained its independence from the British Government in 1978. The country’s population is a multi-racial mix with 94% Melanesians, 4% Polynesians, 1.4 Micronesians, 7% Europeans, 2% Chinese and 3% others. The country is composed of many islands with the main chain comprising: Choiseul, Shortlands, Vella de Vella, Renonga, New Georgia group, Russell Islands group, Florida group, Guadalcanal, Isabel, Malaita, San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Outer Islands, and outlying atolls. The country form a mountainous and atoll archipelago stretching over 1,400 km into the Pacific to the south of the British Commonwealth. There are over 300 islands.

The Solomon Islands economy relies heavily on natural resources exports such as timber, fish, copra, palm oil, cocoa, other agriculture products, and gold. The country is struggling to cope with lack of domestic capital, lack of infrastructure, difficult transport and communication logistics, low literacy rate, rapid population growth and deliberating internal ethnic tensions. The combination of improved timber prices and the reduction of log supplies from Malaysia and Indonesia in 1990, resulted in a dramatic upsurge of logging activities in the Solomons. The Government is undertaking a massive reform programme aiming to increase efficiency in the public service and in the management of economy.

About 88% of the total land area of the Solomons is under customary ownership. The majority of the rural population rely on forests to supply many of their needs: timber, poles, rattan, building materials, fruits, medicines, oils, honey, nuts, leaves, firewood, etc. The forest is central to the lives of many Solomon Islanders and needs to be conserved if their present way of life is to continue.

The forest resources are of prime importance to the economy. Direct forestry paid employment, rivals agriculture as the largest employer, with an estimated 2,700 people employed in the forest industries.

Forest resources

The Solomon Islands has around 2.4 million ha of natural forest (85% of the total land area) and almost all are in custom ownership; but only about 10% is considered suitable for commercial exploitation. The non-commercial areas are situated on steeply sloping land or scattered across many small islands and are presently not economically feasible to log.

The interim results of the recent natural forest inventory indicate that the total amount of harvestable wood is approximately 13 million m3, which at current logging rates would be exhausted within 16 years. Reducing harvesting to sustainable levels and improving logging practices are two major issues which need to be tackled. But, recently there is added concern over the high population growth and pressure may be exerted on land and forests, 9% of which have been degraded due to agricultural activities, swidden subsistence farming, logging, and damaged by natural disasters such as cyclones.

Where necessary to protect a water catchment area, the Minister may declare any are as a forest reserve. This power allow for restriction of the rights of owners to affect the values of the land as a catchment. Public land whether freehold or leased may be declared to be a State Forest with the consequences that there is security of tenure for forestry developments such as state owned plantations. Similarly state forest reservation can be used to protect important conservation values.

At present, there are 91 logging licenses of which 19 are operating. These provide 50% of the country’s export revenue earnings. The largest of these are foreign owned, providing capital and expertise, but also resulting in a significant share of profits offshore. There are also more than 50 smaller licenses, each cut only a small amount of timber, generate cash at local level and supply timber primarily for local uses. Rapid population increase and the desire to build permanent housing construction resulted in the increasing demand for timber is constantly growing.

Over the next several years the cost of timber extraction will rise because the remaining resources will be increasingly difficult to access. The current harvesting rate is about double of the long-term sustainable rate.

Policy and planning

British ODA provided technical assistance for the preparation of the Policy Formulation and Strategic Development Plan. A planning expert was recruited for two years starting in April 1994. The exercise aimed at integrating the various past and on-going projects - e.g. national forest inventory, timber control unit, extension forestry programme (supported by New Zealand, British ODA, and the European Union), forest plantations programmes (supported by AIDAB) - into a development plan for sound, long-term and sustainable use management and development of forest resources. The Government terminated the NFAP in October 1995, and then the Forest Plantation Inventory Project and the Timber Control Unit Project.

A National Environmental Management Strategy was prepared in 1991. Forestry issues, as well as raising public awareness of the important role of the forestry sector, were considered major priorities.

In 1979, most “Timber Rights” were given to logging companies in the alienated lands. Since 87% of the land is under customary ownership, the logging companies have to acquire the “Timber Rights on Customary Land. Companies which have been carrying out logging operations and establishing plantations in the Solomon Islands are from New Zealand, the United Kingdom, several European countries, Korea, and Japan.

In early 1995, when the new Government took over, one of its policies was to privatise all Government plantations.

There are 70 registered Non-Government Agencies in the country under the umbrella of the Development Services Exchange, but only six are engaged in forestry sector development. They are quite active in assisting resource owners in land use planning and development, and they also provide some training in timber grading, surveying, sawmilling, and marketing.

Representatives of NGOs from the Solomon Islands participated at a meeting of foresters and non-government organisations (NGOs) from four countries: PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji. The meeting was organised in Fiji in September 1995, to discuss forestry projects and plan how they could work better together. The NGOs’ philosophy focuses on the resource owners as a target group. At the meeting, the NGOs’ presentations were grouped into:

· Ensuring fair return, especially monetary;

· Owners having effective control of their forests;

· Reducing the adverse environmental impacts;

· Importance of working with resource owners, Governmental agencies, and other NGOs.

In the Solomon Islands, the SIDT (Solomon Island Development Trust) is running two projects i.e. the Eco-Forestry Unit, which concentrates on teaching chainsaw-milling and forest management, and the Conservation in Development Project, which is developing eco-tourism and Ngali nut oil production.

The National Co-ordinating Unit has promoted the Strategic Planning process and established liaisons with representatives of the forestry sector, NGOs and the donor community. Relevant forest sector information has been gathered and stored and the main forestry issues have been written up into an “Issues Paper”. Several studies have been commissioned and a number of proposals have been made for forest sector initiatives.


A national forestry conference was held in late 1994, during which about 100 delegates from all provinces discussed the proposed new forest law and main forestry issues. The recommendations were published and presented to the previous Government. A Steering Committee was formed to guide the process of finalising the draft, comprising representatives from various ministries, the provincial governments, landowners, the forest industry, NGOs, and the National Council for Women.

A national forest policy, which supersedes all previous policies, was formulated in the last quarter of 1994, and approved by Government caucus on 16 December. The policy declares the need for sound forest management, maintaining the forests in perpetuity, improving forest industry production, increasing the level of domestic processing, enhancing employment, privatising forest plantations, and supporting research and training.

The Policy and Evaluation Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister has been instrumental in the drawing up of the current policy, which supersedes all previous policies. The objectives of the current Forest Policy “PP4/94, Development of the Forest Sector and related Industries/Resource are to:

· ensure sound forest management, toward sustainable development;

· improve efficiency of forest industries and maximise market value of logs and sawn timber;

· support research to promote the appropriate end-users;

· promote the involvement of forest owners in the operations;

· enhance employment opportunities and undertake manpower planning and training;

· setting up a forestry college or institute in Solomon Islands;

· promote public education and awareness of the dangerous affects of the environment pollution and destruction;

· encourage diversification of the timber industry, including downstream processing, and the banning of logs exports by the year 2000; and

· strengthening the Timber Management and Extension Section of the Forestry Division.

A new Forest Act was passed by the Parliament in June 1999 and implemented with Regulations on 29 February 2000. It was required because the previous law was inadequate to deal with modern forestry practice. Since its consolidation in 1969, the Forest Resources and Timber Utilisation Act was amended nine times, including two major amendments in 1977 and 1990. The Forest Division is still coping with the multitude of disputes and disappointments caused by the complexity of the Act and by abuse of its processes.

The objectives of the Forests Act 1999 are as follows: a) to ensure proper management of forest resources in an efficient and effective ways and ecologically sustainable manner; b) to promote the development of a timber industry that ensures maximum benefit to present and future Solomon Islanders; and c) to protect and conserve forest resources habitats and ecosystems. These objectives are explained and established through a set of principles, which guide the Minister and the Commissioner of Forests in the exercise of their power, include: a) sustainability of resource utilisation; b) the rights of custom owners; c) application of the precautionary principle to management decisions; d) the balancing of economic and ecological objectives; e) the protection of biodiversity; f) consistency with international treaties and obligations; and g) consistency with the national policies for forest resource conservation and timber industry development.

In regard to promote the sustainable forest management, a code of forest practice has been drafted. The code is an important component to achieve the objectives of the Forest Act. Attention to the code is mandatory under the new legislation and there are significant punitive powers. The first priority for implementation is to update the current draft code. Training of officers and licenses will also be important. Similarly, the knowledge of the community concerning forest and forestry and the code should be improved.

The Code should not be taken as a means to punish offenders, but rather as a set of guidelines to safeguard the environment, resources owners, operators, and sustainability of resources. The guidelines contained in the document are binding and will apply to all natural forest harvesting operations. The major part of the Code is comprised of: the Administrative, Policy and legislative framework, land use management, harvesting planning, construction work for timber harvesting operations, harvesting operations, weather limitations, rehabilitation of logged over areas, bush and camp hygiene, Heli-logging, and evaluation.

For the implementation of the Forest Act 1999, including re-equipping and re-training, AusAID/SIG has provided funds of AUS$ 16.5 million for a forest management programme for three years, which was started in August 1999. The programme has 6 components as follows: a) providing policy regulatory and legal framework for a sustainable forest industry; b) improving forest monitoring and revenue capture; c) improving infrastructure for monitoring; d) improving institutional arrangements; e) crafting policies for increasing domestic processing; and f) improving inventory and silviculture.

For issuing of a license, a procedure has been formulated that it will ensure the proposed harvest area is suitable for thepurpose through a determination of potential forest uses. This involves an assessment of the capability of the land to support a commercial timber harvesting. This will prevent unrealistic expectations being raised and will ensure that forest harvesting is not permitted in areas of special environmentally sensitive.

Procedures are included to ensure that landowners are properly identified and notified of any application. Negotiation between logging companies and landowners must in future be in accordance with the new procedures.

Where the wood is for custom or domestic purposes and not for sale, no licence is required. If forest owners would like to sell timber, there are local timber harvesting licence and community timber harvesting licence available. A community may combine their efforts to cut up to 2,000 m3 per year under a community timber harvesting licence. The new legislation treats large-scale land clearing in the same way as timber harvesting, i.e. a permit is required. Traditional clearing for garden sites and village use does not require a permit.

Focal point
Peter Sheehan
Commissioner of Forests
Forestry Division
Ministry of Natural Resources
P.O. Box G 24
Honiara, Solomon Islands
Tel: (677) 21521
Fax (677) 21245


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