Community-mediated conservation of sandalwood

The sandalwood tree is pictured here as backdrop to a Fijian community member who actively manages the village's sandalwood resources.

The sandalwood tree is pictured here as backdrop to a Fijian community member who actively manages the village’s sandalwood resources.

The sandalwood tree (Santalum yasi) is a culturally and economically significant but threatened plant endemic to Fiji and Tonga that is harvested and exported for its aromatic and medicinal oil.  Sandalwood was one of the initial lures attracting Europeans and Americans into the South Pacific and has provided the impetus for many significant historical events and cultural shifts.  The historic and modern commodification of sandalwood has lead to declines in population densities, threatening its continued role in cultural heritage and commercial income.  To help conserve sandalwood, our research has incorporated ecological studies, population genetics analyses, community-mediated conservation, and research into the ethnobotanical uses and historical accounts of sandalwood.

General theories and encouraging examples regarding conservation of indigenous resources have been documented in the literature. One common theme for long-term success is to empower local communities in the decision-making process and to endow more stewardship rights to them. This approach can help mediate many of the difficulties inherent in a “top-down” approach to the conservation of environmental resources. We have begun to offer a platform for active networking and discussion to create a collaborative knowledge base of community-mediated management strategies for the in situ conservation of sandalwood within local paradigms and customs from Oceania, Southeast Asia, and India, where sandalwood species are found. This collaborative knowledge may then be used as a catalyst to promote community-based resource stewardship in ways that ensure ethical and sustainable harvesting and trade.

This project is being carried out in collaboration with the Fijian and Tongan Governments, and the University of the South Pacific.


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