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Aug 1 2016




The design, development, implementation and completion of ACIAR Project FST-2009-016 "Improving the PNG balsa value chain to enhance smallholder livelihoods" relied on the contributions of many organisations and staff in Australia and PNG. On behalf of the project, I sincerely acknowledge and thank the following partner organisations:

I also gratefully acknowledge the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) for its generous financial support, as well as the many individuals who participated in project activities, including Local Advisory Committee members, balsa trainers and East New Britain smallholders.

Professor Peter Kanowski, Project Leader, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia



Balsa_logBalsa (Ochroma pyramidale) is a fast-growing plantation tree grown by both companies and smallholders in East New Britain Province (ENB) of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Balsa is a relatively low labour-input crop with competitive returns, and so adoption by smallholders has increased as the area under cocoa production has decreased in response to the cocoa pod borer epidemic. The ENB balsa industry is entirely export-oriented, producing 9% of the world’s processed balsa. Balsa products have outstanding strength-for-weight qualities and an increasing market in high-technology composite materials, such as wind turbine blades and transportation applications. There are an estimated 1500 smallholder balsa growers, and an estimated workforce of 2500 - 3000 engaged in balsa harvest, transport, processing and export. These activities operate under the regulatory oversight of the PNG Forest Authority, which also plays an ‘honest broker’ role in transactions between companies and smallholders.

The ENB balsa industry also faces challenges, the most significant of which relate to productivity and sustainability, market access (driven by certification and legality verification), and the market issues of product development and diversification. ACIAR project researchers worked with major processors, research and training organisations, smallholder organisations, and national and district government agencies, to address each of these challenges.



Balsa_growerThe aim of the project was to enhance the value, value recovery and international competitiveness of the ENB balsa industry and, by doing so, optimise its benefits for smallholder growers. The key research activities in this context comprised:

  • Investigating market and product development prospects for balsa, the role of smallholders in the balsa value chain, and the role of balsa in smallholder livelihoods;
  • Establishing what extension, communication and capacity building activities could best support development of the balsa industry in ENB;
  • Optimising germplasm and crop management for smallholder balsa growers;
  • Assessing the regulatory environment along the ENB balsa value chain.



The principal research findings in relation to the project objectives are that:

  • Balsa_seedGlobal demand for balsa is likely to continue to remain strong, reflecting the growth in and diversification of high-technology applications for balsa products. Project research identified new balsa products that could further expand the market for balsa;
  • Expansion in balsa production in ENB is dependent primarily on smallholder growers, as there is little prospect of major expansion in company estates;
  • Smallholders for whom balsa growing is most likely to be attractive and profitable are those who are relatively close to processing facilities, who have sufficient land or income to allow them to establish a minimum area (c. 0.2 ha) of a crop that does not return income for 5-6 years, and who can undertake a threshold level of management;
  • Smallholder balsa growers would benefit from access to better germplasm, enhanced knowledge and skills in balsa management, and a clearer understanding of the drivers of product value and price. Processors would benefit from a better-managed and characterised smallholder resource. The project addressed each of these constraints;
  • Communication of knowledge about balsa management and markets, and the development of growers’ capacity to improve their management and value recovery, are best delivered as part of broader agricultural extension programs in ENB;
  • Targeted reform of the regulatory environment for balsa growing, processing and export would strengthen the comparative advantage of ENB balsa with little risk to environmental or social sustainability criteria.

The project identified stronger partnerships between key actors in the value chain – smallholder growers, processing companies, government, and knowledge and training providers – as central to the success of the ENB balsa industry, and contributed to building these partnerships.


Information and resources

ENB smallholders

Balsa_pruningThe project made important contributions to the knowledge and skills base of smallholder balsa growers in East New Britain (ENB), through the finalisation of a Balsa Manual and Training Module, and their incorporation into the smallholder farmer training system delivered by the Integrated Agriculture Training Program (IATP) at the University of Natural Resources and Environment (UNRE) in Vudal, ENB.  The project also produced a complementary set of pamphlets in English and Tok-pisin for balsa growers in ENB. These are listed below for viewing and downloading:

To print-out any of the above pamphlets as a one-page booklet:

  1. Open the file in a PDF reader.
  2. Select the print option for the file in the "File" tab.
  3. Under the Printer menu, select print on both sides of the paper option.
  4. On the same menu, select the "Flip on short edge" option.
  5. The pamphlet will print on one A4 page and on both sides ready to fold in half.

PNG and ENB policy makers

Balsa_turbineThe project conducted major surveys of balsa growing households and of the sector more generally. The results of these surveys provide an important information base for balsa sector stakeholders at provincial and national level, and for subsequent project interventions. A scenarios workshop conducted by the project in 2012 promoted discussion and developed a shared vision of the future for the PNG balsa sector.  The scenarios workshop report is available below for viewing and downloading, together with a summary of the key results of the balsa sector surveys in ENB:


Global balsa industry

The project also conducted research on balsa markets and products, with reference to trade databases, company websites, timber industry interest groups, e-mails and face-to-face interviews with industry stakeholders and researchers.  The major conclusion from this study is that the outlook for the global balsa sector is positive with the growing and processing industries being modern, robust, and expanding. Underpinning this positive outlook is the ongoing strengthening of the wind energy sector which will continue to be the prime driver for expansion for the medium term. The global balsa markets report is available below for viewing and downloading:


Final Report

The final project report is now posted on the ACIAR Website.  It is also available below for viewing and downloading:

Tree Growers Tool Kit

The smallholder pamphlets and balsa markets report have been added to the Tree Growers Tool Kit, which is hosted on the Resources section of this website.



The design, development, implementation and completion of the project relied on the contributions from many organisations and staff in Australia and PNG. Project activities were financed by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and managed by the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.




Project focus area: Communication, learning and knowledge building (CLKB), Community driven development (CDD)