You may be familiar with its scent from your favourite candle, but sandalwood as a forest product supports the livelihoods of rural communities across many Pacific nations.
We recently completed an impact assessment of sandalwood research in Vanuatu for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). It draws from previous reports and our own fieldwork conducted in 2018. This project was delivered by Sustineo team members Dr Federico Davila, David Vanzetti, and Tom Sloan.
The assessment found that the overall impact of ACIAR investments was positive under the right market conditions. There was a clear, positive, and enduring impact on institutional and smallholder capacity to manage plantations. Even under worst-case scenarios, the economic impact for smallholder farmers is expected to be positive.
But the social analysis of the policy context identified that future policies will play a critical role in maximising returns to smallholders.
Sandalwood is native to Vanuatu, yet a long history of wild harvest has seen a decline in wild stocks, and a need to develop plantation systems to conserve the genetic resources and deliver income opportunities for smallholders.
Under the ACIAR forestry program, these projects have supported research that has led to the identification of genetically superior seeds, and increased smallholders’ access to seeds and planting techniques.
Since the mid-2000s, there has been a significant increase in sandalwood plantations by smallholders in Vanuatu, which are due to come into production in the next few years. This is expected to lead to improvements in domestic processing and increased export volumes, providing an opportunity for smallholders to increase their annual incomes through the sale of sandalwood products.
This income comes from more than just the sandalwood oil for products like candles and incense. In fact, domestic processing into oils is minimal, with one small distillery operating in Efate. Tourist-targeted wooden handicrafts, the domestic timber market for chips and sapwood, and international exports of processed timber and unprocessed logs is the source of most of the Vanuatu sandalwood industry’s value.
ACIAR investment in sandalwood in Vanuatu has focused on expanding understanding of planting techniques, disseminating knowledge and, more recently, establishing farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange processes to continue production.
You can read the full report on the ACIAR website: https://aciar.gov.au/publication/technical-publications/impact-sandalwood-research-vanuatu