Monday, January 19, 2009

Coconut palms - the timber of the future - and a saving grace for Papua New Guinea

My blogger mate Tumbuans & Dukduks had an interesting post the other day about cocowood - timber from coconuts - which very much interested me as Papua New Guinea is abundant in coconuts.
I was bitten by the cocowood bug, so to speak, that I searched on the internet for more information about what could be a multi-million kina industry for our impoverished people living in the rural areas of PNG.
Attached are pictures from coconut plantations in Kopopo, East New Britain province, which I took last December; cocowood products by; and DPI&F senior technician Gary Hopewell working on cocowood products.Picture by
We see them along our beachfronts and in many streets, gardens and plantations, but the iconic coconut tree may soon have a new place in the Papua New Guinea lifestyle as a high quality building product.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has been conducting a project since 2007 in Fiji and Samoa called 'Improving Value and Marketability of Coconut Wood'.

 The project has a budget of AU$520,552 and is anticipated to end in April 2010.

The project addresses key issues relating to the acceptance of coconut wood into the high value flooring market.

 It is specifically focused on developing processing systems and profiles for high quality flooring, and defining appropriate grading standards, product specifications and quality control systems.

As the fifth largest coconut producer in the world and by far the largest in the Pacific, PNG is at the doorstep of a lucrative opportunity to become a market leader in cocowood production.

What makes it even more realistic is the fact that PNG has a large number of aging colonial coconut plantations which produce less and less quality coconuts each year for copra and coconut production.

 What better way to deal with these senile plantations than to generate new timber industries and create new PNG export and consumer markets, while providing a new source of income for PNG folk from an abundant and locally available resource?

With strong demand for flooring products in Asia, America and Europe, there is a definite market available for cocowood products

Research conducted by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) has found that cocowood produced from coconut palm tree trunks, is suitable for use as high value flooring, bench tops, kitchen cabinets and furniture.

DPI&F senior technician Gary Hopewell said the latest findings from the three-year $520,000 cocowood project showed that processed coconut palm wood was actually superior to many other commercially available timbers.

"A number of Australian flooring product manufacturers are evaluating the material for their domestic manufacturing operations," he said.

"Timber industry representatives from Australia, Fiji and Samoa, including flooring market and production specialists and potential suppliers and processors, are studying drying and processing technologies to ensure strict quality control of the product.

"Even medium density palm logs can be processed to make attractive veneers and plywood.

"The positive results achieved to date support development of palm stem processing in Pacific island countries of origin, with valued added flooring and other products produced in Australia."

Many Pacific island nations including Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and PNG have large but ageing coconut palm plantations, where there is declining coconut and copra crop production.

Mr Hopewell said the project was looking at opportunities to use these plantations to generate new timber industries, and create new Australian export and consumer markets, while providing a new source of income for Pacific island peoples from a locally available resource.

"With strong demand for flooring products in Asia, America and Europe, cocowood products could be very lucrative for Queensland and our Pacific neighbours," he said.

"By developing a cocowood industry to provide a range of timber products, we could help reduce the demand for timber from old growth forests in Pacific island nations."

This year the project enters a new stage with the further refinement of cocowood processing for commercialisation and entry to domestic and international markets.

The cocowood project is co-funded by ACIAR).

DPI&F is a partner agency with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Fiji Coconut Industry Development Authority, (CIDA), Fiji Ministry of Fisheries and Forests, Samoan Ministry for Natural Resources and Environment and Strickland Brothers, Samoa.

"Large areas of mature coconut stems across the Pacific region are now unproductive and are a potential source of wood for high-value flooring and other products," according to the cocowood website

"Engineered coconut 'wood' could provide one solution to waning global timber resources while contributing significantly to local economies.

"Despite this, the stems are uneconomic to harvest until the wood properties are better understood and appropriate processing technologies are developed.

"The ACIAR project 'Improving value and marketability of coconut wood' (The Cocowood Improvement Project) is providing the science to underpin coconut wood production, engineering and marketing initiatives and address gaps in our understanding of cocowood properties and suitable processing technologies.

"The project will develop processing systems appropriate for producing high quality flooring using new approaches relevant to cocowood.

"These will be driven by a greater understanding of cocowood properties and the causes of post-harvest staining and aesthetic downgrade.

"The project will deliver training and guidelines for product standards, grading and quality control.

"Project outcomes will have long term benefits by improving the manufacture and acceptance of coconut wood in the international, high value flooring market.

"Local business and communities will benefit from the development of appropriate technologies that contribute to sustainable, economic management of the cocowood resource in the Pacific region.

"The project runs from May 2007 to May 2010."





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