Sandalwood has the potential to contribute to the improvement of living standards in Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs), but for this to happen, there must be critical assessment, research and improved management practices.

These remarks were made by Mr Gilbert Mermer - First Political Advisor for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, Livestock & Quarantine (Republic of Vanuatu) during the official opening of the Regional Workshop on Sandalwood Development, Research, and Trade in the Pacific and Asian Region being held in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The workshop was organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

'As we all know, sandalwood is an important tree crop that has supported the people of the Pacific for many years.

'For instance, between 2007 and 2009, the total income earned by Vanuatu's sandalwood owners in royalty payments was estimated at VUV 233 million, generating even more interest among ni-Vanuatu to participate in replanting.'

Mr Mermer added that the use of sandalwood in the Pacific has a long history, and noted that the history of sandalwood in Vanuatu is recorded in a book called They Came for Sandalwood.

'The sandalwood trade in Vanuatu begun in the year 1830, making it the first commodity to be exported from here'.

'In that year, it was noted that sandalwood grew from the mountains right down to the beach on some islands in the Southern part of Vanuatu.'

However, he added, due to heavy harvesting on the islands of Erromango and Aneityum, the sandalwood resource has been vastly reduced.

In 1996, realising the potential of developing sandalwood into an industry, the government enacted the Sandalwood Order to regulate and manage sandalwood operations in Vanuatu. In 2003, the Sandalwood Policy was enacted to give direction to the development of the sandalwood industry.

Mr Mermer challenged the participants and stakeholders present at the workshop to develop standardised information packages and ensure only one message was delivered by all to limit conflicting information being communicated to growers.

He also called for protection of indigenous species of sandalwood against introduced ones.

Thirty-eight participants from 12 countries are attending the workshop, which was organised by SPC with the support of the European Union-funded Facilitating Agricultural Commodity Trade (FACT) project, German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Asia Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions (APAFRI), James Cook University (JCU) and Vanuatu's Department of Forests.

Workshop facilitator Mr Cenon Padolina from SPC's Land Resources Division (LRD) also extended warm greetings and welcomed all participants, noting that the workshop had been planned for some time but had been delayed until SPC could obtain the necessary funding.

'SPC's full commitment to promote sandalwood as a top priority species in the Pacific is paramount knowing that it has considerable cultural and economic importance to many communities in a number of countries and territories in the Pacific region.'

He also stated that SPC recognises the importance of ensuring the sustainable development and management of sandalwood due to its high economic value, as sandalwood has the potential to make a significant contribution to rural economies.

He said that SPC was emphasising '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.'

'This workshop aims to enhance the exchange of information on sandalwood resource development, research and trade within the Pacific and Asian region. 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 as at the previous workshop held in 2005, attendees planned to develop recommendations to ensure sustainability of sandalwood as a vital economic and export resource in the region.

'At SPC, we firmly believe that we can make the difference in the lives of the Pacific Islanders by helping them manage, develop and make use of the full potential of this species.'

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.