New challenges in forestry contracting

September 13, 2013

Idube Forestry, with support from Mondi Zimele, is navigating a path through the changes and challenges that are sweeping through the forestry industry ...

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Gloria Mthombeni, Dwayne Marx and Jennifer Govender of Idube Forestry.
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Operator Khayalethu Jokoja (in the cab) and Supervisor Zwelithe Phoswa familiarising themselves with the new pitting machine on a gently sloping compartment in Richmond.

Idube Forestry is a Level 1 BEE contracting company that finds itself at the cutting edge of changes sweeping through the forestry industry. To continue to develop and thrive within this challenging environment, the company has teamed up with Mondi Zimele, Mondi's enterprise development arm, which has provided low interest finance and – crucially – business development advice, training and support.

Idube Forestry currently provides a full range of silviculture services to Mondi in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. Idube services some 28 000 hectares stretching from Harding to Bulwer, Boston and Richmond, and currently employs 347 people.

Dwayne Marx, a former Mondi forester, started working for a silviculture contracting company contracted to Mondi in the Richmond area in 2000. He subsequently bought out that contract and teamed up with Gloria Mthombeni and Jennifer Govender to establish Idube Forestry in 2004.

Dwayne, Gloria and Jennifer make a good team because they all bring different expertise to the business. Dwayne has extensive forestry and management experience, Gloria has experience in Safety and HR, and Jennifer in Administration. Between them they run a tight ship which is crucial to ensure sustainability.

Forestry contracting is a demanding business and management needs to be on its toes to adapt to the ebb and flow of the market, and to change and grow when change is required and new opportunities arise. Last year, Idube secured a low interest loan from the Mondi Zimele Jobs Fund to finance the expansion of the business. The loan came with a package of business support services from the experienced Mondi Zimele team, headed up by Forestry Development Manager, Laird Mitchell.

"We used Mondi Zimele's diagnostic tools which, together with much support and advice, helped us manage our way through some challenging times," commented Dwayne.
Now there are more challenges ahead and – with support from Mondi Zimele – Idube Forestry is embarking on another development phase which is new territory not only for them, but also for the forestry industry as a whole.

Mondi has embarked on a modernisation programme that will require silviculture contractors like Idube Forestry to utilise new equipment and processes. The modernisation drive is primarily to improve safety, ergonomics and productivity. Mondi has purchased two excavator-based pitting machines which Idube is using in the Richmond area. Another two tractor-based multi-pit machines, as well as equipment for planting and fertilising, will also be introduced.

The new equipment will require new procedures as well as new skills sets, and will make different demands on management and staff. Mondi Zimele will provide ongoing business development support in what is expected to be a steep learning curve.

Another challenge facing Mondi is the need to involve communities, who have acquired forestry land through the land restitution process, in forestry businesses. Two land claims in the Richmond area have been settled, and another two are likely to be settled soon. The amount of forestry land involved in these four claims is approximately 4 300 hectares.

Negotiations have begun with these communities in an effort to involve them in business with Idube Forestry. The rationale behind this initiative is sustainability. It is more viable to have one strong business providing silviculture services to a large plantation area, than to have several small stand-alone businesses trying to make a go of working a small plantation unit.

Once again, Mondi Zimele will provide low interest finance as well as extensive business support and guidance, to enable this restructuring. It's an exciting challenge for all the stakeholders involved.

In addition to the changes driven by modernisation and land claims, the Mondi Zimele team believes that there are significant job opportunities within the green economy. As such, they are engaging with several government agencies to source additional development funding. If successful, a team of people will be recruited and trained to provide land care work in the greater Richmond area, including fire prevention and conservation work.

Laird Mitchell said that Mondi Zimele's mission is to create and sustain jobs in areas where Mondi operates. Critical to this is developing small businesses and ensuring their sustainability within complex and changing social and economic environments. Idube Forestry is the kind of progressive business that can play a key role in making this happen.

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The pitting machine on one of its first operations.
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Left to right: Franco King of the CMO, Idube Forestry Supervisor Zwelithe Phoswa, Dwayne Marx and Laird Mitchell of the Mondi Zimele Jobs Fund, with the new pitting machine. Franco is busy training the machine operator.
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Dwayne checks a pit made by the machine and declares himself happy with the quality.


Published in June 2013

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