The forestry industry on the Tiwi Islands could be set to double as a new $4.6 million project turbo-charges export revenues for Traditional Owners.

The Tiwi Plantation Corporation, owned by the Tiwi Land Council, is taking part in a project and trialling a new model for the forestry industry on the islands that uses plantations of Eucalyptus pellita trees, which early evidence shows could be up to 100 per cent more productive than the current Acacia varieties.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) expects the model to increase the export value of the Northern Australian tropical plantation industry from $6.5 million in 2018-19 to $12.5 million in 2025-2026.

Chair of the Tiwi Plantations Corporation Kim Puruntatameri said he was excited for the project to deliver new options for economic development and employment for the Tiwi community.

“This fundamental shift in the plantation production system will bolster the long-term viability of the Tiwi plantations and provide an integrated socioeconomic model for the expansion of the planation forestry estate in the north,” he said.

“We’re already seeing productivity gains — close to 100 per cent — in a network of small-scale paired trial sites previously planted on Melville Island.”

“Based on these figures, this is expected to secure a multimillion export market in future years.”

Trees grown in the plantations on the Tiwi Islands are sold as woodchips to customers in China and Japan — 24 shipments of the Islands’ products have been sent overseas to date.

The project will continue to export woodchip, but the transition to Eucalyptus products means Traditional Owners will be able to offer buyers higher value specialty pulps for textiles and other products.

Kim Puruntatameri is the Chair of the Tiwi Plantation Corporation. Photo supplied.

The project is also looking into implementing a $100 million second planting rotation within the existing plantation areas.

If the Tiwi Plantation Corporation can secure investment for the project, it will create an extra 35 ongoing Tiwi jobs in plant nurseries and planting programs, as well as full-time, skilled work for 120 Tiwi people.

The Northern Territory Minister for Agribusiness and Aquaculture, and Northern Australia and Trade Nicole Manison said the project will help create long-term local jobs.

“We want to increase investment in the Territory and create sustainable, long-term jobs for locals, particularly in Aboriginal communities. This is part of our target to grow the Territory’s economy to $40 billion by 2030, with a focus on growing industries, including agribusiness,” she said.

The Tiwi Land Council made their first forays into forestry in 1989, when the NT Government ended their commercial involvement in the industry and handed over more than 4,900 hectares of plantations to Traditional Owners.

The project is a collaboration between Tiwi Plantations Corporation (TPC), the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), Forest and Wood Products Australia, the NT Government’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, Charles Darwin University, and University of Melbourne.

By Sarah Smit