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Solomon Islands’ timber industry has two main sectors: the dominant natural forest sector and the smaller plantations sector. The latter includes both industrial-scale plantations operated by corporate interests and smallholder (or village) plantations established and managed by customary landowners. The majority of the timber produced in Solomon Islands, including that from natural forests and industrial plantations, is exported as unprocessed round logs. Only very limited quantities of timber are processed for local use or export. Direct SIG revenue from the timber industry is almost exclusively derived from duties paid on export of logs cut from natural forests.
Over the past decades, the main activity was the extraction of Timber and products for round log export of commercial species. Logging activities started in the 1930s’ on crown land and continued to intensified until 1980s’ when all crown land have been completely exhausted. In the late 1980s’ the Logging Industry started to enter into the Customary Land with arrangement and contract made directly with Resource owners. This was when heavy extraction and exploitation occurred well above the sustainable allowable cut. In 2005 Round Log export increases dramatically to reach 1 million cubic meters which is 4 times the sustainable rate of harvesting. This rate of extraction causes rapid depletion of the Natural Commercial stand. A National Inventory was carried in 2006, to assess the remaining commercial stand and a wood flow projection was produced. The scenario produced, predicted a rapid depletion of the commercial forest stand volume and by 2010 and complete depletion by 2015. This is the present scenario of the Timber industry of Solomon Islands.
Timber milling was undertaken since logging operation started in the 1930s’ when international companies operated in the Solomon Islands. These were established permanent sawmills that produce sawn timber mainly for local needs. It was continued in successive decades however, on a reduced scale with few companies in Guadalcanal and Western Provinces mainly to supply the local market. In the 1980s’, local resource owners started to do small scale milling with chainsaw mainly for own building needs and local sales. The introduction of Portable mills in 2000 increased Timber Milling activities mainly done by Resources Owners themselves and supply the local timbers exporters in the country. Also the increase development activities require an increased demand for construction and building needs. Most of the Milling activities concentrated on indigenous hardwood species of high strength and durability. The current demand for local hardwood species is very high and will increase in the future, however, rapid timber extraction through logging depletes the natural commercial species and would have devastating effect on the sawn timber supply to meet our local needs.
Round log exports from Solomon Islands are significant. By contrast, total exports of sawn timber are understandably lower, although the exact volume is not available. Local timber consumption is also estimated to be significant, although data on this are again not available. However, housing construction, with sawn timber as the major component was recorded to be more than SI$20 million (Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2005/6). Solomon Islands does not currently import sawn timber, but does import furniture from overseas, especially from Asia. Unless something is done about the rapid decline of merchantable natural forest, the Solomon Islands is likely to import timber from overseas in the future, to meet its domestic demand.
Tourists’ admiration of wood carving in Solomon Islands is noted with interest, and it provides a niche market for these products. No data are available on the quantity of carvings sold locally, nor those exported, but production seems, generally, to be gathering momentum, especially as the tourism industry is picking up in response to law and order restoration and people’'s increasing confidence.
Traditionally, wood is the main source of fuel for open fire cooking and stone ovens. Modern cooking uses electricity and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and to a certain extent coconut shell charcoal for charcoal ovens. In rural villages, cooking is still by and large based on fuel wood. Even in urban areas, especially provincial centres, people are still highly dependent on wood for fuel. Thus, the demand for wood fuel in homes is significant and is unlikely to be reduced in the foreseeable future. The changes in lifestyles do not have a particularly significant impact as people still prefer traditional ways of cooking - due to taste, value and affordability.
Non-wood forest products refer mainly to fruits, nuts, seeds, barks, roots and leaves. These tree products are used for food, crafts, dyes, resins and medicines. Whitmore (1969) documented 1,931 species of plants in the Solomon Islands, but this amount has increased by 1,279 species (Hancock and Henderson 1988) who classified species into five main groups: (a) food plants, mainly collected and cultivated, (b) cultivated plants of agricultural significance, e.g. those known to influence soil fertility, (c) plants that fulfill a basic need, e.g. firewood, (d) custom and craft purposes, and (e) medicines. The potential of these native species being commercialized and traded for export is already evident, for example, Canarium indicum (locally called ngali nut), Morinda citrofolia (or noni) and Calamus hollrungii (rattan or lawyer cane). The need to develop indigenous species with commercial potential should be seriously considered by the government as an option for the diversification of income-generating opportunities for resource owners.