PLANS AFOOT TO TAP FIJI’S HUGE MAHOGANY FORESTS

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Lucrative trade is to benefit landowners

SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, Jan. 5, 2009) – Fiji’s mahogany forest, among the largest in the world, is expected to begin yielding some real money this year.

And much of the benefits of the lucrative green gold will go to indigenous landowners as a result of a new arrangement being put in place.

The interim Government is in the process of finalizing the transfer of the ownership of the mahogany plantations to the indigenous landowners through the Fiji Mahogany Trust.

The scheme will involve the licensing of approved harvesters who, as criteria of getting a licence, must, among other things, value add in Fiji, pay a levy for reforestation, brand Fijian mahogany, and provide employment.

According to interim Public Enterprise Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, applicants for licences will be given favourable consideration if they have indigenous land owner equity participation.

"We will soon be making some public announcements on the matter. Hopefully all the required legal changes will be in place by the second and third quarter of the year and then we can start making money."

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama had last November announced that the transfer of ownership should be in place by January 1 this year.

He said the initiative is to bring indigenous Fijians into the mainstream economy and address inequalities of the past.

Sayed-Khaiyum explains that indigenous landowners will benefit from the proceeds of timber "whereas before they used to get 10 per cent, now they will get 90 per cent".

"It is about empowering landowners," he said.

Fiji Hardwood Corporation, which will be redirected to become a mahogany and forest manager, should also begin to make money, according to Sayed-Khaiyum.

"Fiji Hardwood Corporation has not made any profit since its inception in 1998 except for last year," he said.

Hardwood plantations managed by Fiji Hardwood Corporation comprise approximately 70,000 hectares of land spread across the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

Of this land area 86 per cent is native land with 14 per cent of the land area comprising Crown Land, Crown Grants and Forest Reserves.

In 1998, the hardwood plantation resources, managed by Fiji Hardwood Corporation on behalf of Government, were valued at between $F158 million and $F192 million before taxes.

Fijilive: http://www.fijilive.com

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