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PHOTO: TONY BARTLETT
"ULTIMATELY, IT IS THE PLANTATIONS THAT HAVE TAKEN
THE PRESSURE OFF NATIVE FORESTS---WE NEED TO
ENSURE THAT THE PLANTATIONS CONTINUE TO PRODUCE
LARGE AMOUNTS OF WOOD FROM A SMALL AREA."
-- Dr Daniel Mendham
northern Queensland and Papua New Guinea,
the Indonesian acacia plantations succumbed to
disease pressure and are no longer widely grown in
Sumatra. Instead, Indonesia is about 80% of the way
through a transition to the use of eucalyptus trees.
"The situation in Sumatra highlights that
plantations remain vulnerable and require research
to remain sustainable and productive,"
Dr Mendham says.
How that research is delivered depends greatly
on the social structures that make cultivation
of the trees possible. In Vietnam it is mainly
smallholder farmers who plant and maintain the
trees. The situation is different in Indonesia, where
plantations are commercial operations and require
their own unique framework of partnerships.
ENGAGING WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR
In 2015, two ACIAR forestry projects got underway
with Indonesian private-sector partners, one led
by Dr Mendham focusing on the sustainable
management of the transitioning plantations,
and the other, led by the University of Tasmania's
Dr Caroline Mohammed, dealing with disease
management. These two projects work with
three of the biggest Indonesian plantation
companies, which collectively cultivate about
two million hectares.
Dr Mendham explains that each company
maintains its own R&D unit and each was willing
to engage with the Australian team members.
The three companies, however, were initially
reluctant to work with each other. He suspects the
situation arose from a culture of competition at
the marketing level spilling over into unproductive
competition when dealing with shared tree-
"They grow the same species in the same
environment yet run isolated management and
breeding programs," Dr Mendham says. "This
means the companies miss out on benefits that
come from understanding the system as a whole
and they miss out on efficiencies intrinsic to
collaborative research that shares in results equally."
ACIAR project activities, however, provided
the three companies with channels to build trust
and discover the advantages of tapping into
the efficiencies of collaborative research as they
face the non-trivial challenges of safeguarding
sustainably sourced wood into the future to
feed massive demand. The buy-in from technical
staff came quickly; management is responding
more conservatively. Yet experimental trials are
underway on privately leased plantation sites
that are inexorably breaking down barriers
to collaboration. As Vietnam, too, considers a
transition to eucalyptus trees on some sites,
information sharing is now extending to project
sites in the two different countries.
"The ACIAR project activities provide the
only forum where researchers from different
companies can come together collaboratively to
understand the key wood production challenges,"
Dr Mendham says.
"With so much at stake, it makes sense to
work together to help acquire knowledge of
best-practice management. Ultimately, it is the
plantations that have taken the pressure off native
forests---we need to ensure that the plantations
continue to produce large amounts of wood from
a small area."
There are now pockets of protected and
stabilised native forest in Sumatra and connecting
green belts that are made possible by the
productivity of plantations. There is also a growing
respect at the corporate level regarding the
importance of a social licence to operate that is
helping to increase social capital.
"We are seeing in Indonesia all the hallmarks
of an industry that is evolving into something
more socially and environmentally sustainable,"
Dr Mendham says. "With that inevitably comes
cultural change. It is a similar trajectory of change
taken by Australia over the past 50 years. What
ACIAR allows these transitioning economies to
do is share experiences, collaborate on finding
solutions, and build frameworks to better tackle
problems in the future." n
ACIAR PROJECTS: FST/2009/051 'Increasing
productivity and pro tability of Indonesian smallholder
plantations'; FST/2014/064 'Maximising productivity
of eucalyptus and acacia plantations for growers in
Indonesia and Vietnam'
MORE INFORMATION: Dr Daniel Mendham, CSIRO
Land and Water, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Daniel Mendham and
Indonesian researcher Dwiko
Permadi at a three-year-old
plantation of Eucalyptus pellita,
in the private-sector partner
Finnantara's HTI lease area
at Peta Sebaran Tamanan,
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