Leonard Kheswa obtained his agricultural diploma at the then CWAKA Agricultural College near Empangeni and then joined Sappi Forests as a supervisor in 1980, eventually progressing to the position of Forester. In April 1999, he decided to take the plunge and opened his own forestry contracting business as Len’s Forestry.
by Johan Potgieter and photography by Samora Chapman
|Leonard Kheswa (left) and Vic Maharaj.|
Initially, Len’s Forestry was only supplying silviculture services but in 2002, there was extensive snow damage to the plantations in the Greytown area, necessitating significant timber harvesting resources. Leonard successfully tendered for some of the snow damage work, and once he’d completed it, he decided to put his newly acquired equipment and harvesting skills to use and tendered for a standard harvesting contract, which he won. The business has been supplying both silviculture and harvesting services for the past six years.
Leonard manages the silviculture operations with a foreman, three supervisors and a labour force of 100 people. The harvesting operations are managed by Vic Maharaj, who has 19 years of forestry experience. He is assisted by three foremen, three supervisors and a labour force of 238.
Silviculture and fire management
The silviculture operation benefits from the fact that Len’s Forestry also does the harvesting. Unlike other plantations where one contractor harvests and another does the silviculture, Len’s Forestry takes care to ensure that the harvesting operation facilitates the execution of the subsequent silviculture activities. For example, the stacking of brushwood is done with great care to ensure that it does not impede the planting operation, as is often the case on many forestry plantations.
During our visit, we stopped at a compartment of trees which had recently been pruned to two metres (stem height). I can honestly say that in my 34 years in the forestry industry, I have not seen quality of pruning better than that. The pruning wasn’t done with the usual pruning saw but with cane knives! The branches were removed absolutely flat against the stems and there were no bark tears below the removed branches! The productivity of this operation was 250 trees per person per day. I was informed that this was accomplished with razor-sharp cane knives and very well trained pruners!
Len’s Forestry also owns two fire tenders, which is rather unusual as these vehicles are usually only owned by the grower, unless of course the contractor is a specialist fire fighting operation. Leonard is one of the old school when it comes to fire fighting – he doesn’t wait for a fire. Once it has been detected, his policy is to go and extinguish it immediately, even if it is on a neighbour’s property. Consequently, they haven’t had any fires of significance in the ten years that Len’s Forestry has operated on that plantation. This is an excellent achievement, especially considering all the severe fire weather that has been experienced during this period.
In conclusion, I asked Leonard and Vic what they ascribe the sustained success of their business to. They said that the aforementioned compassion for their employees, together with discipline – both of employees (they know where they stand) and with the finances – are the keys to their success. This coupled with their attention to detail and flexibility of machinery and equipment makes Len’s Forestry an excellent role model for other contractors to follow.
Published in September/October 2009