Demand for invasive tree wood boosts SA water security
Water is at the heart of the removal of invasive alien plant (IAP) species in water-scarce South Africa – and momentum is boosting a value-adding ‘green’ chain that is reducing IAPs, replenishing water tables by millions of litres per year, increasing demand for often beautiful and functional IAP wood, and creating jobs.
Henry Sebata, MD of Avocado Vision, parent company of Green Business Value Chain (GBVC), which is driving the value chain, says the process is directly aligned to World Water Day on 22 March, which celebrated water and raises awareness of the global water crisis, this year under the theme of ‘valuing water’.
GBVC was established four years ago to ensure sustainability of an IAP-focused value chain, working alongside the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) to restore water tables, dry rivers and grassland, while ensuring livelihoods, and developing markets for value-added IAP biomass products such as eco-friendly charcoal, furniture, decking, poles, fencing, pulp, and more.
The 5-step value chain process includes:
1. Identifying and mapping IAP-infested locations
2. Developing local and international markets
3. Selecting and training local entrepreneurs to be efficient business owners
4. Ensuring removal of IAPs and restoration of environment by SMMEs
5. Identifying appropriate value-added products for the different IAPs to be converted into.
GBVC works with a wide range of local and international partners at every stage of the value chain, and is operational in areas in Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, and Limpopo. In the mid-Breede River Valley, a project is returning 7 million litres of water per hectare cleared per year to the river system and ensuring conversion of the biomass to products of value. In the Eastern Cape, a cohort of SMMEs has been trained by Avocado Vision to clear IAPs efficiently and manufacture eco charcoal, which is in production and finding markets in Europe and USA.
Another significant success story in the conversion of IAP biomass to something of value and beauty is Homewood, a South African furniture crafter owned and run by Ian Perry, who, working together with Avocado Vision, GBVC, DEFF and others, created the now fast-growing Amanzi Conscious Collection – exquisite eco furniture that offers creativity and functionality while restoring water tables and balance to sensitive environments.
15 March 2021 saw the launch of the newest addition to the collection – the Kotini range, created exclusively for and in collaboration with Mr Price Home in response to the retailer’s passion for building local business and for the environment. Perry says, “The Kotini range is so named because we use locally sourced, alien invasive cottonwood to handcraft the furniture. It’s environmentally focused and feelgood, supporting local job creation, local business, and our local ecosystem. Every hectare of IAP trees removed for this furniture results in 3-million litres of water returning to our precious waterways. If nothing else, that’s a great conversation starter around a beautiful cottonwood table.”
Homewood also designed and created Nando’s iLanga chair, made from 100% poplar and wattle, which come from USA and Australia. “Our entire Amanzi Conscious Collection furniture is founded on the vision of giving back to the earth and is working towards a solution to the devastation of our water table by IAPs,” says Perry.
Sebata adds, “We’re gaining ground and we’re making the most of all our learnings throughout our processes. We know that working with partners – relevant government departments, local SMMEs, environmental organisations and corporates – goes a long way to ensuring an efficient value chain; and we also know that training is key to the success of our projects at every stage. We have formed incubators of local SMMEs in different locations, helping them build basic business and financial acumen to ensure their businesses remain sustainable, and continue to create jobs.”
DEFF estimates that at least 10 million hectares in South Africa have been invaded by IAP species with an annual water use of around 3.3 million m3 each year (3.3 billion litres).
Sebata says GBVC and Avocado Vision are constantly seeking potential partners throughout the value chain, particularly with organisations that recognise the value of using products manufactured from IAPs. “The wood of many invasive species is beautiful, useable, and very valuable in terms of what it means to our water supply. We welcome opportunities to work with organisations that embrace the value of a greener – and wetter – future for our country.”
For more information, visit www.avovision.co.za
Related article: Woman power turns alien invasive trees into chips