More than 100 households are expected to benefit from the provision of timber milling equipment to the country’s Value-Added Timber Association (VATA) under the -Solomon Islands- Australia economic partnership.

VATA, an initiative of the Ministry of Forests and Research, was set up to help forest resource owners maximize the benefits they can gain from their resource.

Last month VATA received two new portable bandsaws specifically designed for teak and three new chainsaws funded by the Australia through its private sector development program Strongim Bisnis. Additionally, VATA was also equipped with a clinometer, a GPS, a drone and other equipment needed for forest resource management and plantation mapping.

The VATA- Strongim Bisnis partnership, signed in July 2022, supports smallholders across the country in planting, managing, harvesting, replanting, and selling milled plantation timber on the domestic and international markets.

The partnership aims to bring benefits to more than 100 registered smallholder households. It also employs 10 new full-time staff members of VATA (including three extension officers, one accountant and six band saw operators) and 12 new VATA casual workers involved in container loading, grading, and tallying, as well as operators of VATA equipment involved in harvesting, milling, and transporting milled timber to Honiara.

VATA, led by General Manager, Gordon Mwakamwane, hopes to enhance its processing capability through the use of the portable bandsaws and the commissioning of an unused kiln, which will not only allow access to higher value markets but also facilitate domestic transport of timber products.

The milling and seasoning of plantation timbers adds value so they can be sold at a higher price. Milled timber is also much easier to transport because unlike logs which require a barge, milled timber can be shipped on any cargo vessel under government subsidy.

VATA’s President, Brally Tavalia, said the partnership with Australia’s Strongim Bisnis was a welcome support to VATA and smallholders.

“When Strongim Bisnis came forward with a smart business option, including providing three portable Wood Mizer mills, to assist our Teak farmers and members, it was indeed welcoming news for VATA, and a dream comes true for our Teak farmers,” Mr Tavalia said.

Mr Tavalia also expressed his gratitude for Australia’s support to make export of plantation timbers commercially viable for smallholder Teak farmers.

“[this intervention] is also vital to national interests, to help fulfill the aspirations of our Teak farmers who have been waiting far too long for an intervention. An intervention that could motivate them and enable them fulfill their dreams, and go beyond their limitations. Tagio tumas Australia’s Strongim Bisnis,” Mr Tavalia said.

Strongim Bisnis, CEO, Phil Montgomery who first began working in Solomon Islands over thirty years ago for Australian funded projects supporting management of the country’s forestry resources, highlighted the importance of local plantation timber to the sector’s sustainable growth plans.

“With Solomon Islands supply of natural forest timber drying up fast, it's important we strengthen the capacity of local timber sector operators to export plantation-grown timbers,” Mr Montgomery said.

“Fortunately, plantation species like teak and mahogany thrive in Solomon Islands and when managed well can produce high quality, export grade timber.”

Australia’s Strongim Bisnis program partners with the Solomon Islands Government and key players in the timber industry such as KFPL, VATA and TGB to help transform the timber sector into a much more sustainable one which provides increased opportunities for employment and economic growth to Solomon Islanders.

Strongim Bisnis works across the cocoa, coconut, tourism, financial services, timber, horticulture and waste management sectors, with a strong focus on creating opportunities for women, youth and people with disability.

Source: Press Release