Nestled in the Mele-Lama region of Efate island in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, Santal Valley is our own slice of paradise – and we can’t wait to share it with you.
Santal Valley is the eco-conscious investor’s dream. This iconic plantation represents the ideal union of nature and scientific advancement, merging Vanuatu’s natural growing conditions with modern agricultural developments. Sandalwood has flourished in this magical place for centuries – and our dedication to sustainability ensures it will continue to do so for years to come.
With strong roots in the past, Santal Valley is poised to grow into an even stronger future.
Santal Valley embodies the future of the sandalwood industry through planting, managing, and harvesting thousands of sandalwood trees.
Our plantation boasts over 10,000 planted sandalwood trees expected to reach maturity in three to five years. Some of these trees currently weigh 200kg, with 10% heartwood. In three to five years, these trees can be expected to weigh upwards of 300kg each, with 15-20% heartwood. We also have an additional 5,000 younger trees of varying ages, which means our valuable harvests can continue as these new trees mature. Property management also plants new seedlings on a daily basis, extending our sandalwood population.
But any knowledgeable grower knows that it’s not just the quantity of the trees that matters – it’s the quality.
We are forever trying to improve the way we grow our trees, dedicating time and resources to perfecting our techniques, improving our soil, and nurturing our trees.
Because sandalwood is a hemiparasitic plant, for example, it relies on external host plants to help it flourish. By interspersing our sandalwood with other produce, including a diverse range of fruit trees and root crops, we are able to not only increase the nutrient value of the soil, but we are also able to increase the health of our sandalwood trees themselves.
Especially when it comes to a crop like sandalwood, the quality of the trees dictates the amount of extractable and exportable heartwood, which in turn determines its value. In this way, quality and quantity go hand in hand. Through intensive scientific investigation, we’ve determined the optimal planting distance between sandalwood trees to yield the most heartwood per annum.
And through working in close partnership with both governmental and scientific organisations, we aim to preserve the genetic integrity of our trees and the strength of our forests for years to come.
Sandalwood and Vanuatu
The histories of Vanuatu and sandalwood have been entwined for centuries, with much of the archipelago nation covered in wild-growing sandalwood prior to European contact in the early 19th century. International desire for these coveted trees was just as insatiable then as it is now, and sadly, eager traders exploited the local species, extracting wild sources to near exhaustion by the 1860s.
But this long history spells good news for our modern plantation of Santal Valley: the same soil that supported these trees for thousands of years continues to support our trees today, and Vanuatu remains the ideal location for sandalwood cultivation.
Sandalwood thrives in Vanuatu’s nutrient-rich volcanic soil. Where other trees have fallen back in this cyclone-prone region, sandalwood has flourished and multiplied.
Indeed, the Vanuatu Department of Forests has been actively promoting sandalwood planting since the 1990s, and sandalwood restoration and longevity remain priorities today, for the government and local landowners alike.
As one of the first farmed areas of the region, this iconic location’s agricultural history dates back to the 1920s. But such lush and flourishing farmland soon attracted exploitation. In 1975, a French logging company decimated the valley, stripping it of all commercial timber.
At Santal Valley, we are honoured to be able to play a role in restoring this stunning landscape to its former glory and beyond.
The property itself has been cultivating sandalwood varieties Santalum austrocaledonicum and Santalum album since 2008. Deriving its name from the high-value crop, Santal Valley acquired the plantation in 2013. Our team at Santal Valley has worked with sandalwood in Vanuatu longer than any other people in this industry.
As we continue to forge our path ahead, we strive to maintain a positive impact not only on the industry at large, but on our own team here at home. We are proud to have a staff that is primarily female, in contrast to national averages. We also employ individuals across different ages, races, education levels, and disability statuses.
We have nurtured relationships with the local Vanuatu government, scientific organisations, international sandalwood markets, prominent local landowners, and our own growers and farmers.
Santal Valley’s collaborative relationship with the local Vanuatu government enables us to improve and modernise all aspects of the sandalwood industry. In particular, we enjoy a close working relationship with the Department of Forests (DOF), which oversees forestry interests throughout Vanuatu, including protected natural forests and commercial plantations. DOF staff train on the Santal Valley property itself, and we also work together to conduct research and harvest data that aims to ensure the longevity and vitality of Vanuatu’s sandalwood forests.
Our relationships with scientific research-focused institutions are likewise focused on preserving sandalwood genes. To this end, Santal Valley remains in close communication with the Southern Cross University of Queensland and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), discussing the maintenance of the nation’s premier gene conservation stand.
Connections in the market at large are crucial for maximising the global reach of sandalwood products. We work closely with one of the largest sandalwood exporters in the world, based out of Western Australia.
We care about the people we work with, and we strive to support sustainable livelihoods for our farmers. For example, we practice a customary rotational planting of food crops designed to assist staff nutrition and help supplement their income. Through collaborations with local agricultural colleges, we also work to provide education and training for the next generation of farmers.
We are continually lobbying for a more fair playing field for farmers and landowners alike. And we are always looking for ways to improve the livelihood and the financial security of everyone involved at Santal Valley and the Vanuatu sandalwood industry as a whole – because when one of us wins, we all do.
Commitment to a Sustainable Future
At Santal Valley, we are committed to sustainable approaches that ensure environmental health and honour local cultures and livelihoods, while also ensuring continued growth for our investors.
Climate-Smart Sustainable Agriculture
Santal Valley combines science with old and new island knowledge to develop sandalwood that thrives under our climate-smart agro-forestry practices. As global temperatures become increasingly extreme, we are developing climate-resilient varieties and crop management methods, such as alley cropping, windbreaks, and forest farming. This promises a triple win for climate-smart agriculture: nurturing enhanced productivity and adaptation while maintaining a low carbon footprint.
Santal Valley is a partner in gene conservation with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and Southern Cross University. We are guardians of all chemotypes of sandalwood oil in Vanuatu and host 44 grafted trees.
In line with our commitment to eco-conscious approaches, we also invest in preserving endangered native species, including the Nikapu tree and the traditional laplap leaf. The Nikapu tree is no longer found elsewhere on the island, and the laplap leaf, which is used for wrapping food, is fast disappearing due to blight. We are currently rebuilding laplap leaf stocks in a controlled, protected environment.
Santal Valley, with its farmer relationships, was the site of the first ever public-private partnership with the Vanuatu Government, involving an agreement to distribute kava seedlings. This relationship successfully distributed 20,000+ seedlings and demonstrated to the government that the private sector could be trusted to help the country. We have seed collection programs and support seed redistribution based on demand and as part of post-disaster recovery economies. Our seed banks are a key part of the value chains in both sandalwood and kava industries, ensuring a steady hold within these growing industries.
Through our agro-forestry approach, Santal Valley aligns with the Vanuatu Government’s productive sector policies to integrate food security and soil health into commercial planting. We sustain a food bowl system and integrate this into our planting strategies, such as adopting a peanut–kava–cabbage crop sequence to nurture optimal soil health.
We recognize that a sustainable agricultural future requires investment in people and skills to ensure enduring productivity. Our collaboration with learning communities, for example, allows us to host student training programs and enrich learning for our future farmers.