Pioneering forestry in northern Mozambique

June 26, 2012

The hub of forestry in Mozambique is on the Lichinga Plateau situated in the north-western corner of Mozambique close to Lake Niassa which forms the border between Mozambique and Malawi. The plateau is at an altitude of ±1 300 m above sea level with a mean daily minimum temperature of 9.40 C and a mean daily maximum temperature of 27.10 C. Average yearly rainfall is around 1 100 mm, of which most falls between December to March, giving a very short planting season. Fire season is from September to the end of November, with easterly winds being the main danger factor.

by James Luckhoff, Forestry Manager, Chikweti Forests (all photos were taken at Chikweti Forests operations)

Chikweti Forests offices in Niassa
The modern, new offices of Chikweti Forests of Niassa.
 Komatsu D85a bulldozer in Mozambique  Riging on the rip lines in Mozambique
Komatsu D85a bulldozer doing some ripping. Ridging on the rip lines.
 Excavator removing stumps in Mozambique Unimog spray unit in Mozambique
The excavator removing stumps and levelling ant heaps. Unimog spray unit with 2 000 l tank. Unimogs don't die - they just fade away of old age.

Bakkie sakkie spray unit in Mozambique

Steel wheels on a tractor in Mozambique

Bakkie sakkie spray unit – not only used for fire fighting. Steel wheels come in handy on wet soils.


Currently, there are five forestry companies operating in the area with a total of ±30 000 ha planted mainly to pine for saw timber production. The oldest plantings are six years old. The companies are Chikweti Forests, Florestas de Niassa, Green Resources, Florestas Do Planalto SA (UPM) and New Forests. They have formed the Forestry Association of Niassa (FAN), and hold monthly meetings to ensure there is co-operation between companies and to facilitate better communication with stakeholders, including government.

There has been a move to plant more Eucalyptus in anticipation of a new pulp mill which is to be constructed by UPM in the future. The target is to have at least 200 000 ha of euc available for pulp production on an 8-10-year rotation.

Most of the companies have their own nurseries and the species that are grown are E. grandis, E. urograndis, P. maximinoi, P. tecunumanii, P. oocarpa, P. caribaea, P. patula and P. elliottii. With the short planting season, most of the soil preparation has to be done in the winter months when the soils are extremely hard. Land clearing is done by bulldozer and excavator to level ant hills and remove old stumps and shrubs which were left behind when the areas were cleared for charcoal production or shifting agriculture by the local population.

A lot of attention has been given to mechanical soil preparation to ensure adequate depth for the planting holes. Ripping is done by bulldozer to a depth of ±60 cm with three or four metre spacing between rows. Ridging over the rip lines is done by tractor and disc to close the rip line and to bring together the limited topsoil and organic material that is available. Trials by UPM on this method of soil preparation have shown superior results after one year. Areas to be planted to Euc receive a 100% spray with glyphosate before planting, to ensure a weed-free environment. Follow-up operations with pre-emergent herbicide, fertilising and termite control is done to ensure canopy closure will take place at 18 months or earlier.

Fire season is aggravated by the fact that the local population uses fire to clear land for agriculture. This, combined with abundant dry grass and extreme windy conditions, makes the fire season very taxing on the fire teams. Fire detection is done from temporary, small lookout towers that are scattered around the fragmented plantations with hand-held radios for communication. Most of the fire equipment consists of slip-on units on tractors and LDVs. Some companies have acquired a few dedicated fire trucks. Due to the fragmented nature of the plantations and vast distances, back-up support for fighting fires is very limited.

Future plantings are planned to be in the region of 13 000 ha per year, peaking at 30 000 ha per year within three years. Availability of suitable land will determine the rate of development. These big developments will create huge opportunities for service providers in logistics (3 000 km from Maputo), silviculture contractors and equipment providers.

Forestry skills in the Niassa province are drawn from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sweden, Portugal, Guatemala, Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay. Language is mostly Portuguese, mixed with Spanish and English. For recreation, the lake provides some excellent snorkelling, fishing and beautiful pristine beaches. The odd game of touch rugby even gets going on weekends.

Published in April 2012

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