Solomon Islands: The challenge in moving to a more sustainable path in the forestry sector.
The Finance Minister, the Hon, Harry Kuma, revealed in his 2020 recent budget speech in Parliament that the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth is projected to be around 2.3 per cent in 2020.
In terms of GDP growth, the Minister talked, specifically, of the Government’s approach to move to a more sustainable path in the forestry sector over the medium-term.
While I am sure many will welcome a forecast to move to more sustainability, the extent to which the forest resources have been managed in a sustainable manner in the past has effectively been limited. I have in mind what happened in both 2004 and 2007 when round log exports substantially increased in contrast to the needed sustainable harvest levels.
In those earlier years, such a rate of log exports should have moved the government to seriously re-visit its forest policy and to have intervened constructively. Instead the government continued to grant logging licenses to companies and landowners to carry out logging on customary lands.
Writing in 2010 in a paper co-authored by Paul Roughan and Sammy Wara with the broad heading of ‘Solomon Islands Country Report’, the authors outlined some of the then approaches to sustainable forest management, such as the AusAID funded Forest Management Project (Phase 11) and the EU funded Sustainable Forest Management Project.
The latter project was expected to end in 2010 and it is not clear whether the AusAID funded project continues.
It currently leaves open the question of whether donor assistance is still being obtained to aid the Solomon Islands government with the proposal to move to a more sustainable forest management path.
Building a sustainable future through effective management of forests and forestry will be challenging after so many years of unsustainable logging which has had serious impacts on forest land availability.
At the social and economic level, the sustainable development and management of forests can also have a positive impact on the people who depend on this important resource and, already, we have learned that 5000 Solomon Islanders still dependent on logging.
Sustainable forest management must not be put off, however, since the commercial logging of natural forests has, over the years, changed the vegetation cover of the main islands of the Solomon Islands. It has been estimated that the forest cover has decreased – from 80% in the 1990s, to less than 70 % today – indicating a significant loss in forestry resources including biodiversity. The logged-over areas have lost significant natural and ecological value in terms of their functioning as habitats for biodiversity, sinks for the sequestration of atmospheric carbon, and watershed catchment areas.
A paper entitled ‘Solomon Islands Forestry Outlook Study.’ prepared by Richard Pauku at the UN Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in 2009, said:
“Some endemic forest species that are unable to adapt to new environments face possible extinction. The majority of the forested land mass in the Solomon Islands is under customary ownership. The prevailing traditional system of landownership provides a welfare safety-net for the vast majority of Solomon Islanders. Customary land tenure also supports the country’s robust village-based subsistence gardening. At the same time, customary ownership is regarded a major constraint to large-scale development. Often it is problematic, costly and fraught with uncertainty due to the inevitable and often multiple disputes that arise between owners and developers, or between different landowner groups.”