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Forest management

Almost 75 percent of Vanuatu is covered by natural vegetation. However, the quality of natural forests, in terms of commercial forestry, is poor. Much of the natural forest is on steep inaccessible sites and even accessible sites contain few species of commercial use. Oliver (1992) estimates the timber yield from the best 50 000 hectares of natural forest to be only 15-20 m3 per hectare. The World Bank (1990) describes the composition of Vanuatu's natural forests as dominated by species “with low density, little figure, ... little durability and low strength”. In the mountainous island interiors much of the natural forest has primarily a protective role.

A National Forest Inventory and related reports in 1994 estimates total merchantable volume of timber on Vanuatu at 12 883 000 m3. If the minimum economic yield per hectare is 10 cubic metres of timber then a sustainable annual timber yield for Vanuatu is estimated at 51 700 m3. There is, however, difficulty in relating these assessments to commercially accessible timber areas.

Vanuatu's Department of Forestry has operated two plantation forestry schemes over the past 20 years. The success of these has been limited. Local supply plantations (LSP's) were planted between 1975 and 1986 to meet future wood needs at village level. These plantations were established in recognition that the natural forests, because of their quality, composition and distribution will not indefinitely meet wood needs. The LSP's were planned to make Vanuatu self-sufficient in wood supply. However, funding problems, inappropriate species selection and disease have conspired to significantly limit the effectiveness of the LSP scheme. In all, around 1 000 hectares (almost entirely in Cordia alliodora) was planted to 1986 when the scheme was put into a maintenance status awaiting review and redesign. It appears LSP's will fall far short of meeting domestic supply requirements.

A second plantation scheme, industrial forestry plantations (IFPs) began in 1982 and was designed to establish larger areas of forest plantations for processing and export supply. Once again establishment targets have not been met and locations of the plantations that have been established are not favourable to transportation. It is likely these plantations will also be eventually utilised for domestic supply. In 1991 IFP's totalled 1 200 hectares of mainly Pinus caribaea. More recently a project to plant 525 hectares of plantation forest on Espiritu Santo has been funded by the European Union ODA. Around 325 hectares have been planted on a 5 500-hectare site. This area will be maintained as a forestry research and demonstration area. The remaining area has been sub-leased to investors intending to develop hardwood species for sold wood products.

Brown, C. 1997. Regional study – the South Pacific. Asia-pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, Working Paper No. APFSOS/WP/01. FAO, Rome.

The forest and trees in Vanuatu are an important component of the environment in the country. They have been part of the life of the people for many generations. Products from trees and forests are not the only benefit provided, they also serve as protection, control of soil erosion, providing and purifying water systems and improving and maintaining agricultural products.

Coastal areas in the islands are protected mostly by the coastal vegetation. Trees have important roles to protection from strong wind/cyclones that affect the country on average around twice a year. Also forests and trees provide other values like habitat for the wildlife and a source of other materials like medicine and fuel wood for the locals.

Trees and the forest in catchment areas are important to maintain the water quality and quantity for local people and wildlife. In some places disturbance or removal of trees in the forest in catchment areas may cause the water level to drop or fluctuate more widely. With the increasing need to earn cash, people go into developments ignoring the roles of trees and forests. Some villages in the country are now next to contaminated rivers. For small islands water is very essential and shortage of it is a severe problem.

Soil erosion is one that results of removing trees and the forests, especially at the coast and riverbanks and steep slopes. Removal of trees for timber resulting in grasslands from continuous burning is a serious problem in Aneityum Island in the southern part of the country. The Department of Forests has been working with the assistance of the New Zealand government to fight the erosion problem.

Forest and trees continue to be removed mostly as part of process of shifting agriculture. Land is also cleared for the establishment of plantations of coconut, cocoa and coffee and cattle grazing. There is a need for the forest and trees in the agriculture system to improve and maintain agriculture productivity.

Source: Vanuatu country report, forest genetic resources workshop, 2000.

Forest legislation and policy

Vanuatu is less dependent on forestry export revenues than neighbouring countries such as Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands with only 14% of export value coming from forestry in 1999 (Vanuatu Department of Forests 2000). Vanuatu has intermittently operated log export bans over the past decade. In 1995 a draft Forest Policy was released that noted the overall aim of sustainable forest management (Wyatt, Bartlett and Mathias 1999). This policy was finalized in 1997 (and formally endorsed by the Council of Ministers in 1998. The policy recognises sustainable yield principles and notes these can be met from a declining resource area by enhancing productivity through plantation establishment. The policy specifically advocates giving firm legal effect to a continued log export ban and this was passed by Parliament in 1997. It also advocates an annual allowable cut and licences that encourage commitment to value-added processing and reforestation, including logging companies being required to lodge performance bonds with Government. The policy is moving toward greater regulation aiming for more sustainable operations (Gerrand and Bartlett 2001).


Brown, C. 1997. Regional study – the South Pacific. Asia-pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, Working Paper No. APFSOS/WP/01. FAO, Rome.

Gerrand, A. M. and Bartlett, A.B. (accepted, in press). Managing change: Lessons learned from the development and implementation of Vanuatu's National Forest Policy. 16th Commonwealth Forestry Conference, “Forests in a changing landscape”, 18-25 April 2001, Fremantle, Western Australia, Commonwealth Forestry Association.

Vanuatu Government 1997. National Forest Policy. Vila, Vanuatu Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Vanuatu Department of Forests 2000. 1999 Annual report. Port Vila, VDoF: 21pp.

Vanuatu Department of Forests 2001. 2000 Annual report. Port Vila, VDoF: 23pp.

Wyatt, S., Bartlett, A., and Mathias, A. 1999. Developing a forest policy in a small nation: the Vanuatu National Forest Policy. International Forestry Review 1(2):102-108.


The Forestry Act, Laws of the Republic of Vanuatu [Chapter 147]: The Forestry Act was initially passed in 1982 only 2 years after independence, but has undergone several major amendments up to 1997. The present Forestry Act does not fully reflect the objectives and statements of the National Forest Policy (see 3.1 below) but the Department is taking steps to address this with a current project to update the Forestry Act in line with the National Forest Policy during 2000. The current Act was completely reviewed and rewritten in 1999 under FAO TCP project 8315. A draft bill has been prepared and is expected to go before Parliament in mid 2001.

The government demonstrated its commitment to implementing the new policy with a series of amendments to the Forestry Regulations in 1996 and Forestry Act in 1997 that enabled improved regulation of logging operations. The Regulations introduced included the management and control of mobile sawmills and sandalwood operations. Mobile sawmills were previously unregulated and the sandalwood regulations were substantially improved with incentives for domestic processing. Substantial progress has been made toward implementing these new regulations. In addition, the volume of timber licences has been dramatically reduced from almost 300 000 m3 per year in 1997 to 112 000 in 2000 with a further reduction to about 73 000 m3 /yr planned in 2001 (Vanuatu Department of Forests Annual Report 2001).

The current Forestry Act is arranged into sections relating to the subject areas of forest plantations, utilisation operations, conservation, protection from fires through to administration, financial and general. Under the establishment of plantations there are provisions for protection of areas of national or cultural importance. The Minister has powers to exclude areas from logging operations in order to preserve the ecology of an area. The Code of Logging Practice, which is implemented in the Forestry Act under Part V Conservation, relates to the protection of the environment and promotion of forest development consistent with the principles of sustainable development, and also relates to the protection of non-timber forest values, among other matters. Notable regulations/orders are outlined below.

The implementation of the 1998 Code of Logging Practice Regulations has been a significant step for Vanuatu in terms of improved forest management and logging practices. The Code also requires that forest workers be individually licensed and this has been a major effort in training assessors and staff to implement the system. Vanuatu has also developed reduced impact logging guidelines and silvicultural prescriptions. These are not enforced by legislation, but if used in conjunction with the Code of Logging Practice are excellent forest management tools to ensure the recovery of the forest post-harvest.

Following the Amendment Order No. 16 of 1994 no persons may export logs from Vanuatu. This has been modified in 1997 to allow export only under certain tight conditions. The policy has been successful in developing a domestic processing capacity and the value of forest products exported has doubled from 1995 to 1999.

Forestry Act (Control of Mobile Sawmills) Order No. 9 of 1996. This outlines the registration requirements, licences, conditions and fees to regulate mobile sawmills. Notably, most other neighboring countries have not addressed the issue of developing regulations to control or manage the growing mobile sawmilling sector.

Forestry Act (Management and Control of Sandalwood Trade and Exports) Order No. 3 of 1997. This repeals Order No. 22 of 1995. This outlines the licence requirements, conditions and fees, the purchase register, export of sandalwood and management charges. It gives the Minister the power to declare a sandalwood trading season, upon advice from the Director of Forests, by specifying the period sandalwood can be cut and traded. These new regulations have led to increased landowner interest in both harvesting and planting sandalwood (which was largely absent during the previous ten years (SPRIG 1998). In addition the improved sandalwood regulations have controlled the number and quality of commercial operators leading to increased commercial security and investment.

The VNFP identified that a major overhaul of the Forestry Act was needed. With the assistance of FAO, in 2000 the entire Forestry Act has been rewritten to provide a legal framework to implement the policy. The new legislation will enshrine the principles of sustainable forest management and provide for limits for operations in a Forest Sector Plan. The new Act has been circulated for public consultation leading to a national summit in late 2000 following the successful model used in the development of the policy. The new Forestry Act is expected to go to Parliament for approval in mid 2001.

Other relevant legislation

The Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu (1979): The Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu must be the foundation of any Government policy. Forest policy formulation must be guided by Article 7(d), which states that every person, has the fundamental duty to “...protect the Republic of Vanuatu and to safeguard the natural wealth, resources and environment in the interests of the present generation and of future generations.”

Article 71 of the Constitution states that “…all land in the Republic belongs to the indigenous custom owners and to their descendants”. Custom is the basis for land ownership and use of land in the Republic. Non-indigenous persons cannot own land. Perpetual ownership of land is only for indigenous citizens who have acquired their land in accordance with a recognised system of land tenure i.e. through custom.

International Trade (Flora and Fauna) Act (No. 56 of 1989): The International Trade (Flora and Fauna) Act (1989) regulates and monitors the exploitation and importation of species listed in the CITES appendices.

National Parks Act (No. 7 of 1993): This act provides for the declaration of national parks and nature reserve, for the protection and preservation of such areas and connected matters. It covers the declaration of national parks and reserves, the establishment of the national parks board, the constitution of the board, meetings and powers of the board, management plans, local management committee, conservation fund, accounts, annual reporting, offences and penalties. There are no National Parks in Vanuatu declared under this legislation as yet. Moves have been made to amend the legislation to allow for more customary landowner participation and active management.

Plant Protection Act (No. 14 of 1997): Provides for the exclusion and effective management of plant pests and to facilitate exports of plant produce and other related matters. The Act covers quarantine entry, standards and management of plant pests including surveying and pest management programmes. It contains the control of plant exports, movement controls, emergency orders in the event of an unexpected serious outbreak of a quarantine pest, codes of practices, powers of disposal, inspection and quarantine release, offences, and penalties. It will not limit the provision of the Animal Quarantine and Importation Act but amends this Act to exclude all mention of plants. This Act also repeals the Rhinoceros Beetle (Prevention) Act (JR 10 of 1961), the Import of Plants Act (JR 26 of 1964) and the Prevention of Spread of Noxious Weeds Act (JR 8 of 1966).

Draft Comprehensive Environmental Legislation, 1998: The purpose of this legislation is to provide for sustainable development in Vanuatu through sound environmental planning and management and the conservation, protection and environmentally sound management of all natural resources. Specifically, the proposed legislation is intended to create a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for environmental impact assessment; disaster contingency planning; pollution control and waste management; the management of dangerous and hazardous substances; the management of natural resources and biodiversity conservation.

Treaties and Legal Instruments

Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) (ratified 1989): Vanuatu is a Party to CITES which controls the export and import of animals or plants, dead or alive, in whole or in part as listed under Appendices I, II and III. The International Trade of Flora and Fauna Act (1989) regulates and monitors the exploitation and importation of species listed in the CITES appendices.

Convention on Biological Diversity (ratified 1993): Convention on Biological Diversity expects, as far as possible, each contracting party to establish a system for the protection of in-situ biological diversity and complimentary ex-situ measures for the conservation and research on plants in country of origin of genetic resources.

Vanuatu Biodiversity Conservation Trust Fund (launched 1998): The Department of Forests established the Vanuatu Biodiversity Conservation Trust Fund, as it is named, to provide a continuous source of financial assistance for the retention of forests in Vanuatu and related biological conservation. A trustee, Pacific International Trust Company Ltd., will manage a trust fund. The trustee will answer to a board of appointers. A technical advisory board will advise the trustees on matters relating to the running of the trust fund with respect to individual projects and use of funds for the retention of forests in Vanuatu and related biological conservation.

Land in the Republic belongs to the indigenous custom owners and to their descendants. Under the Vanuatu Constitution land decisions rest with the custom owner. The National Forest Policy states that “forest areas that have special ecological, scenic, historical, cultural, watershed, biodiversity or other environmental significance, shall be protected with the support of landowners. In protecting forest areas, education, motivation, and provision of benefits to the landowners will be utilised”. It is hoped that the trust will be used to compensate landowners for the protection of these and similar areas from development activities, until such times as alternative income sources or benefits can be established.


The Government used to use a system of 5-year planning, the most recent of which is outlined below. This approach has changed over the past several years and no more 5 year plans will be developed. For Forestry we now have a comprehensive policy developed in 1997 and operational activities are set out in the DoF business plan (Department of Forests 2000).

Third National Development Plan 1992-1996: As a party to Agenda 21, Vanuatu’s national development goals include environmental protection as an integral part of the development process; the participation of all concerned citizens and access to information and opportunity to participate in decision making processes; enactment of effective environmental legislation and standards; and the fuller participation of women in efforts to achieve sustainable development.

The Third National Development Plan (NDP3) makes general policy statements for national environment priorities. NDP3 1993-1996 stated the Vanuatu government's commitment to economic growth and development that has minimal negative environmental impact. The Comprehensive Reform Programme endorsed by the Council of Ministers in June 1997 has put DP4 (1997-2001) on hold. It has been explained that national development planning will continue to build on the themes of DP3 (self-reliance; balanced and sustainable development) and will incorporate the “visions” of the CRP. The foremost element of this shared vision is national cohesion and embraces a desire to build a well-governed, truly democratic nation. Other visions include the achievement of economic prosperity; the empowerment of individuals and communities; a well-educated population that has access to a quality health service; the improvement of the nation’s infrastructure; the erosion of living standard disparities; the retention of traditional values and culture and the protection of our natural environment.

Vanuatu National Conservation Strategy (1993): Vanuatu National Conservation Strategy states that the highest priorities for co-ordinated national action to maintain Vanuatu’s services to the environment and conserve natural resources are:

Vanuatu National Forest Policy (1997): The National Forest Policy is another major achievement for the Department of Forests. The policy was produced in participation with the staff of the Department, other government departments, agencies and organisations, industry, provincial governments and individuals. The principal national goal for the forest sector is to ensure the sustainable management of Vanuatu’s forests to achieve greater social and economic benefits for current and future generations. All the objectives for forest management, conservation, forest development, industrial utilisation, and all research, extension, training, education and forest administration that support forestry development are directed toward that single goal.

The National Forest Policy covers forest management issues, environment and conservation, landowners and communities, forest industries, afforestation and extension, forestry research, forestry training and education, forest administration and forest revenue. It has specific island policies and sustainable yield estimates by island. It aims to address the absence of comprehensive national and regional land use plans, a lack of forest management plans, the gross imbalance between utilisation and reforestation/ afforestation, resource security for the future, resource knowledge, lack of specific forest harvesting plans, institutional weaknesses, industry weakness, inconsistencies in bureaucratic procedures, guidelines and procedures for forest businesses to attract and secure local and international investors in the sector and the funding and management of protected areas.

Comprehensive Reform Programme, June 1997: The Comprehensive Reform Programme (1997) has set common visions for Vanuatu in the next 20 years. One of the visions is to protect the natural environment for the sake of future generations and ourselves. The CRP has a matrix of plans of action and individual departments will each produce more detailed corporate plans. The DoF prepared its first corporate and business plan based on the NFP for the year 2000.

Draft Vanuatu National Land Use Planning Policy (1998): Under Vanuatu Constitution, land decisions rest with the custom owner. The Vanuatu National Land Use Plan is a guide to sustainable land use in Vanuatu including agriculture and land resources policy areas, economic forestry, environmental conservation and cultural heritage. It is meant as a guide for investors and in evaluating development proposals and applications.

National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for Vanuatu: This GEF-funded project is currently being undertaken by the Environment Unit and is due for completion by 1999. The project is reviewing existing information relating to biodiversity in Vanuatu, carrying out additional surveys of priority areas and undertaking consultation with government and community representatives at a national and provincial level.

Source: 2000 Vanuatu country report, forest genetic resources workshop.

Institutions and organisations

Status and trends in forest management

Vanuatu’s economy is essentially agricultural with about 80% of the population primarily engaged in subsistence farming of food crops such as taro and yams. Vanuatu’s GNP in 1997 was estimated to be US$1 340 per year (Asian Development Bank, 1997). The forestry sector is usually ranked second or third of the export commodities behind copra and kava. The value of forest products exported has been increasing dramatically and has more than doubled in the past 5 years from Vt 255 million to Vt 536 million (US$4.1m) in 1999 (Vanuatu Department of Forests 2000). This represented around 13% of the total export earnings in 1999.

Table 9 shows timber harvesting and revenue statistics for 2000. Table 10 demonstrates the growing importance of the forest sector to Vanuatu. The true contribution of the forest sector is much larger than shown here, as these figures do not include the substantial payments to workers and secondary service industries (e.g. fuel) made by the forest industry as we do not have the information for 2000.

In 1998 the forest sector contributed 14% of the total export earnings. Forestry was third behind copra and kava, which moved ahead of forestry for the first time. Reliable figures for 2000 have been hard to obtain from Customs and have not been fully assessed. In 1999, the landowners were paid about Vt 36 million (US$280 000) in royalties for 40 000 m3 of logs. It is estimated that the forestry workers were paid around Vt 120 million in wages and the government collected about Vt 35 million in fees and taxes. Over 500 people are estimated to be employed in forest operations and fixed sawmills and wood processing industries. Several hundred more are involved on a full or part-time basis with mobile sawmills.

Table 9: 2000 fixed mill harvest volumes and payments to landowners and government.


Volume of logs cut




Management charges

Total payments


35 143

33 067 593

9 873 027

42 940 620

Data from file 2000 sawmill production statistics.xls, fixed mill summary sheet

The volume of wood harvested in Vanuatu in 2000 was 39 860 m3, which is slightly down from the 40 676 m3 harvested by fixed mills in 1999. In 2000 fixed mills harvested 35 143 m3 and, for the first time, we have included an estimate for the wood cut by mobile mills to be 4 717m3. Importantly the total harvest continues to be well below the estimated sustainable yield of 68 000 m3 per year based on the National Forest Inventory and set in the National Forest Policy.

However, the DoF notes with continuing concern that the vast majority of logging is concentrated on the island of Santo and that there are many other areas of Vanuatu where forest resources are underutilized. There is a need to reduce the pressure on Santo’s forests and encourage operations to be more equitably distributed across other islands. This will have benefits in terms of infrastructure development, employment and income generation. However, it is recognized that a lack of infrastructure and services (especially roads, and reliable shipping) are major constraints to achieve this aim.

The Department has been making good progress in rationalizing the timber licences in the past few years, The total volume of licences issued has been reduced from almost 300 000 m3 per year in 1997 to just over 73 000 m3 in 2001. This is now only just above the estimated sustained yield of 68 000 m3. However, there is still a problem of potential overcommitment of the resource on several islands, notably Santo and Erromango. The vast majority of forestry operations still occur on Santo and pressure on the resource means access to the preferred species is becoming difficult.

Table 10 shows the volume production and increase in value of forestry exports over time. Notably, the value of exports has more than doubled in four years from 233 million Vatu in 1995 to over 536 million Vatu in 1999. In 2000 there was a slight reduction in the volume harvested and also exported overseas as the largest mill in the country, operated by Santo Veneers, slowed its production due to financial constraints. Access to preferred species was also becoming restricted and this issue is discussed further below.

Table 10: Vanuatu’s annual log production and export value from 1987 to 2000.


Annual Log Production

Annual Timber Products Exports




Domestic (m3)



Log Exports

FOB Value

Vt million

Volume of Processed Exports (m3)

Processed Exports FOB Value

Vt million


23 716

15 521

39 237





5 001

17 899

22 900


1 827



15 085

19 923

35 008


1 950




19 276

19 276


1 939




27 336

27 336


1 674




20 355

20 355


2 269



4 014

21 084

25 098


2 598




43 874

43 874


5 107




32 986

32 986


4 160




35 854

35 854


7 940




37 513

37 513


14 938




36 907

36 907


12 917#




40 676

40 676


12 219@




39 860

39 860


8 599**


Forestry is an important sector to rural communities, as in many cases it is one of their main sources of cash income. There is pressure to convert forests for cash or other land uses. Landowners are often not interested in maintaining forests unless it provides an income or other services they see as valuable. In 1999, landowners were paid about Vt 36 million (US$280 000) in royalties for 40 000 m3 of logs. In addition to commercial forestry operations, forests provide a wide range of products for the subsistence lifestyle of most Vanuatu people. The Vanuatu National Forest Policy (VNFP) (Department of Forests 1997) recognizes that “the importance of Vanuatu’s forests can not be judged only from an economic perspective. Forests, land and people in Vanuatu are inseparably linked. The forests are a vital part of the country’s cultural heritage and contribute to the welfare and economic development of the people”.

The Government of Vanuatu has been very active in moving towards sustainable forest management policies and practices. The development of the National Forest Policy in 1997 was a major achievement and raised awareness of the importance of the forestry sector with many stakeholders. The Department of Forests has been assisted by an AusAID funded project from 1995 to 2000 aiming to improve the capacity of the staff and forest industry workers to be able to implement sustainable forest management practices. A draft Code of Logging Practice was developed in 1995 and then formally given legal backing with regulations in 1998 with a phase-in time aimed at having all operations comply with the Code by end of 2000. At the time of writing (March 2001) most operations do not fully comply with the Code but there has been substantial progress towards sustainable forest management and improvement through training of staff and forestry workers.

Prior to the development of the VNFP the forestry sector was constrained below its full potential development due to a number of complex reasons. There was little consideration of long term sustainability of the operations and timber licences were approved politically without consideration of technical constraints such as the size or accessibility of the resource. This led to many poor decisions and gross over-commitment of the resources. For example, at one stage, the total timber licences issued was almost 300 000 m3 per year when the estimated sustainable yield later adopted in the policy was 68 000 m3 per year. The resource was simply not there for some companies to operate profitably. A number of these inappropriate licences have never operated viably and several have gone bankrupt or left the country leaving a trail of debts and disappointments. Thus the uncontrolled issuing of licences was counterproductive to getting a long-term viable industry in the country.

Additional technical guidelines such as the Vanuatu Reduced Impact Logging Guidelines and the Vanuatu Silvicultural Forest Harvesting Types have been prepared by consultants and DoF and some industry staff trained in their implementation through a reduced impact logging demonstration forest area. The regulatory and technical framework has been basically set up. However, operations in the field still do not meet these standards in most cases and substantial ongoing effort will be needed to train operators and enforce the new rules.

Vanuatu has established very little in the way of plantation forests. However, the 1997 National Forest Policy for Vanuatu notes a target of 20 000 hectares of plantations which, (if predominantly whitewood), would provide a conservative volume of 5 million cubic metres on a 25-year rotation – a sustainable yield of 160 000 cubic metres per annum. Planting is recommended to be carried out at 800 hectares per annum. The National Policy recommends that the Government require the evergreen timber licenses to establish and maintain at least five hectares of commercial plantations each year for every 1 000 m³ of logs harvested, in addition to natural forest management requirements


Brown, C. 1997. Regional study – the South Pacific. Asia-pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, Working Paper No. APFSOS/WP/01. FAO, Rome.

Vanuatu Department of Forests 1998. Vanuatu Code of Logging Practice. Department of Forests, Port Vila, 83pp.

Vanuatu Department of Forests 1997. Vanuatu Reduced Impact Logging Guidelines. Department of Forests, Port Vila.

Vanuatu Department of Forests 2000. Vanuatu Department of Forests 1999 Annual Report. Department of Forests, 19pp.

Vanuatu Department of Forests 2000. A strategy for conserving, managing and better utilizing the genetic resources of Santalum austro-caledonicum in Vanuatu. Port Vila, Canberra, CSIRO and Department of Forests: 21pp.

Criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management

Sustainable forest management (SFM) is the clearly stated aim of the 1997 Vanuatu National Forest Policy. We want to know how to measure it and if we are achieving it. We have reasonable estimates of simple indicators such as volumes harvested to compare with estimated sustainable yield from the National Forest Inventory. Currently around 35 000 m3 logs are harvested for timber by the large commercial mills each year with a further 5 000 m3 estimated to be cut by mobile mills. On this simplistic basis operations appear sustainable as this is well below the estimated sustainable yield of 68 000 m3/yr. However, operational standards need to improve to ensure regeneration and maintain residual stand density and quality. Reduced Impact Logging Guidelines produced and demonstration area developed in 1997 will assist implementation.

No current indicators for biodiversity have been developed in Vanuatu. Although we have basic species lists there has been little thorough evaluation of many habitats. The endangered or threatened status of many plants or animals has not been determined. Work is currently being done to improve this with UNDP funds to develop a biodiversity strategy. There is currently no measure of how well Vanuatu would perform against proposed indicators as no assessment has been done. Vanuatu would likely perform well against many indicators but as there have been no detailed baseline studies it is not possible to determine. Just because we cannot prove that we are managing sustainably with measured indicators does not mean that operations are unsustainable. It may well be that operations are sustainable, it’s just that we cannot prove it!

The challenge is to develop indicators that are relatively simple and cheap so that they are applied at the appropriate scale and intensity to match small operations in a developing country context. Developing countries have special conditions and needs and this is important to consider when developing any system of indicators. Indicators are being developed with a strong push from rich developed nations. In many small developing nations such as Vanuatu, the current level of understanding and ability to implement SFM, let alone the indicators is low. SFM is constrained by many factors including limited funds, institutional capacity landowner and political will.

Indicators for sustainability should be appropriate to the scale and intensity of the operations. They should consider the country context including the following – land tenure (in Vanuatu all land is custom-owned), funds, education levels, social aspirations and development opportunities, infrastructure, political stability and commitment. Measurement of sophisticated technical indicators may not be currently achievable in many countries and the technical capacity to undertake such a programme over a long time frame is often lacking or needs support. There is a risk that the very countries that are most in need of improved forest management, especially tropical developing countries, will be unable to participate in a highly technical and expensive system of monitoring indicators.

There are ways we can avoid some of these potential problems. There is an urgent need for technical assistance and capacity building for small developing countries to be able to effectively develop and implement appropriate indicators for SFM. Firstly, technical assistance and support for improved research and maintenance of structures needed to ensure the work continues are needed. A regional approach or co-operative research networks can assist develop the skills. These have significant advantages as many of the issues and constraints identified here that apply in Vanuatu also apply in other countries. Similar models have been successfully used for regional codes of logging practice, and also genetics research in the South Pacific through the South Pacific Regional Initiative on forest Genetic Resources project (SPRIG).

Natural forests and woodlands

Management objectives

The National Forest Policy sets out the concept of zoning forests into 4 categories, as follows:

This process is a substantial task and will take several years and likely to require technical and financial assistance. This is planned to be considered with a proposal for updating the National Forest Inventory and a project to prepare regional forest management plans that has been developed and submitted to several donors.

Forest management plans

No forest management plans are current in Vanuatu. A project proposal to develop these on a regional (provincial) basis has been prepared and submitted to several donors in 2000. If FAO or other organisation is interested in funding or otherwise assisting this work please contact the DoF.


Silvicultural prescriptions have only recently been developed by consultants working on the AusAID VSFUP Project (Applegate and Andrewartha, 1999). These are appropriately basic prescriptions for variable cutting diameters for the main commercial species for six identified forest types. They aim to widen the species selected and reduce the overall intensity of harvesting resulting in minimized canopy openings to reduce the infestation of vines such as Merremia peltata and allow for natural regeneration.

The Department of Forests has endorsed these but they have met with stiff industry opposition due to the introduction of variable cutting diameters that increase the minimum size of several of the most popular commercial species. It is fair to say these have yet to be effectively implemented but are part of the ongoing process of moving toward SFM.


Applegate, G. B. and R. K. Andrewartha 1999. Vanuatu Silvicultural Prescriptions. Port Vila, Vanuatu Department of Forests: 29pp.

Forest protection practices

The Code of Logging Practice sets out several procedures for protecting forest areas, especially around waterways and village or tambu (cultural taboo) sites. Landowners are encouraged to become involved in marking out boundaries and identifying protection areas. These are new concepts and are still being developed.

Forest harvesting practices

Vanuatu has taken an active role in developing practical guidelines and procedures for improving forest harvesting practices in recent years. The Code has been endorsed at the highest level of government and is backed by legal regulations with penalties for breaches.

The Vanuatu Code of Logging Practices (1998) and Reduced Impact Logging Guidelines (RIL) (1997) have been developed recently to improve forest practices and enhance protection of forest with special values and also to residual growing trees. The Code has been developed and substantial training undertaken with Department staff, forest workers and landowners. In addition a forest operators licensing system has been set up and is being implemented.

It is fair to say that the field implementation of these still has a long way to go but the framework is in place. A program of operator training and the development of an operators licence system is also being actively pursued.

Special programmes and incentives to promote sustainable forest management

A number of projects have been actively working to help Vanuatu move toward sustainable forest management. The information below was taken from the 2000 Annual report for the Department of Forests and summarizes the considerable work and benefits provided to Vanuatu by international donors.

Table 19: Donor funded projects active in DoF during 2000



Funded in 2000? Yes/no

1999 revenue US1$=140Vatu

Legislation review



23 270 000

GTZ Forest Management Project



9 322 500

Biodiversity Mapping and Training Project



8 400 000

Kauri Reserve



3 570 000

Aneityum Erosion Control Project



2 314 600

Clean Development Mechanism consultancy



2 000 000

Mangaliliu Community Forestry Project



214 550

SPRIG Phase 1 Genetic Conservation Project



10 000 000

SPRIG Phase 2 Genetic Conservation Project (See note 1)



21 250 000

Post Logging Reforestation (LEARN) (see note 2)



12 948 600

Donor projects funded during 2000 (=Yes)


8 projects

59 091 650

Donor projects agreed but funded from 2001 (=2001*)

2 projects

34 198 600

Notes: 1. SPRIG project design approved by AusAID with funds of approx 20m/yr x 3 yrs but delayed until 2001.

2. EU LEARN project funds available during 2000 but delayed until 2001 for VSO Project Manager.

During 2000, donors include projects funded by AusAID, FAO, German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the European Union and New Zealand ODA (Table 19). Eight projects worth Vt 59 million were active in the DoF during 2000, with a further Vt 34 million in two new projects starting 2001.

In addition to the above, the Department of Forests makes good use and gets excellent value from our membership of several international organizations that do not directly involve projects. A summary of these costs and benefits for 2000 are given in Table 20.

Table 20: Summary of costs and benefits of Vanuatu’s international forestry organizations for 2000.


Benefits (Vatu)



Balance (Vatu)

Other benefits


2 968 000

-4 900 000

-1 932 000

Good technical assistance and future large project support



-32 000

-32 000

Excellent research and networking


26 400 000

Nil (staff time only)

26 400 000

Good technical, training, networking and project support

Total net benefit

29 368 000

-4 932 000

+24 436 000


We also have a close working relationship with other organizations in the region. These include The South Pacific Community’s Forests and Trees Support Program, based in Fiji. Vanuatu obtains substantial benefits from the membership in these forestry organizations that justify our continued involvement.

It is clear that the Department of Forests secures a large part of its operational costs from donor sources outside the Government recurrent budget (Tables 19 and 20). It would not be possible for the DoF to carry out its activities under the Government recurrent budget of only Vatu 50 million. Donors contributed an additional Vt 59 million in 2000, which was Vt 9 million more than the government. Some of this is one off or occasional projects (e.g. the major forestry legislation review supported by FAO in 2000) but a substantial part assists us to move towards our goal of sustainable forest management. We are grateful for donor support. In future we are working toward a combination of increased revenue and increased recurrent budget allocation from Government so that the DoF will be able to reduce reliance on donors.

In addition to the financial benefits it is very important for networking and capacity building that we maintain good relations with a range of international organizations. Through networking we are able to obtain training and other funding opportunities that help us improve the staff capacity and technical standards of the Department and improve forest management.

A summary of the projects active in the DoF during 2000 is given below.

Forestry Legislation review Project (FAO)

Purpose of the project / Objectives: Design legislation for sustainable development of Vanuatu's forests, generation and equitable distribution of forest revenues, and for the effective implementation of forestry programmes consistent with the 1997 National Forest Policy.

Beneficiaries of the project: Directly to DoF staff, State Law Office staff, indirectly to forest industry and stakeholders including all landowners with forest resources.

Means of service delivery: Consultation meetings and national summit, Draft new Forestry Act, reports, training.

Resources available through the project: Estimated 2000 donor contribution Vt 23 270 000, including 1 computer

Duration: One year – ends early 2001.

Number of staff: 2 ni-Vanuatu consultants, expatriate legal expert consultants as required, FAO staff Samoa, Rome.

GTZ Sustainable Forestry Project (German Aid)

Purpose of the project / Objectives: Develop appropriate methodologies of sustainable indigenous forest management and experimentally implement at Butmas, Santo. Carry out awareness measures.

Beneficiaries of the project: Initially landowners at Butmas, with flow on effects through training and demonstration.

Means of service delivery: Reports, training, certified trainers, staff appointed, COLP, inventory

Resources available through the project: Estimated 2000 donor contribution Vt 9 322 500, 1x4WD truck,

Duration: Three years – ends 2000.

Number of staff: 1 ni-Vanuatu Project Manager based in Luganville, expatriate staff in Fiji, consultants as required.

Aneityum Erosion Control Project Vt 2 314 600

Objectives: To control the soil erosion on up to 300 ha and to commence control measures on a further 170 ha.

To train local staff and trial a range of techniques.

To carry out awareness programs aimed at the local population.

To try to perpetuate funding of the Program in some form at the community level.

Kauri Reserve (Note – funding for this project was withdrawn by the New Zealand government during 2000).

Purpose of the project / Objectives: To assist the villagers in the management of the Kauri Reserve and therefore provide alternative income generating projects to the people of Umpon Yelongi

Beneficiaries of the project: People of Umpon Yelongi, Erromango.

Resources available through the project: Estimated 2000 donor contribution Vt 3 570 000

Duration: Two years – ends 2000.

Number of staff: 2 expatriate volunteers based on Erromango.

South Pacific Regional Initiative on Genetic Resources (SPRIG) Project

(Note: Phase 1 ended mid 2000 with Phase 2 delayed until early 2001)

Purpose of the project / Objectives: To make selection, improvement and supply of quality seeds of indigenous and exotic species. To set up conservation strategies and actions for indigenous species, gender component included and institutional strengthening.

Beneficiaries of the project: People throughout the South Pacific.

Resources available through the project: Estimated donor contribution Vt 21 250 000 per year for 3 years

Duration: Three years – pilot project ends mid 2000. AusAID has agreed to a second 5-year phase starting 2001.

Number of staff: 1 expatriate Team Leader, 1 Project Manager in Canberra, consultants as required.

Mangaliliu Community Forestry Project Vt 214 550

Objective: To utilise Mangaliliu LSP to reduce environmental impact of Cordia alliodora regeneration and for job creation and sustainable livelihoods for both men and women at the community level

Vanuatu Biodiversity Mapping and Training Project

Purpose of the project / Objectives: To improve the knowledge of Vanuatu’s biodiversity and the capacity to effectively manage it for the benefit for current and future generations.

1. To build the capacity of DoF and Environment Unit staff and build skills in biodiversity assessment

2. To develop flora and fauna databases for Vanuatu

3. Development and refinement of species maps and identification of species conservation requirements

4. To identify preliminary potential biodiversity conservation areas

Beneficiaries: By improving the capacity of staff from the DoF, Environment Unit and LUPO the Project beneficiaries will include people throughout Vanuatu with areas of land containing conservation values.

Resources available through the project: Estimated 2000 donor contribution Vt 8 400 000

Duration: One year – ends 2000.

Number of staff: Environment Australia staff in Canberra and consultants as required.

Key issues and concerns

Future outlook for the forestry sector

Brown (1997) states that it is evident that Vanuatu has the potential to be self sufficient in solid wood products and to develop a modest export industry. However, it is equally evident that achieving this goal requires better organisation and management of forestry programmes than occurred in the earlier LSP and ISP programmes. The future will probably see Vanuatu continuing to supply the majority of its sawn timber needs but importing panels, paper and speciality sawn timber.

The DoF Annual report for 2000 notes the following positive developments (highlights) and also issues and concerns for the future.


• Most of the forestry legislation review consultation work was completed in 2000 and a draft bill is ready for tabling in the next 2001 parliament sitting.

• Work on the new forest operator licensing scheme is progressing well and most of the operators assessed should be licensed before end of first quarter 2001.

• Code of Logging Practice training and some enforcement to improve logging standards

• Vanuatu was accepted as a member of the International Tropical Timber Organisation in May 2000. This will lead to international recognition and support for Vanuatu’s forestry sector through future benefits of staff training, technical and project assistance.

• A second sandalwood oil-processing factory was established by a new licensee involving substantial investments of around Vt40 million.

Issues and concerns

• Industry non-compliance with Code of Logging Practice is still a concern.

• Lack of industry interest in training their own staff to meet the new standards.

• Industry reliance (97%) on two species (whitewood and melektree) is unsustainable and should include a wider range of species representative of the forest composition.

• Political interference, especially pressure to issue log export and sandalwood licences.


Brown, C. 1997. Regional study – the South Pacific. Asia-pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study, Working Paper No. APFSOS/WP/01. FAO, Rome.

Government of Vanuatu (1997). National Forest Policy. Vila, Vanuatu Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: 42pp.

Land ownership

The land tenure system in the country appears simple as virtually all land is owned by custom landowners. However, things are actually more complex than first appears because the boundaries are not defined, nor is ownership recorded in a formal government sense. There is a national council of custom chiefs of the Republic called Malvatumauri. One of the important roles of this council is to look after the customary landownership system, making it effective and resolving disputes. The entire land in the country is owned by the customary landowners. A man who is a true custom landowner is one whose blood originates directly from the nakamal (men’s house), varea (village) or nasara (dancing grounds, public square, ritual clearing or place) associated with that land. If a man’s heritage traces to that place, he may resume the titles and ownership of its lands. In parts of the country the right to own the land is through women but in the majority it is by the men. Depending on the size of a family each individual has a right to a piece of land allocated by the head of the family.


Vanuatu Country report. 2000 SPRIG project forest genetic resources workshop, Apia.

Alatoa, H., T. Bakeo, et al. 1984. Land Tenure in Vanuatu. Port Vila, University of South Pacific.

Forest land in public ownership

(000 ha)

Forest land owned by indigenous/tribal peoples

(000 ha)

Forest land in private ownership

(000 ha)





All land is custom owned


1 Other: Forest land belonging to cities, municipalities, villages and communes. Also includes any publicly owned forest and other wooded land not elsewhere specified.

References: Constitution of Vanuatu

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