Timor-Leste, or East Timor as it is often referred to in Australia, is a fascinating country and only an hour flight from Darwin, Northern Territory.
At the end of 2017, Margules Groome was successful in winning a bid from the Asian Development Bank to assist the National Directorate of Forests, Coffee and Industrial Plantations to develop a National Forestry Plan for Timor-Leste.
The country has a population of around 1.2 million. It gained independence from Portugal in 1975 but was invaded and occupied by Indonesia in the same year. Subsequently, after almost three decades of Indonesian rule, full autonomy was achieved in 2002.
Known as the home of Sandalwood, mostly Santalum album (Indian Sandalwood), Timor-Leste also has plantations of Teak (Tectona grandis) and some other species including Mahogany, Gmelina and Albizzia. Eucalyptus alba and Eucalyptus deglupta also occur there naturally.
Timor-Leste is a mountainous country with most of its flat land located on the southern higher rainfall side of the island. The northern side, where the capital Dili and the major ports are located, is considerably drier. This terrain is a challenge for developing a commercial forestry estate. Also, the mountainous terrain makes roading expensive and difficult as loaded log trucks are not able to traverse the country from south to north.
Margules Groome Director Rob de Fégely is the project team leader for the engagement. Rob said that while the project is exciting, there are some considerable challenges for forestry in Timor-Leste. The country suffers from some of the worst deforestation rates in South East Asia, loosing around 14,000 hectares per year or 1.7% of its forest area. Compounding this is the lack of any functioning forest management information system and loss of any records with the departure of Indonesian administration.
However, Timor-Leste’s Government and the staff from the National Directorate for Forests are keen to develop a sustainable forest sector. There is already a considerable area of community planting of Teak and Sandalwood in the country. There is also a working supply chain of sawn teak delivered to small furniture factories in Dili. Firewood is also a significant product traded in the
country most likely contributing to deforestation. Properly managed, firewood does represents an opportunity for commercialising plantation thinnings.
Plantation development and processing capacities improvement and development are opportunities in the reach of the regional processors and forest owners. Who will be the first to take advantage of the opportunity and participate in the development of a sustainable forest sector in Timor-Leste?
The project is due for completion towards mid-2018.