The chairman of Fiji’s Lau Provincial Council, Lieutenant Colonel Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba Mara, says the theft of sandalwood on Lakeba and other islands in the group has been wiped out.
Mara stated that sellers now had to identify where they sourced the sandalwood from before making a sale and buyers are now also controlled.
He said he had put the requirements in place to stop the theft of sandalwood and identify the perpetrators.
“It was not just dishonesty, it was stealing. People were going to other people’s plantations and stealing so we put a stop to it,” Mara said.
He said that at between $30 to $40 or more per kilogram, the sandalwood trade was lucrative which was why some villagers had resorted to stealing.
The province sold around 100,000 tonnes last year at $40 per kilogram.
Sandalwood harvesting is done every 13 years and “if you wait for 20 years you get really good money for it”, Mara said.
This year, the Ministry of Agriculture intervened in the western highlands to address sandalwood theft and claims that landowners were being exploited.
According to former Sandalwood Industries Fiji CEO, Amit Chand, logging companies were harvesting in prohibited areas at night.
The Agriculture Ministry has also been revamped following allegations by loggers that ministry staff were colluding with loggers to get sandalwood out of the country illegally.