15 Aug 2014

Sandalwood on Erromango

From Country Life, 9:17 pm on 15 August 2014

Vanuatur workers
Jake David, Simon Craig and Jackson Novoi.

RSE Kiwifruit Workers Supporting Sandalwood Venture Back Home

Ni Vanuatu workers Jackson Novoi and Jake David have spent the past five months picking, packing and now pruning kiwifruit on a South Auckland orchard.  Some of the money they’re earning is helping them develop a potentially high value sandalwood plantation back home on the island of Erromango.

They’ve been coming to New Zealand under the RSE (Recognised Seasonal Employment) scheme for four years and when they leave they fill a shipping container with chainsaws, solar panels, water tanks and building materials. They’ll also take home the experience of growing crops and working hard.

Jake says when he arrived in New Zealand he didn’t really know how to work “because back at home I spent a lot of time doing nothing. But it improved me to do work back home now. I have experience.”  He returns home brimming with enthusiasm to prune and protect his sandalwood trees which, without constant attention, would be swallowed up by jungle.

The Sandalwood trees are part of a joint venture set up by two New Zealanders nearly a decade ago. Thirty thousand trees were planted then and will be harvested for their valuable heartwood and oil, which is used as a “carrier” in high end perfumes, in about eleven years.

Historically, Erronmango was known as The Sandalwood Island, but the resource has been progressively depleted. The joint venture aims to turn an impoverished mountainous island with three thousand people into one which will be financially self- sufficient for years to come.

At harvest sandalwood trees can be worth $500 to $5,000 a tree based on the current market price for heartwood.  Wood prices depend on the oil price and volume of oil-bearing heartwood per tree.

Jackson says the current plan is to get more financial backing so they can plant 100,000 trees.

RSE panarama a
Mature Sandlewood and a pilot extraction plant in Vila.

RSE panarama a
Thomas’s plantation and Jackson Novoi on his plantation with Shane Craig.