A new four-year research project aims to develop the technologies, processes and expertise to produce high quality veneer and veneer products from senile coconut trees.

SPC's Land Resources Division (LRD) has teamed up with the University of Tasmania's Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood (CSAW) and the Australian Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) to look into the development of high quality veneer and other products from coconut wood.

The forestry departments of Fiji, Samoa and Solomon Islands and several industrial companies in the region are also collaborating in the project, which is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Speaking at the inception meeting held in Suva, Fiji, the acting Director of LRD, Inoke Ratukalou, said that coconut plays an important role in the socio-cultural and economic life of the Pacific Islanders. 'It is one of the most important crops in the Pacific Islands, contributing to food and nutritional security, and the socio-economic well-being of our people.

'Coconut trees also play an important role in the Pacific Islands climate change adaptation strategies and therefore SPC will continue to support the development of this crop,' he added.

This project, he explained, is a follow-up of an earlier ACIAR-funded project on Improving value and marketability of coconut wood, which aimed at the production of flooring from solid coconut wood for the high quality hardwood flooring market overseas.

'While that project was able to identify the technology and process required to develop an excellent flooring product, a major issue was the low recovery of the required high density materials, which has implications throughout the supply chain.

Ratukalou said that it was with the flooring project in mind that the idea of investigating the use of senile coconut palms for veneer was born. 'We are grateful to our partners in Australia for further developing this idea into a full project proposal, and to ACIAR for agreeing to fund it.'

The four-year project will receive total funding of AUD 1.3 million and is envisaged to assist in coconut rehabilitation work. Finding uses for senile coconut stems has been problematic. It is hoped that this income-generating veneer project will encourage communities to replant their old coconut plantations and enhance livelihoods in the Pacific region.