E.Cape forestry projects

December 15, 2011

A number of exciting new community forestry projects are taking shape in the 'Transkei' region of the Eastern Cape after years of decline and neglect. The challenges are daunting, the distances are vast and the roads are dodgy, but the enthusiasm of the communities involved is an encouraging sign that things are starting to move at last.

Sinawo CPA project team
The Sinawo CPA project team: happy to be busy re-establishing their plantations.
Mkambathi project members
Mkambati project: Chairman of the Mkambati Land Trust, CK Qalaba (in front) and members of the community's forestry committee inspect recently planted trees at the project site. (From left, back row) Johnny Ginyani (chairman of the forestry committee), Nardus du Preez (Asgisa EC), VW Mbane (Trust member), Henry Zikode (Sappi forester) Luxolo Dokolwana (forestry ops manager) and Kevin Nxosi (Sappi).
Abandoned sawmill at Lambasi project
 Abandoned sawmill at Lambasi project, with the DAFF plantation in the background.
Pole treatment near Ntywenka
A pole treatment business near the Ntywenka plantation.
Poles harvested at Ntywenka
 Poles harvested at Ntywenka plantation.
Weeding at Mkabathi
Weeding by hand at Mkambati.
Steve Germishuizen and Nardus du Preez
 Steve Germishuizen of SANbi Grasslands Project and Nardus du Preez at the site earmarked for afforestation (subject to water use licence and planting permit) adjacent to the Ntywenka plantation.
Sawmill at Ntywenka
This sawmill at Ntywenka has not closed altogether, but it was at a standstill when we visited. The mothballed sawmilling equipment can be seen in the background. 
Red Hutton soils at Ntywenka Penny Gum
Deep red Hutton soils at Ntywenka will be good for forestry.  Penny Gum was planted at Sokapase some years ago in an attempt to sell to the cut flowers market, which proved not to be viable. 


Asgisa Eastern Cape, which facilitates forestry development in the region on behalf of the Eastern Cape government, is the organisation that is working on the ground with the communities to get the ball rolling. The private sector forestry companies are key partners in this endeavour as they have the technical know-how and the processing facilities that are hungry for timber. So too are the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs and the Department of Environment and Water Affairs, all of whom have a critical role to play in unlocking the constraints that regulation and bureaucracy has placed across the landscape, reducing the flow of new afforestation projects to a trickle.

On a recent road trip through the old Transkei, accompanied by Stephen Keet of Asgisa EC and Steve Germishuizen of the SANBI Grasslands Project and their field manager Nardus du Preez, we visited four of eight projects that Asgisa EC is focusing on. All of the projects we visited have existing plantations, established many years ago by the former homeland agricultural corporation and forestry department. Some of them constitute the B and C category plantations that DAFF has indicated it intends to transfer into community hands.

There is an opportunity to establish new afforestation in most of these projects (subject to obtaining water use licences and planting permits), but Stephen Keet believes that the first step is to get the existing plantations functioning productively. The next step will establish new plantations, preferably on adjacent land, that will make them more sustainable management units of around 3 000 ha each.

His team is using a tool developed jointly by Asgisa-EC and the SANBI Grasslands project to identify grassland of high biodiversity value that is unsuitable for afforestation in order to avoid wasting time and money on potentially fatally flawed water license and EIA applications, and raising community expectations unnecessarily. Using the same technology as the Conservation Planning Tool, maps have been produced which indicate the relative conservation values of the land for all the potential forestry areas. This allows plantation developers and regulatory authorities to put biodiversity conservation at the centre of their decision-making from the outset.

Sinawo project
First stop was the Sinawo project, situated about 15 kms along the N2 from Port Edward. It comprises some 10 000 ha of land in total which was claimed by the community and has been transferred into a community property association. The Transkei Agricultural Corporation established the plantations in the first place, some 1 300 ha of mostly eucalyptus plantations. Much of the surrounding land was planted to sugar cane, but has since reverted to grassland, with some patches of wattle jungle. There are no households living on the land, as they were moved to make way for the sugar and forestry by the old government.
The Sinawo community was promised post-settlement support by government after the land was transferred, but that has apparently not been forthcoming. The community, which has no experience in forestry, initially allowed a contractor to fell timber in return for payment of around R2 500 per truckload, in an effort to get some cashflow going.

The problem was that there was no re-establishment taking place, so the Asgisa EC team persuaded the community to lay off the contractor until a more sustainable operation could be put in place.

The plantation has been established on the poorer soils and is scattered. It has not been managed for the past 15-20 years, and comprises mostly E. grandis that has coppiced.
The community is currently engaging with Sappi as a potential strategic partner. Sappi has assigned a forester to provide technical guidance and support to the community, who are busy re-planting with seedlings bought from Sappi. The plantation is within range of the Saiccor mill at Umkomaas. Asgisa EC is playing a facilitation role, coaching and guiding the community's forestry committee members. Asgisa's man on the ground is Nardus du Preez, who has a forestry and development background and good communication skills.

"Forestry is a legitimate land use and it can be profitable, so we are suggesting the establishment of new plantations here to end up with a total of 3 000 ha or so, which would be sustainable," said Stephen Keet. "We are helping the community to get going with the existing plantations first, and then we'll pursue the new afforestation, which will take a bit of time."

The Sinawo CPA started harvesting last year, and now they are pitting and planting E. dunnii, and providing employment for 34 people in addition to the harvesting team of 35.

Mkambati project
Our next stop was the Mkambati project on the coast just north of Port St Johns. The land claim was for a total of 17 000 ha, which was transferred into the Mkambati Land Trust representing seven communities comprising more than 5 000 households. The land claim includes the 6 000 ha Mkambati nature reserve, and some 650 ha of existing plantations established by the old Transkei government.

The community is highly motivated and has established a forestry committee that oversees the forestry operations and reports to the Trust. There are 16 people on the Trust, two from each of the claimant communities.

Once again Sappi is providing support and technical assistance through an on-site extension forester. Attempts have been made to rehabilitate parts of the plantations that are in a poor state, while the rest will be clearfelled and replanted. This process has already begun. Post-settlement support from government to the tune of R2,5 million has been paid to the Trust to date, and this is being used to finance current operations, augmented by a little cash from timber sales.

Asgisa EC, which got involved with the project after being requested to do so by DAFF and the community, has prepared a funding proposal to the IDC to expand forestry development. The potential to establish 740 ha of new plantations has been mooted, but this is far from a fait accompli as Mkambati is situated in an environmentally sensitive area, and the community still has to make decisions about how the land will be used.

Lambasi project
About 1 500 ha of land near Lusikisiki was planted to forestry in the 1970s, and a huge tea project was started in the 1980s. The tea plantations and processing facility employ up to 3 000 people during the picking season. The people who had been living there were moved off the land to make way for these projects, and have now got the land back through a land settlement.
According to Stephen, there is an opportunity to get the tea plantation, which is just ticking over at present, back to former production levels, and to apply for another 1 300 ha of forestry adjacent to the existing projects. The provincial government is exploring options through which this could be done.

Asgisa EC is engaging with the CPA on the forestry project. The plantation appears to be mainly pine, which supported a number of small sawmillers in the old days. An abandoned sawmill across the road from the plantation today is an indication that there are not a lot of sawlogs coming out of the plantation any more.

Ntywenka project
This is a DAFF plantation of around 1 000 ha situated on the road between Umtata and Maclear. A large part of it appears to be an almighty wattle jungle spreading around the moist southern slopes of a mountain, where there is some 'informal' felling with chainsaws going on. The top of the mountain has a fair amount of pine, where there is evidence of maintenance on the go, including pruning. There is a pole treating operation near the plantation, and a sawmill that appears to be more or less at a standstill because there are no or very few sawlogs available.
Stephen said that Asgisa EC has been engaging with the municipal and traditional leaders and the local communities, who are keen to get involved in forestry. The land still belongs to the government, although it is subject to historic use rights by the community, who are seeking the restoration of these rights, with the hope that the plantations will generate employment and enterprise opportunities.There is an opportunity to establish around 500 ha of new plantations on the hills adjacent to the existing DAFF plantation on deep red Hutton soils with plenty of rainfall. There is nobody living on this land and no other agriculture going on, apart from grazing of cattle.

Asgisa EC commissioned a soil survey and is poised to assist the community to start an afforestation licence application.

Potential large markets are Merensky's Langeni mill and/or PG Bison's chipboard plant, as Ntywenka is in between the NE Cape Forests and Langeni plantations. PG Bison has been actively involved in the community engagements and has indicated that they are prepared to provide technical, managerial and administrative support.

Sokapase Project
The final stop on our journey was the Sokapase project, near Nqamakwe, on the way to Butterworth. Again there is an existing DAFF plantation, with curiously, a large block of 'Penny Gum' that was planted for the cut flower market somewhere in the past. The community has secured the right to utilise 150 ha for their own forestry business. Asgisa EC is helping the community to get organised and get on with forestry operations. Approximately 30 to 40 ha will be replanted during this year.

All of the projects we visited are in the early stages of development, so there is a long, long way to go, but the overwhelming impression one gets from the community participants is that they are excited to get an opportunity to get involved in forestry. The community dynamics are extremely complex, but the leadership are for the most part focused and determined to succeed. The weight of expectations of the communities they represent are undoubtedly heavy.

The Asgisa EC team is working very hard at grassroots level to turn these small islands of forestry into viable community projects. They need functional partnerships with the private sector forestry companies, and they need the various government departments to pick up the pace of delivery, in order for it to succeed.

There is a window of opportunity for forestry to ensure that these projects are sustainable. Hopes are high and the energy levels are high – for now.
To put these projects in perspective, the eight projects that Asgisa EC is currently focusing on represent about 17 000 ha of new and existing plantations. The target of 100 000 ha of new afforestation in the Eastern Cape is still a long way off.

Published in October 2011

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