The timber growers of Samungu are well known among forestry people of KZN. They started growing gum in the early eighties under Sappi’s Project Grow scheme, and have continued to maintain their small woodlots ever since. But there has been little or no expansion of timber growing in the area since then, despite huge potential and a willingness by local people to engage in forestry.

The hills of Samungu Samungu members

The hills of Samungu, with patches of smallholder forestry, have the potential for more forestry development.

Walter Ntuli and Aubrey Nsuntsha.
Samungu workers load timber Samungu workers harvest timber
A Samungu contractor loads timber the old-fashioned way.

Harvesting burnt timber creates work for local people. Harvesting unburnt timber would be better for the grower, though.


 The reasons why this area remains relatively undeveloped are linked to the history and the politics of South Africa, as everyone knows too well. But now there is a fresh initiative to grasp the opportunities for an expansion of forestry activities in Samungu that are presented by the highly favourable growing conditions, the close proximity to markets, and the support promised by government in terms of its growth and development programmes.

Spearheading this initiative is the Samungu Timber Growers’ Association under its chairman, Walter Ntuli, who is an active timber grower and farmer in the area. He is a former chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union and current board member of Mondi’s enterprise development arm, Mondi Zimele.

Walter’s dream is to see the hilltops of Samungu flowing under a green canopy of trees which could provide a much-needed source of income for thousands of growers, and provide a kickstart for dozens of small businesses involved in forestry-related activities from contracting to transport, equipment suppliers, charcoal manufacturers and pole treatment operations.

The Samungu Timber Growers’ Association is affiliated to Amahlathi Emerging Entrepreneur’s Forum, whose CEO, Aubrey Nsuntsha, is proactively engaged in mobilising government and industry stakeholders to get involved in the Samungu project. The focus of his efforts currently is to link the Samungu project with the expanded Public Works programme to upgrade and expand the roads network to facilitate extraction of timber.

Meanwhile, up-and-coming Siyathuthuka Forestry Co-operative, also an Amahlathi affiliate, has signed up some 900 Samungu growers and has established a timber depot in the area. According to Siyathuthuka’s Micheon Ngubane, the depot has shipped 150 tons of gum to Sappi’s Tugela mill in the first few weeks since it was opened.

Micheon told SA Forestry magazine that there is huge interest in wattle in Samungu. Following a visit to the area last year to recruit applicants for new wattle woodlots, 133 people with an identified and mapped collective area of 217 ha have signed up. Water licence applications for these new plantings is in process, and further visits to Samungu to sign up aspirant wattle growers is planned.

A major incentive for the wattle growers is the fact that wattle timber is getting the best prices at the pulp and chipping mills, plus there’s a lucrative market for the bark which is processed at NTE’s Hermannsburg factory. The international demand for wattle bark extracts for use in the leather and adhesives industries is strong.

Samungu is excellent tree-growing country. It covers roughly 13 000 hectares of rolling hills west of the small Zululand town of Mandini, within the Umlalazi Local Municipality, and falls under the Ntuli, Bangindoda Zulu and Mombeni Biyela traditional authorities.

It is part of the coastal mistbelt region of KZN, is well suited to timber (especially wattle and eucalyptus) and sugar production, and receives good rainfall, in excess of 830 mm per annum. Temperatures are moderate to hot in summer, with no chance of frost.

Best of all – from a timber-growing perspective anyway – is that it falls within the ‘timber triangle’ of timber processing plants which represent the major markets for raw timber and bark in the province. Sappi’s Tugela mill is the closest, 28 to 30 kms away on average. The NTE wattle bark factory at Hermansberg is about 100 kms away. It is also less than 100 kms from the Richards Bay mills.

According to a recent study by Lima Rural Development Foundation, there is approximately 2 400 hectares of small farming currently taking place in Samungu, and a lot of potential for expansion. The LIMA report states that land with good agricultural potential is not being utilized due to “poor road and conservation works, lack of forestry permits, poor investor and market mobilisation, lack of organisational capacity and low levels of private and public sector investment in the area.”

The study found that it is “economically feasible to produce both eucalyptus and wattle in Samungu – bearing in mind that conditions vary from easy access to difficult access and also in terms of growing site variability.”

According to the Lima report there are currently 994 hectares of formalized woodlots within the Samungu area, and an additional 1 011 ha of Eucalyptus jungle.

With all this potential, it is highly possible that Samungu could become a viable forestry hub that could kick-start small business development and serve as a model and an inspiration to other communities. For this to happen, significant government and private sector investment is required.

Published in September/October 2008



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