Vanuatu is a Pacific Island nation with a wealth of forest resources that provide benefits to local communities on both subsistence and commercial levels. Sandalwood (Santalum austrocaledonicum) is sought for its fragrant heartwood oils and is harvested primarily from wild stands and sold to local exporters. It is the most lucrative of all forest products in Vanuatu and has been exploited commercially since the 1820’s. Recent assessments of wild populations reveal that resources are now limited and, with current harvesting practices, are expected to decline further. However, considerable smallholder interest in establishing sandalwood plantings is being sustained by the current high international values for sandalwood products. Over the past 20 years the Vanuatu sandalwood price index has increased at an annual rate of 10% compared with 2.7% for the Vanuatu consumer price index (CPI). The rate of sandalwood planting in Vanuatu between 2000 and 2006 (14,250 trees p.a.) was significantly greater than for the previous 7 years 1993-1999 (478 trees p.a.). This study reveals that smallholder sustainable sandalwood production is economically feasible. A sandalwood agroforest harvested for heartwood has a Net Present Value (NPV) that is approximately 13.5 times swidden cropping, 1.5 times that of a pure stand of planted sandalwood harvested for heartwood and 280 times that of a sandalwood planting harvested for sapwood. The sandalwood agroforest returns the equivalent income to that of a Vanuatu Government employee with a technical college diploma, which is much greater than many smallholders can expect to earn from other activities. he low numbers of mature sandalwood accessible for seed collection and recent high demand for seed however, have led to considerable shortages of planting material to meet smallholder planting goals. This has resulted in significant price increases for sandalwood seed in all areas of Vanuatu. Recent research and development work has secured a genetic resource with improved heartwood oil quality. Thus the Vanuatu sandalwood industry will greatly benefit from deployment of selected genotypes to (a) increase supply of sandalwood seed available for agroforestry and (b) improve the heartwood oil quality of planted trees.
Forests, Trees and Livelihoods / Vol. 19, No. 3, pp.299-316