Loading of long haul trucks is done by hand in Manguzi. It is slow work, but provides jobs in an area where unemployment is high.

A story about the Manguzi timber growers by forester-at-large, JUSTIN NYAKUDANGA

I recently visited Manguzi town on a forestry cruising mission and was pleasantly surprised by the high level of forestry activity taking place in that part of the country.

Manguzi is a small rural town located in Maputaland in the north-eastern part of KwaZulu-Natal, close to the Mozambique border. Due to the steady increase in demand for pulpwood in KZN over the last ten years, Manguzi has experienced a boom in commercial tree farming by the rural households. Individual households farm on parcels of land between 3-150 hectares with the common tree species planted being Eucalyptus clones that are either E. grandis x camaldulensis or E. grandis x urophylla. It is estimated that about 15 000 hectares of gum tree plantations have been planted to date by the rural folk in this area.

So what are the enabling conditions for this tree boom?
• There is a ready market mainly for pulpwood and to a lesser extent poles for fencing and construction;
• Technical services offered by grower companies or market agents;
• Free seedlings for those growers who are contracted to supply pulp mills;
• Easy access to land which is granted by the local traditional authority;
• Start-up funds or advances in the form of fertilisers, herbicides or equipment required to plant or harvest the trees, provided by grower companies;
• The availability of inexpensive labour.

Small-scale grower timber accumulating at a Manguzi depot, awaiting long-haul transport to the Richards Bay mills.

The downside to this tree farming boom is the planting of trees close to environmentally sensitive areas, and in some instances without Water Permits or Licences from the Department of Water and Sanitation.

Operations are often labour intensive and occasionally uneconomical as daily tasks are difficult to achieve. Timber is harvested prematurely, that is at half the maturity age of eight years due to what growers call ‘indlala’ (hunger or penniless) as a result of the long term nature of the tree farming business, as cashflows are far apart. Last but not least timber that is harvested without a market or purchase order stays for a long time at the roadside depot thus losing weight and consequently a loss in revenue for the grower as well.

Thus forestry has pivoted the local rural economy by creating jobs, providing households with some income and capital to open other businesses.

Is there room to improve the current operations? Definitely!

• Mechanisation of some operations would improve efficiencies, since trees are planted on flat land.

However this is a double-edged sword as mechanisation would reduce the number of low paid jobs, while increasing the number of more skilled jobs, so the right balance needs to be found.

• Certification of tree farms would raise the value of timber and improve market access;
• Planting high yielding species;
• Training growers on financial management.

Chatting to the chairman of one of the grower association in the area, Mr M Mkhonto, about how he would describe the community tree farming businesses in Manguzi, he said this: “none but ourselves have done this work, for ourselves and the future generations, so as to escape the clutches of poverty.”

Related article: ‘Survival’ the key for small-scale growers



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