Woman power turns alien invasive trees into chips
Women-inspired partnerships in South Africa are creating positive impacts on both the environment and livelihoods, with support from the Coca-Cola Foundation, through its Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN). These are partnerships led by women that create jobs, save water and conserve biodiversity.
RAIN was launched in 2010 to provide access to safe drinking water for six million people in Africa by the end of 2020. The programme works with implementing partners to bring clean water to communities, but also to create employment opportunities for women, youth and families by supporting a wide range of water-related projects across the continent.
A wood chipping operation in Wolseley, known as Lyns Valley, which is owned and run by women, is one of these projects.
Wolseley is located in the upper Breede River valley in the Western Cape. The Kluitjieskraal Wetland, a key feature in the Breede headwaters, is infested with alien invasive trees and water weeds that choke the channels and prevent the flow of water into the river.
The RAIN partnership with WWF is helping to clear 470 hectares of alien invasive plants. This initiative releases significant amounts of water into the Breede River, but also allows the wood biomass collected from the alien clearing to create valuable mulching material for local farmers growing fruit and vegetables. The mulch produced is used by farmers to conserve soil moisture and improve the fertility and water efficiency of their lands.
The project has supported the establishment of Lyns Valley, the first black, female-owned wood chipping operation in the region. This small business currently supplies mulch to large fruit farms in the Wolseley area and provides permanent employment to community members.
SA Forestry spoke to Lynda to find out more about Lyns Valley...
SA Forestry: Tell us about the business.
Lynda: The RAIN project has given me the opportunity to own and build a sustainable business, whilst also creating much needed job opportunities for women who are often the sole breadwinners in the family. We turn alien invasive trees such as black wattle, which clog the water catchment areas, into wood chips. These are then sold to surrounding farmers as mulch which protects the soil in fruit orchards, preventing evaporation and improving the conservation of water.
SAF: Where does the biomass come from that you chip?
Lynda: RAIN, in partnership with WWF, is helping to restore the Kluitjieskraal wetland in the upper Breede River valley by clearing 470 hectares of alien invasive vegetation. The wetland is recognised as a national priority for water security as it acts as a sponge in the upper reaches of the river and is choked with alien invasive trees and water weeds. We use the cleared alien invasive trees for chipping.
SAF: What chipping and transport equipment do you use?
Lynda: The chipper is a Bandit Model 12xp Blue line. It’s capable of processing logs of approximately 30cm in diameter. I also use a tractor and bakkie when moving in between sites. We chip in-field because it is easier to move the chipper around. It also depends on the terrain.
SAF: How many people do you employ?
Lynda: There are six people permanently employed on my chipping operation, and 65 on the alien clearing.
SAF: To whom do you sell your products and what are the chips used for?
Lynda: The wood chips are sold to surrounding fruit farmers who use it as mulch to protect the soil in their orchards. Also, on a small scale to local people using it in their gardens.
SAF: How did you source the capital needed to start your business?
Lynda: I received funding through the RAIN project and WWF to use as start-up capital. From this I was able to buy a compressor machine, a tractor and other necessary equipment, but very importantly I acquired the wood chipping machine which is the lifeline of the business.
SAF: Have you received any business support, advice, training etc?
Lynda: Through RAIN’s partnership with WWF-SA I received training in financial management. This was helpful as it covered essential financial management skills such as how to effectively budget and administer a business. I also attended an induction course on chipping operations which covered all aspects of how to operate the machine. In addition, along with the team, we attended chainsaw operation, first aid and health and safety courses.
SAF: How did you get into this business, and what motivated you?
Lynda: It started 23 years ago when I joined Working for Water’s job creation program doing alien clearing. My experience with chipping operations has been just over the past year. My motivation for starting the business was my love of people and their upliftment, especially the youth. Right now 80% of my team members are young people - but my business has also provided employment to older people and housewives. Mothers and fathers from our communities that have no education and could not find a job elsewhere have been given opportunities to work and look after their families, something which I am very proud of.
Here's a short documentary about the RAIN/WWF initiative to clear wattle from the water catchment and natural springs in the hills surrounding Matatiele, Eastern Cape...
*First published in SA Forestry magazine, Nov 2020
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