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29. Tonga

Country data

Total land area (thousand ha)


Total agroforestry/coconut plantation land (ha)


Total potential forestry plantations (ha)


Total indigenous forests


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


Rural population 1997 (%) **)


GNP per person in 1995 in US$**)


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

*) Government statistics, Country Report 1996

General information

Tonga is composed of 170 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. Tongatapu is the largest and most populated island (25,900 ha with 64,000 inhabitants).

In the country’s traditional farming system, food crops, predominantly coconut, are cultivated under the canopy of trees. The traditional agroforestry system however, has undergone some changes and is moving toward commercial farming systems, thus reducing the number of standing trees. All land is community property.

Tonga’s very limited forest resources consist of natural hardwood forests, exotic plantation forests, and coconut plantations. Natural hardwood forests can only supply a small and ever decreasing part of the domestic timber demand because of over-exploitation and depletion by clearing for shifting cultivation. It is estimated that only 4,000 ha remain of natural hardwood forests. It has been proposed that the remaining forest be protected as a national park because of its biological diversity.

In the 1950’s, land was allocated for the development of forest farms. By September 1992, 579 ha of mainly Pinus caribea had been planted on exposed and infertile sites. Tonga’s extensive coconut plantations are its largest timber resource and will continue to be the major source of domestic timber production.

Fuel wood is the main source of energy: 80% of the households use wood for cooking and 70% of fuel wood cut is for household consumption. Tonga also produces handicrafts which require significant amounts of wood. These handicrafts are culturally important and provide domestic and export earnings. Resources of sandalwood have declined, leaving only a short-term supply for local consumption. Non-wood products, such as dye from the bark of koka trees and mangroves for making tapa cloth, are also important.

The country has seven protected areas, as well as nine marine and two territorial parks. Tourism has begun to play an increasingly important role in the country’s economy. Earnings from tourism are double those of all exports combined.

Policy and planning

The forest and tree resources in Tonga are composed of indigenous forests, coconut plantations, agroforestry resources, and forestry plantations. The largest timber resource is found in the extensive coconut plantations and the forest plantations.

Notable timber resources are found in land areas as follows:

· Agroforestry/coconut plantation land: 48,000 ha

· Forestry plantation land: 2,000 ha

· Indigenous land: 4,000 ha

An Environmental Management Strategy was formulated in 1992. Forestry projects in Tonga are outlined in the Forestry Three-Year Rolling Plan, which is reviewed and adjusted every year. For the next five years, projects are envisaged in the following areas:

· ecology-based inventory of natural hardwood forests and development of a management plan;

· promotion of tree planting by encouraging agroforestry;

· development of the Eua National Park;

· establishment of an agroforestry nursery;

· plantation area trials;

· maintenance of existing nurseries;

· inventory of coconut resources and development of a management plan;

· development and management of the Mataliku Sawmill Centre as a commercial operation;

· natural re-generation of logged areas;

· forest plantations;

· establishment of coconut sawmills

· upgrading of existing sawmills

Small, portable sawmills designed to be easily shifted around the islands have proved to be useful assets for small island groups with sufficient resources. They produce excellent timber at a price lower than imported timber. The portable sawmill is also being adapted for use with coconut timber.

A Tonga/New Zealand forestry development programme has been essential to the management of Tonga’s forest resources. The programme includes development of coconut sawmilling, increased emphasis on agroforestry, and upgrading of Forestry Division skills. In 1991, the Government approved the lease of 800 ha of additional land on Fua. According to a study conducted in 1996, it was recommended that to optimise the returns from the forest, a rational policy for the expanded forest would be to maximise the area of the mixed regime of Sandalwood and Caribea, which is the most profitable.

In light of insufficient land for timber plantations, agroforestry offers an opportunity for promoting tree planting such as timber species, fruit trees, and important cultural and indigenous species.

In the forest sector development the Government received support from partners, particularly from international institutions, including: New Zealand Overseas Development Assistance; Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB), FAO, European Community, German Technical Co-operation (GTZ), CIRAD-Foret, UNDP/South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) and South Pacific Forestry Development Programme (SPFDP), and Japan Overseas Co-operation Volunteers. The support and assistance cover several fields including: training, sawmilling, nursery development, forestry plantation, agroforestry, handicraft development, training on processing and utilisation of coconut wood, research on farm trials with alternative agroforestry systems, participatory process in forestry, coastal protection and rehabilitation, biodiversity conservation, forestry information and promoting the forest and trees programmes, and institutional strengthening.

Legislation and institutions

The Government recognises the important role of the forestry sector in socio-economic development and environmental conservation, and passed a Forest Act in 1991. A major review of the Forestry Division was undertaken in 1991, resulting in a new organisational structure, i.e. establishing a Forestry and Conservation Division within the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The Forestry and Conservation Division does not have a formal policy except for the forestry objectives set out in the Five Year Development Plan. This Plan spells out the need to maximise the forestry contribution to national development on sustainable basis.

The Forestry Act of 1961 is the only Act that provides the legal status under which the Forestry and Conservation Division operates. However, it is considered that the Act of 1961 is too general, and does not give the legal status and authority required by the Division for the management of the forest resources. The proposed new Act is still under consideration by the Government.

Other Acts that relate to forest resources management include the 1988 Parks and Reserves Acts, and the proposed new Environment Act initiated by the Ministry of Land, Survey, and Natural Resources. However, according to several reports, these Acts are overlapping, thus creating confusion.

The Forestry Division views coconut trees as a forest species and is considering the inclusion of their management in the forestry development programme. It has estimated that 20,000 ha could be replanted over the next 20 years.

Currently, the Forestry and Conservation Division is understaffed as a result of the transfer of 8 staffs from the Division to the Forestry Sawmills.

In 1976, a Parks and Reserves Act was adopted to protect natural forests by creating national parks and reserves. The Parks and Reserves Authority is responsible for the allocation of land for parks and reserves. In July 1992, a 449.4 ha area in Eua was declared a national park.


The Forest Act of 1961 is limited in its application with respect to allowing the Government to set up forest reserves and control forest use, and needs to be amended. The Forestry Division is understaffed. At least eight additional well-trained staff members with degrees and diplomas will be needed for forestry activities over the next ten years.

Formulation of a conservation strategy for the remaining natural forests is needed in order to safeguard rare plants and the habitats of important animal species such as the redbreast musk parrot. An appropriate multi-purpose agroforestry system, based on the traditional system, is urgently required.

Focal point
Tevita Faka’ Osi
Deputy Director Forestry and Conservation Division/
Head of Forestry
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
P.O.Box 124
Nuku’alofa, Tonga
Fax 676-24271


Never leave till tomorrow
which you can do today
(Benjamin Franklin)

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