The Land Resources Division (LRD) of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) will organise a regional workshop on Sandalwood Resource Development, Research and Trade in the Pacific and Asian Region from 22 to 25 November 2010 in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

According to meeting coordinator Mr Cenon Padolina, SPC Regional Forest Genetic Resources Officer, sandalwood has considerable cultural and economic importance to many communities in a number of countries and territories in the Pacific and Asian region.

'It is for this reason that its conservation is an important issue and deserves added input to ensure its sustainable development and management. Because of its high economic value and suitability to be developed in cultivated situations, including agroforestry systems and plantations, sandalwood has the potential to make a significant contribution to rural economies.

'The workshop aims to enhance exchange of information on sandalwood resource development, research and trade within the Pacific and Asian region,' Mr Padolina said.

'It also seeks to strengthen and explore opportunities for collaboration amongst countries and territories in the Pacific and Asian region to discuss and review new developments in production and uses for sandalwood oil.'

He added that the workshop will develop recommendations to ensure sustainability of sandalwood as a vital economic and export resource in the region.

Sandalwood was heavily exploited in the Pacific starting in the 19th century and is now almost extinct in some countries.

'Many countries failed to regulate the exploitation of their sandalwood resource due to strong market demand coupled with the lack of replanting programmes,' Mr Padolina said.

He also highlighted the importance of greater research and input into ways of improving stand management, introduction of sandalwood in agroforestry systems, and identifying more effective methodologies for better conserving both the species and its habitat, especially in the face of climate change.

'There is now a great interest in the development of sandalwood considering its economic potential. Large-scale development of plantations of sandalwood is going on in many parts of Australia and China.'

Some Pacific Island countries are now promoting the planting of sandalwood, while regulating the harvesting of remaining stock in its natural habitat. In recognition of its great potential, the Government of Vanuatu is encouraging and supporting the replanting and local processing of sandalwood while regulating harvesting from its natural stands.

In fact Vanuatu has been chosen to host this workshop in recognition of the significant sandalwood development being carried out there, and the excellent opportunities this will provide to participants from other countries and territories to observe and to learn from the Vanuatu experiences.

Dr Lex Thomson, Team Leader of SPC's EU-funded Facilitating Agricultural Commodity Trade (FACT) project, said that FACT is assisting with development of sandalwood stocks in the Pacific Islands, as this tree species is a very precious and non-perishable product and there is an almost insatiable demand from Asia, Europe, Middle East and USA.

'The hunt for sandalwood to trade with China was the original reason for European traders to enter the Pacific Islands, and indeed by 1816 all mature, accessible sandalwood trees in Fiji had been cut', he said.

A kilogram of sandalwood hardwood in Fiji currently fetches about FJD 80 to FJD 100 and the international price has been continuously rising for more than two centuries.

Thirty-eight participants from 12 countries will attend this workshop which is being organised with the support of the FACT Project, German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Asia Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions (APAFRI), James Cook University (JCU) and Vanuatu's Department of Forests.

The first regional sandalwood meeting was held in Hawaii in 1991, followed by 1994 and 2002 meetings in Noumea and a meeting in Fiji in 2005.