Where is forest engineering in SA heading?

September 13, 2013

Forest Engineering Southern Africa (FESA) has conducted a survey to understand the perception stake­holders have of forest engineering, as well as to align applied research to these trends and identify potential for greater focus in the forest engineering field. Respondents were asked to comment on the state of research, innovation and the future of forest engineering in our industry.
by Simon Ackerman and Glynn Hogg

fig 1
Figure 1: Perception of respondents on people in forest engineering being well informed, their planning being effective and if their plans and execution of the plans are of a high standard.
fig 2
Figure 2: Survey respondents’ view on safety and ergonomics being of a high standard and not requiring attention.

South African forest engineering research is important in maintaining efficiency of the forestry industry in South Africa. However, where there is an apparent lack of this level of research locally, international trends are closely monitored by practitioners and applied to South African conditions.

In general, there is a strong base of skills and experience present in the industry among practitioners (managers in particular) which are being effectively transferred to newer team members, ensuring an effective transfer of expertise and knowledge (Figure 1). This is a highly positive part of our industry and shows that it is truly vibrant, willing to learn and embrace change. It was also found that the planning of forest engineering was of a high standard. However, in some cases, it was felt that the execution of these plans was not as effective as intended.

A point of concern, highlighted in the survey, is the perceptions of safety and ergonomics (Figure 2). Safety is of a great concern to practitioners; however, there is a feeling that the larger companies set targets that are often time-consuming and very difficult to attain. Ergonomics, even in an era of increased mechanisation, still seems to be poorly practised, particularly in forest engineering areas that are less mechanised. Coupled to this are the perceptions of apparent inefficiencies in the forest engineering supply chain, transport, harvesting, extraction and roads. These factors need investigation, and the ability to transfer knowledge between research organisations, companies and private growers is vital.

A further important finding of the survey was identification of the need for integration in the supply chain between silviculture and harvesting, as well as harvesting and mills. As an overall comment, research undertaken should be packaged and reported in an easy to read/digestible format. FESA needs to set up and maintain a central database for information and research, which must be kept current through interaction with stakeholders and research organisations.

How is FESA able to use this information to make a tangible difference in South African forestry? This survey shows that there is a greater need for interaction and knowledge sharing between parts of the forestry supply chain. There is also a need to transfer the knowledge to all stakeholders in the industry, and to conduct research that is relevant to the different stakeholders. FESA, through the survey, can identify these factors more efficiently and will, in future, target projects that encompass them. Currently, there is a drive towards silviculture and harvesting interaction as well as greater input into small growers and their needs. These two projects, as a start, address some of the shortcomings identified in the survey and will seek to solve them.

Details of some of the projects for the year ahead are listed in the FESA project overview.

Contact details
For more information, contact Simon Ackerman at fesa@icfr.ukzn.ac.za or 033 346 2314, or view FESA projects at www.fesa.org.za

Published in June 2013

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