27.08.2020 - Despite everyone’s best efforts, VSA assignments do not always go to plan. Our volunteers often need exceptional flexibility and resilience, as Wayne Wooff displayed in his 2019 assignment in Vanuatu. 

“My job title was Forestry Adviser and I was to mentor Job Havo, the Provincial Forest Officer for the Malampa Province at its headquarters in Lakatoro. However, on arrival I discovered that Job had been seconded fulltime to manage field work for the National Forest Inventory (NFI),” Wayne relates. 

Unfortunately, the NFI was planned and managed by an international team of consultants which meant that there was no role for Wayne.   

Wayne was on assignment with Vanuatu’s Department of Forests, which is responsible for regulating the forest industry, promoting the conservation and management of natural forests, and encouraging the planting of useful trees. The Department runs nurseries and provides seedlings in most provincial capitals.  It also runs courses and establishes demonstration plantings within communities as well as providing advice on what species to plant and how to maximise the benefits of these plantings.  

The other two fulltime employees I worked with in the Department were also seconded to the NFI and were in the field all of the time I was there. After about a month the NFI teams, including my counterpart, moved from Malekula to other islands leaving me alone in the office. 

This was obviously not an ideal situation and Wayne worked with VSA and the Department of Forests for a solution. It was agreed that Wayne would work on projects for the Acting Director of Forests remotely from Lakatoro.   

Fortunately, there was good connectivity and I was able to use the internet and to send and receive material from Port Vila,” says Wayne.  

Wayne’s project work was very varied and included preparing a plan to undertake an inventory of Vanuatu’s planted forest resource. This plan has now been agreed and will be funded by the Pacific Regional Office of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

Another project involved preparing a paper entitled The sandalwood value chain in small island states in the Pacific which was presented at a regional forum organised by the FAO. Wayne also drafted the Department of Forests 2020 Corporate Plan and prepared the Department’s 2020 budget.  

One of the highlights for me was working with the Alpalack community to obtain funding from the UNDP Global Environment Fund’s Small Grants Programme for USD 8000 to fund the establishment of a community nursery in NW Malekula,” says Wayne. 

However, the project that Wayne was most proud of was a handbook he developed for newly recruited forest officers.   

Community nursery in NW Malekula

The Department was embarking on a recruitment programme.  There is no forestry training institution in Vanuatu, so these recruits were from an agricultural or other background.  The manual provides easy to follow steps for many of the tasks that an officer would be called upon to perform. It also includes details of the laws which impact forestry in Vanuatu, the administrative framework, office and workplace procedures, and a compendium of information on technical aspects of forestry.” 

Wayne worked on these projects for five months and then was transferred to Luganville to work with the Regional Forest Officer and his staff to prepare plans for a major reforestation project on Santo. 

The plan was that I stay in Luganville for three months and then return to Lakatoro by which time Job would have returned to his main job and we could have made progress on the original assignment goals,” explains Wayne. However, fate intervened in the form of COVID-19 and Wayne returned to New Zealand.   

While Wayne’s assignment ended up being quite different from what was proposed, he was able to use his experience of working in PNG for five years as senior lecturer in forestry, 13 years as a forest manager and two years as forest consultant in the Solomon Islands to give advice on forestry matters.   

My previous experience in Melanesia meant that I was able to communicate with local farmers and foresters. I would have such conversations at least a couple of times a week. 

“In the end, I was doing work that needed to be done. I was providing models and setting standards that I believe would contribute to the Assistant Director, and his staff, performing better in the future. 

“I had to make the best of what was a less than ideal situation, but I think that what I did was worth doing, and I enjoyed doing it.” 

A workday in the forest. Photo credit: Wayne Wooff

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