PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Port Vila Presse, Dec. 20) – Several years ago, Australian yachtsman Trevor Naylor was cruising through the southern islands of Malakula in the area known as the Maskylines. Trevor noticed two things, the first was that everyone used wooden canoes to travel from one nearby island to the other and secondly that there were hardly any trees left to build new canoes.

Even valuable food trees like breadfruit and mangoes were being cut down to make canoes What would happen to the area's traditional transport and fishing when there were no trees left? What could be done to reverse this trend?

Trevor thought he had an idea and met with the chiefs and community. Together they put together a proposal which they submitted to the Australian Government's Small Grants Scheme for funding.

Last week their dream became a reality as the Australian High Commissioner Steve Waters and First Secretary for AusAID, Zoe Mander-Jones attended the official opening of the South Malakula Canoe project.

The Minister of Lands, Hon Jacklyne Ruben Titek, has been very supportive of the project and while he was unable to attend the opening, he sent his First and Third Political Secretaries to the opening ceremony. The President of Malampa Province and other Provincial and National Government officials also attended.

In this area of Malakula, overharvesting of trees was becoming a serious concern, leading some people to fear that in a few years time there would be no trees to make canoes. In the Maskylines, hardwood and breadfruit trees are used to make outrigger canoes. The canoes have a life-span of between three to five years. Then another tree has to be cut down and a new canoe made.

With so many people living in the area and needing canoes for their day-to-day travel between villages and islands, the whole area was over-harvested. Hardwood and bread fruit trees numbers have diminished to a stage where the resource will be exhausted within 3 years. This could have had a devastating impact on peoples' ability to fish and to travel.

Steve Waters explained that this is why the Australian Government was pleased to find a project in this area of Vanuatu to support. Funding a fibreglass factory in such a remote area of Vanuatu is a risk and there were many queries before the project was approved about management, health and environmental risks and sustainability.

However, the Government of Vanuatu's Comprehensive Reform Program (CRP) and the Prioritised Action Agenda (PAA) are trying to encourage rural development and find income earning opportunities for those living in the provinces. Therefore, the Australian Government was pleased to lend its support.

Furthermore, as Steve Waters stated, "We recognize the difficulties faced by people who are living in the remote areas of Vanuatu. Access to transport is not always easy; and the opportunity to earn some small vatu is often very difficult. It was because we received such overwhelming support from the Province, the Vanuatu Government and the community that we agreed to provide the funding of 4 million vatu for the South Malakula Canoe Project."

The South Malakula Canoe Project is setting itself up to make both canoes and water tanks and is an example of what can be achieved by individuals and communities working together. They are making a seven-meter canoe and two sorts of water tanks cheaper than they can be bought in Vila: a 5,000 litre tank for 86,000 vatu and a 2,500 litre tank for 52,000 vatu. The efforts of Trevor Naylor, the South Malakula Development Association (set up especially to manage the project), the community and the builders and workers at the factory have ensured that the project has successfully gone ahead and is now producing quality products.

The community donated the land for the factory free of charge for five years and provided labour and building materials. The young trainees from the near-by Rural Training Centre worked late into the night to build the factory. Eight young men have been chosen to work in the factory and learn the skills of fibre glassing. In this process, Trevor Naylor has continued to provide help.

There is already a strong interest in the new canoes and water tanks. Orders are already coming in. This can only be good for business and for the future of the factory.

December 26, 2003

Port Vila Presse:


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