The Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) has undergone a major re-structure to create a leaner and more focused organization providing project based research solutions and related services to the forestry sector.
The re-structure was necessary following a major change in the R&D funding model in terms of which baseline funding provided by Forestry South Africa (FSA), that has effectively aligned the ICFR to the collective needs of FSA membership for the past 20 years, ends in June 2018.
“This has required ICFR to undertake a complete revision of research priorities and to secure research projects that support the needs of specific funding consortia,” explained ICFR Acting Director, Dr Andrew Morris.
Prior to the re-structure the ICFR had 12 to 15 researchers running some 40 projects. Each researcher was managing 2-4 projects. Total ICFR staff was 48 people (researchers plus support staff).
Now there are seven research projects, each project will be assigned to a scientist project leader who will focus on a single project.
Each research project is funded by a consortium of forestry companies, with a minimum three-year funding cycle.
Total ICFR staff complement, including support staff, is now just 25 people.
The retirement of long-time ICFR Director, Prof Colin Dyer, in mid-2017 provided FSA an opportunity to change its R&D funding framework. This effectively gave the ICFR one year to re-structure and find funding for future research beyond June 2018.
Dr Andrew Morris, who was seconded to ICFR from Sappi, was appointed Acting Director for this period.
This process has now been completed, and the ICFR has emerged with a clear vision and a team that is focused on providing research services into the future.
“It is now a more focused and more relevant research organisation,” commented Andrew.
Some of these projects involve collaboration with other institutions; for example the Baboon project is a collaboration with the University of Cape Town Baboon Research Unit. The Sirex Wood Wasp and Eucalypt Forest Protection projects are collaborations with the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) at the University of Pretoria.
“We know the research projects are relevant because they are being funded directly by companies,” commented Andrew. “It is more focused research, and offers better value for money.”
He said that the immediate focus for the ICFR, through to 2020, must be to deliver against those projects over the initial funding cycle.
“Thereafter, the institute can look to secure additional projects with a broader funding base. I see new research projects addressing government department objectives for the sector, and the needs of those involved in developing plantation forestry further afield in Africa.”
Andrew said this will mean the ICFR would need to work more closely with universities and other research institutions as bigger, collaborative projects would be required to meet the future research needs of the forestry sector.
The ICFR will also be offering laboratory and other related services to the forestry sector, as well as selling eucalypt seed from their own seed orchards.
*First published in SA Forestry magazine, May 2018