A group of leading South African commercial timber farmers has set up an exciting forestry project in central Mozambique focusing on establishing hardwood plantations and developing a timber exporting facility at the port of Beira.
The project objective is to establish a core pulpwood export enterprise where there is potential for significant expansion.
Key to the success of this project was established by securing a dedicated harbour facility at Beira to serve as a regional plantation timber export hub, with the capacity to accommodate long-term volume growth; identifying plentiful available land with superior growth potential (high MAIs), for establishing and expanding commercial plantations and which are in reasonable proximity to the harbour to contain transportation costs.
The sector’s potential sustainable forestry output in central Mozambique is far above a million tons per annum, and in total could create up to 7 000 jobs, provide opportunities for small scale out-growers, communities and individuals to grow and market hardwood timber, boost the local economy and generate foreign exchange from timber exports. It could also be a catalyst to upgrade rail networks in Mozambique and nearby Zimbabwe, thus reviving that country’s depressed timber industry.
Mozambique Tree Farming (MTF) has hit the ground running with some 3 000 ha of Eucalyptus plantations already established. A nursery with current capacity to produce one million seedings per annum is up and running, and site clearing for the export facility at Beira has begun.
The first shipment of round logs from Beira is scheduled to take place towards the end of September. This first consignment of 25 000 tons will include some timber harvested off damaged plantations of MTF and Ifloma following the recent Cyclone Idai, as well as timber sourced from third party existing plantations in central Mozambique.
The plan is to then continue with a regular export program and ship 100 000 tons of round logs in the first year with most of this initial timber sourced from third party growers.
Once the MTF exports start flowing, it is anticipated that commercial plantings in Mozambique by numerous interested parties will accelerate, and fibre exports from the Beira facility will be ramped up to a million tons a year over the next ten years.
There are 57 shareholders of Mozambique Tree Farming, most of them are existing members of NCT in South Africa. The MTF Board of Directors includes leading figures in South African forestry with a wealth of experience in tree farming between them. Current chairperson is Brian Aitken, a prominent Zululand timber and sugar farmer who has held key positions in forestry and agriculture over many years.
Manager of the Project is Iain Thompson, and Alastair McCrimmon is the MTF’s Operations Manager on the ground in Mozambique.
MTF has secured 50-year leases for 10 000 ha of land in Sofala and Manica provinces in the central region of Mozambique, close to the port of Beira where the timber export hub is being developed. New leases are being secured in an ongoing Government supported process ahead of proven progress on the ground.
The selection of these sites for greenfield plantation development follows extensive research by the MTF team. The sites are located no further than 200 kms by road from Beira, and have deep soils and high average rainfall, with forecast MAI’s in the 20 to 25 tons/ha range.
Extensive trials have been planted on the MTF farms to determine the best species and clones for local conditions. These include mainly grandis x urophylla clones as well as some E. urophylla and Corymbia henryi.
Phase One of the project involves planting 6 350 ha of Eucalyptus of which just over 3 000 ha is already in the ground, spread across five farms in Manica and Sofala provinces. Phase One will be completed by 2021. MTF currently employs 437 permanent and 323 temporary staff.
Thereafter during Phase Two the MTF team will increase own plantings to 12 000 ha, and construct and commission the wood chipping facility at Beira. The plan is to identify new sites for growing timber to further spread the risk of natural disasters such as Cyclone Idai which slammed into central Mozambique a few months ago.
Described as the worst storm to hit Mozambique in 200 years, Idai caused massive damage and flooding. Fortunately damage to MTF plantations was minimal. Approximately 61 ha had to be re-planted, 235 ha has to be felled and coppiced (the timber will be included in the first export shipment from Beira) and a further 168 ha was slightly damaged but left in the ground.
The MTF plantations and export facility will effectively create a platform for the development of a sustainable timber industry in central Mozambique that will have the raw material resources and capacity to export over a million tonnes of fibre a year. The MTF team is already in discussion with other large scale growers in the region with a view to sourcing additional timber, and an out-grower scheme involving local, small-scale growers is also in the frame.
International market access
“We are creating a sustainable timber industry in central Mozambique pretty much from scratch,” commented Brian. “ This enterprise will be the first bulk export of Mozambican plantation grown timber.
There are some forestry projects in northern Mozambique, but none of them have access to international markets, and most of that timber is located 750 kilometres or more from the nearest harbour.”
Brian said that all the MTF shareholders are seasoned tree farmers who know the value of growing trees on highly productive, well located sites and they were adamant that they would not be investing in any ‘marginal’ areas.
Both road and rail will be used to haul MTF and 3rd party timber to the export facility at Beira. There are two existing railways from Tete, Mozambique and from the timber growing regions of eastern Zimbabwe that can be utilised for transporting timber to Beira. These railway lines run through the middle of the MTF existing and targeted future growing areas, connecting Beira with significant timber resources which are currently under-utilised, and providing ample opportunities for future growth. Eastern Zimbabwe has 40 000 ha of established hardwood plantations that are currently under-utilised.
A nursery has been established at the Gondola site in Mozambique to produce a million seedlings a year for planting. MTF has a franchise agreement with Sunshine Seedling and there are plans to develop a 3 million per annum cuttings nursery on the site. Currently GxU clones grown by Sunshine Seedlings and Top Crop in the KZN midlands are being planted out on MTF farms in Mozambique. Ken Leisegang, owner of Sunshine Seedlings, is a shareholder and MTF director. The plants are transported to Mozambique by road in refrigerated trucks.
The plantations are being established on land that is currently not being utilised and needs to be cleared for planting. Trees are planted by hand with gel. Summer temperatures can be extremely high so young plants are protected with a mulch, and planting continues into early winter.
Industrial Development Corporation
The IDC has come on board to provide a US$ 17 million loan facility for the plantation establishment and development of the MTF owned bulk timber and woodchip export facility at Beira, and is a 22% shareholder in the venture.
“Getting IDC on board has given us the support required to accelerate implementation of the project, with Phase One expected to be completed by the end of 2021. We are currently planting 1000 ha a year, and in the coming season will plant 1 450 ha,” said Brian.
“MTF has taken root in Mozambique and we are becoming an accepted part of the community there,” said Brian. “We are embarking on a journey with the IDC to transform the rural economy of central-Mozambique.”
Brian said that the project is strategically important for multiple stakeholders. In addition to providing the South African shareholders with an opportunity to grow their tree farming interests, it is creating employment in areas where there are currently few formal job opportunities, thus benefitting the entire southern African region. In addition, it reduces the pressure from the exploitation and destruction of indigenous trees and natural forests in Mozambique.
Replicating export facilities
“The shareholders want to replicate – in Beira the modern facilities for wood fibre export which they have helped to create in Richards Bay and Durban, which will be internationally competitive in scale and efficiency,” said Brian.
There are exciting times ahead for timber growers in the region, especially considering that Asian demand for fibre is forecast to increase significantly over the next five years with traditional supply from South America, Australia and Vietnam expected to decrease. According to RISI, Asian woodchip demand is forecast to outstrip supply by 2-3 million BDMT by 2023, which will support continuing fibre price strengthening.
This means that the export facility at Beira is extremely well located to access Asian international markets where demand for fibre is strong and is expected to continue to grow into the future.
The MTF head office is currently located in Assagay in the outer west of Durban.
Mozambique Tree Farming Board of Directors
• Brian Aitken (Chairman)
• Iain Thompson (Project Manager)
• Alastair MacCrimmon (General Manager of Investmento Florestal de Mozambique Lda – this is the Moz Tree Farming group’s tree farm operating company in Mozambique)
• Graham Burnett
• Volley Keyser
• Wessel Nel
• Ken Leisegang
• Andrew Aitken
• Haydn Percival
• Rolf Konigkramer
• Ben Seele
• Horst Hellberg
• Henning Klipp
Related article: Just throw, wait and grow
*First published in SA Forestry magazine, July 2019