Indigenous timber auction

April 29, 2013

The long-awaited auction of indigenous hardwood timber harvested from state forests was held at Buffels Rivier in the southern Cape. The auction was organised by KwaKhanyisa Co-operative Ltd, which has been awarded a contract to harvest and sell timber from the natural forests in the Garden Route National Park which are managed by SANParks, following a lengthy tender process.

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Ivor Masters of KwaKhanyisa (right) auctioning timber at The Crags.
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Brenden Masters introduces the KwaKhanyisa directors Dr Giba, Ivor Masters, and Noksie Kolwapi. On the left is Len du Plessis of SANParks.

The last auction of indigenous hardwood and blackwood logs by SANParks was held in May 2010. SANParks announced then that they intended to restructure the harvesting and auctioning system that had been in place since they took over management of the southern Cape natural forests in 2005. The decision to outsource was made to enable SANParks to focus on its core conservation activities.

The auction was attended by around 10 local furniture-making businesses and timber merchants operating mainly in the Knysna area. Some of these businesses are members of the Southern Cape Timber Buyers’ Co-operative, which was one of the bidders for the harvesting and marketing contract. Also in attendance were a number of stakeholders, including members of SANParks.

There was 216 cubic metres of timber up for sale at the auction, including Yellowwood, Ironwood, Red Alder, Hard Pear, White Pear, Candlewood, Stinkwood and Blackwood. The reserve prices varied from R4 200/cubic metre for A-grade Outeniqua and Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus falcatus and P. latifolius) to R2 600/cubic metre for M-grade Ironwood (Olea capensis) and R2 800/cubic metre for M-grade Hard Pear (Olinia ventosa).

Ironically, one of the biggest sellers was Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), which is derived from a non-indigenous tree that was actively introduced into the southern Cape’s Afromontane forests in the early 1900s. A-grade Blackwood fetched a price of R4 400/cubic metre, and M-grade Blackwood went for R3 400/cubic metre, following some keen bidding from buyers. Blackwood is an aggressive invader of open land and disturbed forests, but does not aggressively invade closed evergreen forests. It produces high quality wood with many applications.

Despite the fact that there has not been an auction for almost three years, it was somewhat surprising that much of the timber offered at the auction was not sold. In terms of the contract with SANParks, 80% of the timber harvested by KwaKhanyisa must first be offered for sale at an auction that is open to the public. The timber that is not sold at the auction, together with the other 20% of the timber, can then be sold directly to buyers. Thus, many of the buyers who attended the auction were busy negotiating to purchase the unsold timber immediately after the auction was completed. According to KwaKhanyisa general manager Ivor Masters, around 70% of the timber was eventually sold.

This was the first timber auction held by KwaKhanyisa following the award of the contract by SANParks. KwaKhanyisa was established by two of the original bidders for the contract who decided to join forces, combining forestry, environmental and marketing expertise with a community development component. The directors of KwaKhanyisa are Dr Ntombikayise Giba, Noksie Kolwapi, Dr Lesley Masters, Deborah Matsolo and Ivor Masters.

KwaKhanyisa has subcontracted the harvesting to Peter Boshoff of Treepro. The harvesting is done with great care to avoid compacting the sensitive forest floor and damaging surrounding trees. Trees earmarked for harvesting by SANParks are dismantled with chainsaws and then winched to the extraction routes. Once the harvesting team has finished working in one area of the forest, they are not allowed back there for 10 years.

The KwaKhanyisa team has plans to utilise harvested timber, including branches, in various downstream projects aimed at providing business opportunities and creating jobs for local communities. Dr Giba said that the branches would be used as raw material for a furniture and crafts project that has the potential to create 60 jobs. Other projects in the pipeline include a sawmill, utilisation of the bark for medicinal purposes, and additional manufacturing projects.

Ivor Masters said that the Garden Route National Park forests cover 66 000 ha, with 17% of it demarcated for harvesting. In terms of the contract, KwaKhanyisa can harvest 3 000 cubic metres of timber a year, which will create around 60 jobs as it is very labour intensive. The contract has been awarded for a period of 10 years.

The next timber auction is scheduled to take place in the second half of 2013.

The only other sources of locally grown indigenous hardwood timber in South Africa are Parkes’ forest and Hooggekraal, which are owned and managed by Geo Parkes & Sons (Pty) Ltd, one of Knysna’s oldest timber businesses. They have a special permit to harvest indigenous tree species and negotiate prices directly with buyers, according to Managing Director Jim Parkes.

Published in April 2013

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