A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
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Thursday, June 08, 2006
Posted 7:14 PM by Luigi
Combating illegal logging from the ground up
From Sydney Morning Herald, June 8, 2006
Choosing different species can reduce the sale of illegally harvested timber, writes Nick Galvin.
When Rodney Hayward addresses a new woodworking class at ANU's School of Art, the students could perhaps be forgiven for thinking they had strayed into a philosophy or ethics class.
Hayward, head of the university's wood workshop, believes, above all, that his students need to feel a deep respect for their chosen material.
"We make sure the first thing the students understand is that timber is not acquired in a supermarket or is some sort of sterile material that comes from a mysterious source," he says. "The material comes from a living organism that has probably been killed and other things have died in association with it.
"They must not lose sight of the relationship they have to the tree and their own responsibility - it is not something to be wasted or trivialised."
This has been taken to heart by Henry Wilson, an honours student at the school of art. He used plantation-grown beech from Europe and plantation hoop pine from Australia for his chair designs.
Hayward articulates what generations of woodworkers have known instinctively - that harvesting and using timber comes with a serious responsibility to the environment. And it's a responsibility that applies as much to consumers and homeowners as it does to fine furniture makers.
In recent decades, however, the advent of indiscriminate clear felling in many of the world's most environmentally sensitive regions has derailed this intimate connection with timber.
Part of Hayward's approach with his students is to insist they discover the origins of their materials. That way, he says, they will know the fine furniture they produce will not have been at the expense of "devastating a mountainside and leaving the villagers starving or having to move on somewhere else".
A report prepared last year for the Federal Government by Jaakko Poyry Consulting found the global market in illegal or suspect timber is worth $30 billion. Each year, about 9 per cent of the timber imported into Australia has been illegally harvested.
The report says: "Of particular concern to Australia are its hardwood imports from the regions identified as having problems, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and smaller nations that are struggling economically, such as Papua New Guinea."
As well as the clear-cut cases of illegal logging, there is an even bigger problem of timber that is technically harvested legally but at a terrible cost to the environment and local communities.
It's a pattern Sydney carpenter Shane Ritchie witnessed when he helped to establish a European Union-funded eco-forestry program in Papua New Guinea in 1998.
Ritchie says the concept of cutting down trees in large numbers was alien to the people there until large commercial logging companies arrived.
"In the past there was no need for them to cut down the bush except [to make space] for their gardens but since us great white guys have gone up there and started logging on a large scale, now there is a threat to their bush," he says.
When the timber is harvested, many food trees are lost, which in turn means an exodus of native animals from the area.
"You also start to have erosion which causes big washouts and affects drinking water," Ritchie says. "Often the people are promised [a lot of things] by the logging companies, like medical centres and schools and in a lot of situations these are not supplied. By the time the bush is gone, they've got the royalty for it but there is nothing else left. They haven't really improved their lifestyles."
One of the most notorious logging projects in the region and the subject of high-profile protests was in the area between Kiunga and Aiambak in PNG's Western Province. In 1993, Malaysian logging company Concord Pacific began building a road between the two centres that was widely regarded as a thinly veiled excuse to conduct an extensive and illegal logging operation.
After 10 years of protests, the project was halted but not before huge areas of forest were devastated.
Community-based eco-forestry projects are one response to the threat of unsustainable logging from logging companies.
"This process is about [the communities] managing and organising their own lives with their own money from their own bush so they're making a decision about how their community is going to grow," Ritchie says. "It's bringing power back to the people to control their lives and their future."
In Australia, one of the main wholesalers and retailers of timber from these projects is Peter Mussett, who owns The Woodage, a Mittagong timber merchant.
Mussett, who trained as a cabinetmaker, focuses his efforts on timber from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands because "nowhere needs it more than these sorts of places".
"We purchase material from PNG villagers who cut the timber and process it into a green sawn board; that money goes to them, not to some foreign logging company feathering its own nest."
The challenge for the consumer buying floorboards or outdoor furniture is determining where the wood came from and whether it was harvested sustainably.
The system supported by Mussett and many others interested in sustainable forestry is Forest Stewardship Council certification. The council claims to have certified more than 73 million hectares worldwide.
FSC certified timber is guaranteed to have been harvested sustainably, respecting the rights and interests of the community that produces it. The timber has also followed strict "chain of custody" provisions, which ensures the timber has not been substituted at any point in the import process.
"We get audited once a year," Mussett says. "If we have imported 100 cubic metres of certified timber and our invoicing shows we sold 150 cubic metres, then we have to answer a lot of serious questions."
Sydney architect Michael Robilliard is an enthusiastic customer of The Woodage and uses FSC timber wherever possible in his houses.
"It enables these smaller countries to export highquality timbers without people like me seeming to be some sort of raping and pillaging rich first-world country person wastefully using their timbers," Robilliard says.
In an award-winning Palm Beach house completed in 2003, Robilliard made extensive use of sustainable timbers, including malas from PNG on the floor and brazilian mahogany grown in Fiji for the ceiling.
Mussett says getting Australian consumers accustomed to unfamiliar species is a big part of the battle to reduce the use of illegal or destructively harvested timber.
"We see it as our challenge to find a market for those species [people have] never seen before because, if you are going to maintain the biodiversity of a forest, then you have to be able to use what the forest is giving up so it can be sustainably managed. There are some beautiful timbers that the market does not know anything about."
The power of Australian consumers to force change on logging companies in PNG or the Solomons has not been lost on Greenpeace, which has shifted some of its focus away from high-profile direct action to educating consumers to choose "good wood".
Greenpeace campaigner Grant Rosoman points to developments in China as evidence consumers have the ultimate power to make a difference.
China remains the centre of a massive trade in converting unsustainably harvested timber into furniture and other items for export. However, it is also the biggest growth area for FSC-certified timber, because of demand from shoppers and homebuyers in Britain and the US.
"Australia has been slow on the uptake of FSC products compared to, say, the UK," Rosoman says. "There, if you go into any DIY place you'll find up to half the products or more are FSC [certified]."
Greenpeace aims to educate consumers and promote demand with its "Good Wood" campaign (www.greenpeace.org.au/goodwoodguide), which lists "good" and "bad" wood according to its source, and where to buy it in Australia.
Rosoman says: "When you talk to someone who has gone to the effort of buying good wood in a chair it is very satisfying [for them]."
Build it from the ground up
It was a chance meeting with a logging company worker that first made Mark Lillyman determined to do something about the destruction of forests in Papua New Guinea.
On my way to Bougainville through the Solomon Islands one day I ran into a Malaysian logger who proudly boasted to me that he had just bought a persons forest for some chickens, fish and rice, Lillyman says.
That was in the mid 1990s. In 1997, Lillyman, who was born in PNG and educated in Australia, set up his own community sawmill at Lae on the east coast, helping locals to manage their own forests sustainably.
He has established a business called Wildtimber that invests in community forestry businesses and imports timber into Australia. He deals in such species as kwila, rosewood, malas and taun.
I identify small community groups within PNG that have company registration and find whether they need help, Lillyman says. I might help them with the purchase of a piece of equipment in return for marketing through me.
I try to make sure they are not under the misapprehension that the market has to accept what they produce but rather that they mill for the demands of the market. Then they can become players.
Lillyman broadly supports the efforts of many of the NGOs trying to set up sustainable forestry projects in PNG. However, he says, when it comes to practical matters, well-meaning environmental groups can be overbearing.
"Their benefit is in the dissemination of information and marketing techniques rather than showing people how to mill timber on their own land, he says." " I find it interesting that people from Brussels can come over and tell Papua New Guineans how to manage their resources. Youve got to sit down and do the business in the dirt. Youve got to build it from the ground up."
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