Philip Mathaba, a self-taught forester based in Kwambonambi, Richards Bay, won the NCT Tree Farmer of the Year award in the category of a farm managed on communal land. At their recent AGM, NCT recognised Philip for his committed supply to the co-operative and his excellent management practices.

Philip Mathaba wins NCT award
Philip Mathaba on his farm in Kwambonambi.

 

Philip was born into a forestry family, and was planting trees with his father from the age of seven.

His father, France Mathaba, induna for the local chief, received some forestry tips and encouragement from a local magistrate who provided him with eucalyptus seedlings. France developed a passion for forestry and started planting diligently. Chief Manqamu offered him more land when he realised his enterprising spirit. France formed an organisation called Khopa, which aimed to train aspiring foresters, and sold his timber to Kwambonambi Timber.

When France passed away in the mid-seventies, his land was divided up between his sons. Philip took control of most of his father’s property, starting with two compartments. Over the years, through negotiation with his family, Philip has grown his operation to eight compartments, totalling 15.5 ha of land, of which 14.8 ha is planted to eucalyptus.

Growing with NCT

Philip is mostly self-taught, having learnt what he knows through hands-on experience, and by attending as many field days and workshops as possible over the years. He first got involved with NCT 30 years ago, but only became a formal member about 10 years ago. Joining NCT was a major step for Philip’s business.

“NCT offered us (communal farmers) training. They took us to nurseries to learn about various types of tree species, especially those which suited our soil types, how to plant in straight lines, the depth of pits for seedlings and how to plant them. They also offered better financial rewards,” said Philip.

Forestry practices

Philip buys his seedlings from Enseleni and Mondi nurseries, and grows G x U and G x C hybrids. His eight compartments are all within a kilometre of his home. He has a team of eight full time employees, all of whom have developed broad skills as Philip has kept his entire operation in-house, doing his own silviculture work (land preparation, planting and thinning), as well as harvesting, debarking and transport. He has a tractor with a disc harrow and a plough for cultivation and soil preparation. He harvests using chainsaws and delivers his wood to the mill himself in his own 10-ton truck.

Philip has worked hard to ensure that he has excellent road access to all his compartments, maintaining the roads himself without any external assistance. He even built a small bridge using a concrete pipe, which has improved access for the local community and allowed natural water movement on his property.

Philip applies manure to enrich the soil before planting. He prefers to use chemicals for weed control because it’s more efficient and economical, and the weeds are kept at bay for six to eight months.

Philip has never experienced any problems with diseases or pests, but over the years he has had to deal with 10 fires. In each case he didn’t lose much, but his experience with fire has helped him to prepare effectively. He keeps water in drums, collecting it from the nearby Kwelemiqu River using his tractor. He also maintains good firebreaks, which also make his compartments easier to maintain.

Overcoming tight times

Philip has felt the effects of the global recession, but is philosophical about the reduced demand for timber. “I accept reality. You cannot be too bitter about something that affects everybody. Timber supply was decreased but it will get back to normal again. Even now things are improving,” says Philip.

Philip also grows sugarcane, which he takes to the sugarcane mills in Richards Bay, and bananas, mealies, sweet potatoes, cabbages and pumpkins, which help him to sustain his family when he is not harvesting.

Community involvement

Philip is very involved in his community. His father, who was also a priest in the Zionist church, believed in helping and sharing with other people and ingrained those qualities in him. He supports deaf children in the community by providing them with transport to and from the Vuleka Special School at Nkandla. He also supports the local community by ploughing their fields – at no cost to those who cannot afford it – and assists in local road maintenance.

Philip anticipates a bright future and good rewards for his work. The training that NCT has provided has boosted his confidence and he wants to take advantage of the government’s empowerment programmes.

“I aim to become a prominent businessmen within the forestry sector. I want more skills and information as these are important for my development and will provide me with a solid foundation that I can use anywhere to grow my business,” says Philip.

“Two things have paid off for me: diligence and a passion for forestry. My father taught me good work ethics and a devotion to completing tasks, and NTC taught me everything about tree growing and the forestry business.”

Published in August 2010



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