WWF’s New Generation Plantations initiative comes to Africa

September 5, 2013

The world's natural forests are in trouble, and with demand for global wood supply set to triple by 2050, the troubles are only just beginning. Now WWF, the highly respected international conservation organisation, has adopted a strategic approach that has shocked many environmentalists to the core by saying that natural forests 'need' tree plantations in order to survive.

Linda Vilakazi of SiyaQhubeka and Chris Burchmore of Mondi give NGP delegates some background info on the relationship between the park and SQF at the Big Tree on the western shores.

Our natural forests need tree plantations, which account for 7% of total forest cover and supply 50% of industrial roundwood (source www.newgenerationplantations.com).

The rationale is that intensively managed plantations yield far more wood per hectare than natural forests do, and could contribute to stopping deforestation and natural forest degradation if they are well established and managed.

"If sustainable forestry management principles are applied, plantations can have net positive environmental and social impacts," states WWF on its website.

This approach culminated in the launch of the WWF New Generation Plantations (NGP) initiative some six years ago, which is a platform for WWF to engage with companies and governments on responsible plantation development and management.

Due to the controversy surrounding this issue, WWF is quick to state what the NGP initiative is not:

  • a partnership;
  • an endorsement
  • another certification mechanism.

NGP is simply a platform to bring companies and government's together with WWF to develop and promote better plantation management.

The WWF NGP initiative is gathering momentum, and has established platforms in Europe and South America. Now it has come to Africa. A high profile delegation from WWF International, together with forestry industry stakeholders, were in South Africa recently to visit local plantations and launch the WWF New Generation Plantations initiative in Africa.

The WWF NGP visit kicked off with a workshop in Durban to which forestry stakeholders from around Africa were invited.

"We need to produce more with less land. We need to establish new consumption patterns that meet the needs of the poor while eliminating waste and over-consumption by the affluent. Wood is renewable and when it comes from well-managed forests it has a smaller footprint than materials such as steel, concrete or plastic that are derived from fossil fuels," commented Rod Taylor, Director of Forests for WWF International.

He said that the global wood supply would have to triple by 2050 to meet the demand. If this supply is to come from plantations, then we'd need an additional 250 million ha plantations by 2050.

But if we limit the area dedicated to plantations, the trade-off is that we will need to push more areas into loggable natural forests.

Rod said that there are places where plantations are threatening people's livelihoods, social cohesion and biodiversity e.g. in Indonesia. But he added that there are also places where plantations are being managed very well, e.g. in Brazil, where they are replacing degraded grasslands and not natural forests.

If sustainable forestry management principles are applied, he believes plantations can have net positive environmental and social impacts.

However, he conceded that plantations remain controversial. WWF itself has been under siege from green organisations opposed to the organisation's stance on plantations.

Rod said that the creation of protected areas is not always a solution because "not everyone wins". With the NGP initiative, WWF is looking at the role that companies operating in areas where there is poor governance and corruption can play. "What are the responsibilities of companies in this scenario?"

He concluded by saying that NGP is a learning platform to bring companies and governments together with WWF to develop and promote better plantation management.

Mondi's Director of Land and Forests, Viv McMenamin, said that Mondi was a founding member of WWF NGP. She said that Mondi recognises the massive challenges that forestry companies and the government faces in South Africa, and that there is a need to involve other land users and to tackle them at a landscape level. NGP can be a platform to achieve this.

"We are bringing an exotic species into a water-scarce environment, where biodiversity is declining and there are massive social challenges ..."

She said that the NGP strategy would need to be clear and simple to be effective, "because the environment is so complex".

The WWF NGP delegation then embarked on a field trip to learn more about the challenges facing plantation forestry in South Africa, and some of the solutions that local forestry practitioners are coming up with to meet the challenges.

First stop was Ozwathini, where local residents grow mainly wattle on small plots on communal land. The SANBI Grasslands Programme is engaging with the Ozwathini small farmers to improve their management practices, and to conserve the biodiversity of the high conservation value grasslands in the area. Co-ops like NCT and UCL, who market timber and bark on behalf of many of the small growers, are also involved with the community in an effort to improve plantation management practices.

Next stop was Mondi's Gilboa plantation, one of the first formal nature reserves to be established within a tree plantation. This serves to protect an important water source and to secure the ecosystem integrity – alongside productive plantation areas.

On day two, the delegation visited Bracken Timbers near Greytown. Bracken is a medium-size business growing primarily sawtimber. It's a progressive agro-forestry operation with a sawmill and charcoal business, and has engaged proactively with neighbouring community forestry projects.

They also visited Eyethu and Siyathokoza, two land reform forestry projects on land previously owned by Mondi, and in which Mondi is a strategic partner.

Day three saw the delegation head for St Lucia, where they enjoyed a boat cruise on the lake and a game drive on the Western Shores of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site. This was followed by a visit to SiyaQhubeka Forests, jointly owned by Mondi, government and local communities, and is the only plantation incorporated into a World Heritage Site anywhere in the world.

This came about as a result of an agreement between the park's authorities and SQF to remove portions of the plantation from sensitive wetlands and to incorporate the remaining plantations within the park to provide animals with more space to roam freely. This agreement ended 50 years of conflict between conservationists and forestry that was primarily about protecting the region's water resources.

The NGP delegation were treated to a boat cruise on Lake St Lucia in the heart of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
This young bull elephant gave the visitors a warm African welcome during a game drive on the western shores, near the SQF plantation. SA Forestry later learned that four rhinos were killed and de-horned on the Western Shores by poachers at the same time as the WWF NGP visitors were there. This serves to highlight the mounting pressure on our natural resources.
Maurice Makhathini addresses NGP delegates at SQF.

Published in June 2013

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