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Partners : Partners September 2012
PARTNERS SPRING 2012 23 The growing sophistication of the Papua New Guinean balsa industry Sylvester Kulanz (left) and Neville Howcroft. Gorethy Dipsen Ecuador is the world's largest balsawood supplier. The South American tree was introduced to PNG in the 1930s and is now the basis of a commercial industry in East New Britain Province. With an 8% market share by volume and 6% by value, PNG is the world's second largest balsa supplier. An earlier ACIAR scoping study found that 500 smallholder growers and two larger commercial interests cultivate about 5,000 hectares on 5-year rotations. Exports of processed wood from these plantings were valued at about K11.2 million (A$5.4 million) in 2008, with the dominant markets being China (43%) and India (20%). To bolster growth in this promising industry, ACIAR is helping smallholders take advantage of the opportunities to use balsa to boost incomes, with research subjects that span the supply chain, including: 1. analysis of smallholder livelihoods, decision processes and farming systems; 2. identification and facilitation of smallholder organisation and communication strategies and structures; 3. optimising value recovery in balsa processing, including wood delivery logistics and primary and secondary processing; 4. optimising supply of improved germplasm and crop management for smallholders; and 5. development of enabling systems for the certification of PNG smallholder balsa. Working on this project are Sylvester Kulanz, Jaupo Miniunu and Daniel Weady---technical officers at the PNG University of Natural Resources and Environment in Vudal, in East New Britain Province, under the guidance of Neville Howcroft. One of the activities undertaken locally involves growing a variety of balsa seedlings in the university greenhouse to help understand the best management regime for balsa. "I would like to think that in years to come, some good will come from the research I have done on balsa trees," Jaupo Miniunu says. For that to happen, Daniel Weady says R&D into the development of practices that allow smallholders to grow high-quality balsa BY EMILY FLOWERS The Papua New Guinea Forest Authority aims to build a forestry sector that is sustainable and highly profitable, while recognising the importance of promoting community forestry activities to empower rural communities and alleviate poverty. The established balsa industry in East New Britain Province is the best example nationally of a successful value-adding forest industry involving smallholder tree -growing. Smallholders engage in balsa growing both individually and, increasingly in the past decade, as groups working collaboratively. About 75% of the planted area is smallholder plantation and almost all of this is managed as blocks of less than 20 hectares by landowners who have pooled their resources to maximise their returns. Balsa is an alternative to cocoa because of the impact of cocoa pod borer (CPB). The CPB infestation is leading to a reduction in the area planted to cocoa, a principal smallholder crop, and to an increase in smallholder interest in alternative crops. Balsa could offer an attractive alternative. The ACIAR project that supports these smallholder agroforestry ventures was launched in September 2011. Improving the Papua New Guinea balsa value chain to enhance smallholder livelihoods (FST/2009/016) aims to enhance the value, value recovery and international competitiveness of the PNG balsa industry as a way of optimising benefits for smallholder growers. It achieves this by addressing issues, constraints and opportunities along the entire balsa value chain, from smallholder decision-making and organisation through to improving germplasm and management of balsa crops and on to transport, processing, marketing and product development. Research has helped to identify the key issues along this chain: n For smallholders: the optimal incorporation of balsa-growing into their farming system, the availability of adequate labour, plantation management capacity and the nature of supply arrangements with processing industries. n In management of balsa plantations: optimising germplasm and silviculture, and realising management standards adequate for forest certification. n For processors: optimising value-recovery strategies from the forest through to the wharf, including improved sawing and drying practices. n In marketing and product development: enhancing market analysis, developing innovative product development opportunities and synchronising log production with processing capacity and market demands. As such, the project is expected to deliver economic, environmental and social benefits to the entire PNG economy. sustainably and productively in managed plantations must continue. That information would provide the essential foundation for the entire industry. At the other end of the supply chain there are the balsa processing mills, such as the one at Kokopo. Visiting the mill as it operates in full swing is a local plantation manager, John Ohana. "The industry has become quite sophisticated and the quality of the balsawood being grown needs to be maintained and improved," John says. "This is important, given that processed balsa is used in a number of specialised engineered products such as wind turbine blades and boats, where lightness and strength are required." n
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