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Rexon, V 2013, 'Endospermum medullosum (whitewood) value chain analysis and opportunities for value-adding in Vanuatu', MESME thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright V Rexon 2013


The native tree species whitewood, Endospermum medullosum Euphorbiaceae, is well known as a native forest timber from Vanuatu which can produce large volumes of wood within 15-20 years when managed in plantations. Its domestication is well advanced in the country, where seed can be sourced from first generation seed orchards and where considerable silvicultural expertise has been developed. Although the existing value chain for whitewood is based mainly on trees from native forests, this resource is virtually exhausted and there is an opportunity to develop strong valueadded uses for plantation-grown trees. The objectives of this research were to elucidate the various components of the whitewood value chain, for both domestic and export markets, to identify impediments to the development of a whitewood plantation and processing sector, and further identify opportunities for value adding. Interviews were conducted in Vanuatu with 115 respondents from the islands of Santo and Efate to understand the existing value chain and identify value-adding opportunities. The respondents were whitewood growers (one of a larger plantation of 270 ha and 60 owners of smaller woodlots), processors (31) including saw-millers, timber yard owners and furniture makers, and consumers (domestic (21) and overseas (3)). The prices paid for whitewood vary greatly, from as little as $20 per m3 for standing trees to more than $5,393 per m3 for finished furniture and mouldings. In some cases, whitewood trees are harvested and sawn into rough boards with portable Lucas mills and transported to processing centres in the main towns, specifically Luganville, Santo and Port Vila, Efate. Rough sawn green timber is sold in Vanuatu for $380 to $490 per m3 and exported to New Caledonia for processing. The products include dry clear timber envelope-treated for $639 to $659 per m3 , dry clear timber envelope treated for domestic interior use for $658 to $2,028 per m3 , and finally dry mouldings and furniture at $3,852 to $5,393 per m3 . Specific challenges that growers and processors need to confront along the value-chain are; the need to distinguish domestic whitewood from treated Pinus radiata products imported into Vanuatu from New Zealand; the creation of efficient methods of transport from logging sites to processing centres; the need to saw and dry boards quickly after tree harvest; the development of wood treatment (impregnation) techniques, preferably with substances not toxic to humans and wildlife; protecting boards from bluestain, which develops quickly on freshly cut trees; utilising sawing technologies that can be employed in isolated rural conditions to produce boards and small pieces for later value-adding; development of viable products from short, knotty pieces; and economical ways of producing high-value products like mouldings.