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Creating a successful, sustainable forestry industry, together with Indigenous communities

A new research project managed by FWPA will investigate the potential for commercial Indigenous forestry in the Northern Territory’s East Arnhem Land.

The project aims to support Traditional Owners in developing a sustainable forest-based livelihood, and will provide insights to underpin the long-term commercial viability of forestry in the area.

Funded jointly by industry and the Australian government, the research project is part of FWPA’s voluntary matched funding program, which offers matched funding up to a 1:1 ratio against the cash commitments of external investors in support of project proposals.

Since launching in 2016, more than $12 million has been allocated as part of the program.

FWPA Managing Director, Ric Sinclair said, “FWPA is very proud to facilitate this important project through our matched funding program, which will support Indigenous forestry in northern Australia.”

This project is being delivered by the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) and several partner entities, led by Developing East Arnhem Limited (DEAL), an independent not-for-profit company that aims to drive economic development in East Arnhem Land to promote the resilience of the region and opportunities for its people.

DEAL and USC will work with the Gumatj Corporation, the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), Aboriginal land management organisations, a range of Northern Territory government bodies and other Aboriginal workforce development groups in the region.

FWPA Research and Development Manager, Dr Chris Lafferty said the project provides a great example of how voluntary matching supports projects that might not otherwise progress.

“The voluntary matching agreement allows for the support of research projects in smaller markets which are not necessarily driven by the promise of big returns or wider industry inclusion,” Lafferty explained.

“But by supporting emerging markets through R&D we can help place them in a strong position to thrive over time and grow into much more significant sections of the industry.”

Jordy Bowman, CEO at DEAL, said forestry has the potential to support Indigenous communities to use their land for employment and economic benefit, alongside cultural purposes.

“The project will support Traditional Owners to recognise the commercial assets they have on their land. It will provide an evidence base that enables them to make informed decisions,” Bowman said.

Balapalu Yunupingu, Gumatj elder and Director of Gumatj Corporation, said the project is about bringing together old and new ways.

“It’s about developing partnerships for our future, working together, learning from the past and creating sustainable jobs for our young people,” Yunupingu said.

Current data suggests East Arnhem Land’s forests have commercial value, however this is yet to be fully validated. A lack of proven data limits the ability to accurately forecast the most appropriate and profitable product types, harvestable quantities and values and broader market and supply chain opportunities.

While indicating their interest in sustainable and commercial forestry, Indigenous communities have not had access to enough information to support progressing business development in this area.

“We know there is a strong interest amongst East Arnhem communities in Indigenous-led forest and timber product enterprises,” Bowman said.

“The region contains large areas of Indigenous-owned native forests with commercial potential, which can be capitalised on to help develop a sustainable post-mining future for the region and its people.”

The project — Indigenous Commercial Forestry Opportunities: East Arnhem, Northern Australia — will run for three years, and include:

  • a harvesting demonstration and training site, and assessment of how different regimes would meet forest certification standards
  • a marketing pilot to identify, manufacture and market-test timber products made using endemic East Arnhem logs from Indigenous-owned forests, which will provide a good indication of how much the market is willing to pay for the various products
  • engagement with traditional owners and communities to build a deeper understanding of their interest in forestry opportunities across East Arnhem Land
  • mapping and reporting of the forests of East Arnhem Land and their commercial potential, including forestry inventory assessment and the development of forest assessment tools that can be utilised by local communities to develop and maintain inventories and collect meaningful data to help them understand their resource
  • on-the-job training of communities in technical forestry operations and the manufacture of forest products.

The project will be underpinned by efforts to link Traditional Owners with prospective markets, buyers, partners and investors.

University of the Sunshine Coast Research Manager, Mark Annandale said the institution has long been committed to demonstrating its support for creating sustainable livelihoods for Indigenous people.

“As the forests of northern Australia come under increasing pressure from commercial entities, we are proud to be involved with an initiative that supports their development, under the guidance of their Traditional Owners,” Mr Annandale said.

The project is funded by DEAL, the Gumatj Corporation, NIAA) and the NT Government, with matched funding from the Australian Government, as part of its voluntary matching agreement with FWPA. Significant investment is also being made by The University of the Sunshine Coast.

Posted Date: July 23, 2020

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