The role of New Generation Plantations in sustainable development

November 30, 2014

The role that plantation forestry can play in sustainable development in the face of mounting pressure on the world’s natural forests and other ecosystems was under the spotlight at the New Generation Plantations Summit held in Cape Town recently. The Summit was hosted by Mondi and WWF.

Plantations, if laid out and managed correctly, can contribute to socio-economic development while minimising environmental impacts.
Luis Silva of WWF International addressing delegates at the New Generation Plantation summit.

According to WWF’s Living Forests Report, population growth will result in increasing demand for wood and wood products around the world. This will increase the pressure on natural forests and other ecosystems, resulting in unsustainable impacts on biodiversity, climate, and ecosystem services, unless alternative sources of wood products can be developed. One solution could be to increase the area under tree plantations by two-fold by 2050 – that’s an additional 250 million hectares of new plantations over the next 35 years or so.

Expansion of plantations on this massive scale, says Rod Taylor, Director of Forests for WWF International, has huge environmental, social and economic implications, and it is essential that we do it right.

WWF, an international conservation organisation, launched the New Generation Plantations Platform in 2007; an initiative to explore how tree plantations can be part of the conservation solution. Through this platform, WWF has engaged with companies and governments from around the world to explore solutions, share ideas and promote better ways of planning and managing plantations for enhanced business, ecosystem and social value.

Mondi, which has forestry operations in Russia and South Africa, is a founder participant of the NGP Platform and has played a key role in the initiative.

Last year Mondi and WWF co-hosted the NGP South Africa Study Tour in which participants visited various plantation operations around South Africa including Bracken Timbers near Greytown, and Ozwathini, where small-scale farmers grow wattle on communal land. One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to SiyaQhubeka Forests (SQF), a partnership between Mondi, government and communities, which provided useful insights into the role that plantations can play in delivering social and environmental benefits, whilst ensuring financial value for shareholders.

The NGP Summit in Cape Town provided the opportunity for key plantation forestry stakeholders from around the world to come together to discuss ways in which plantations can help meet the massive social, economic and environmental challenges.

Keynote speakers addressed different aspects of the Summit theme:

Maurice Makhathini, Head of Land at Mondi, explained that corporate social investment alone does not meet the challenges that communities living on and around Mondi’s landholdings face. Consequently Mondi has had to learn how to become an “agent for rural development”.

Thus Mondi is working with government to provide tenure, municipal services and economic opportunities for tenant communities in the Mondi Mkhondo Development Programme; addressing land reform by partnering with land claims communities through a lease-back model; and providing low interest loans and support services to develop entrepreneurs and emerging businesses through Mondi Zimele.

Maurice listed a string of challenges that Mondi faces in its role as ‘development agent’ in rural areas where it operates:

  • Internal capacity to manage company-community partnerships;
  • Lack of government capacity in relevant departments;
  • Weak local municipalities;
  • Communities lack the capacity to manage their own affairs and to function effectively, as well as weak governance issues;
  • Challenges from communities excluded from participation in projects;
  • Plus there is an increase in general lawlessness, uncertainty created by land claims etc which tends to de-stabilise communities.

SQF Community Trust member Muzi Gumede provided community insights into the SQF partnership and on the difficulty of balancing business needs with community expectations.

Morne’ du Plessis, CEO of WWF-SA, spoke of the need to “build resilient landscapes through shared value creation”. This is about being competitive in business while at the same time creating social and environmental benefits in regions where you operate.

Carlos Roxo of Fibria, Brazil, explained how his company turned around an adversarial relationship with communities by engaging constructively, building trust and creating income earning opportunities.

Douglas McGuire explained how the Food and Agriculture Organisation is launching an initiative to restore 150 million ha of degraded land by 2020 in an effort to increase food production to feed the world’s growing population.

Peter Gardiner, Group Natural Resources Manager, Mondi, wrapped up the Summit by emphasising the importance of ‘shared value’ and said ecosystem, social and economic solutions need to be worked out at the landscape level.

An example of this approach is Mondi and WWF’s restructuring of their ongoing partnership around the Mondi Wetlands Programme to work together with other land users and stakeholders in the Umngeni catchment to help find solutions for the water crisis that is looming in this region.

Published in August 2014

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