Eastern Cape Community Forestry Project

October 31, 2008

The Cata community, a community of three villages located in the foothills of the Amathola Mountains in the Keiskammahoek area of the Eastern Cape, were successful, with the assistance of the Border Rural Committee (BRC) an East London-based NGO, in obtaining compensation for the losses they incurred as a result of forced removals and Betterment Planning under the apartheid government.

Text and photos by Mike Howard, Fractal Forest

Cata planting pit Cata team members Correct planting in Cata
Phumeza Grootboom of BRC demonstrating the preparation of a planting pit.

Members of the Cata wattle team.


Supervisor Siziwe Katangana demonstrating the correct planting technique.


Betterment Planning was the process whereby people were forcibly removed from their ancestral homes or family kraals, and put into villages, usually in the vicinity of where they had been living. The objective of the Betterment Planning initiative by the government of the time was to concentrate people in zones earmarked for domestic dwellings and to consolidate the land into units of a commercial agricultural scale that could then be farmed communally, either for crops or stock.

Prior to the successful claim made by the Cata Community, the land claims process had only considered restitution where people had been entirely removed from their land or their farms taken from them. The Cata success represented a landmark case in the land restitution initiative and pioneered the path which many other communities have subsequently followed. In the Keiskammahoek area another nine communities have subsequently been successful in their claim for restitution arising from Betterment Planning.

Part of the compensation paid to the Cata Community was in the form of a cash payment made directly to the affected families, with the balance of the settlement monies being used to set up a Development Fund. The use of the monies in the Development Fund was conditional on the preparation of a detailed Integrated Development Plan that outlines the proposed developments in the Cata Community and how the compensation monies are to be spent. Such an integrated development plan has been completed by BRC and a team of technical consultants and is now being implemented under the management of the Cata Community Property Association (CCPA) and the Amatole District Council (ADM).

Besides the ground-breaking nature of the actual restitution claim, the integrated development planning and coordinated implementation that has followed is also a first of its kind in the Eastern Cape.

The Cata Development Plan makes provision for the establishment of approximately 100 ha of forestry plantations, made up of about 50% of rehabilitated jungle wattle (the 'Wattle Project') and the balance, the establishment of pine (the Pine Project) in an area not previously afforested. Officials from DWAF provided the Cata Forestry Project with assistance in obtaining the required Stream Flow Reduction Activity licences and the project is now licensed to establish 70 ha of wattle and 500 ha of pines, which will allow the project to expand beyond the original 100-odd ha of plantation.

Forestry was identified as an appropriate land use for Cata as it can contribute to poverty reduction through the provision of jobs and revenues from the sale of the trees themselves. The Cata initiative has the potential to play a catalytic role in pioneering a model for forestry development in the poor rural areas of the Eastern Cape. Already the initiative has stimulated the establishment of the Injinga Cooperative, a cooperative with members from nine villages in the Keiskammahoek area, whose aim is to optimise the management of the wattle resources in the area for both profit and environmental protection.

Mike Howard of Fractal Forest has over the last five years been contracted by various parties (DWAF, Amathole District Municipality, DFID, IIED and BRC) to provide specialist forestry support services to the project, particularly for the preparation of the Forestry Plan, the establishment of the new plantations and the development of the forestry-based enterprises.

The Wattle Project
The forestry project commenced in 2005 with the spacing of the wattle jungle areas. A team of 20 people were drawn from the community and given training on the techniques and procedures for selecting those wattle trees that will make up the final stand and removing the unwanted trees. The team elected their own supervisor and proceeded to become a skilled and productive silvicultural operation that successfully converted 70 ha of wattle jungle into a managed stand that will provide approximately 80 ton/ha of pulpwood in about six years time when the trees reach 10 years of age. The timber will be sold to pulpwood and biomass processing plants in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The Injinga Cooperative, of which the Cata Forestry Project is a member, will have an equity stake in EC Biomass, a fuel pellet plant under construction at Coega and preferential timber supply agreements are currently being put in place.

The Pine Project
Twenty workers were drawn from the Cata Community and appointed to the Pine Project Team together with a supervisor (making 21 people) who was elected by the team of workers. The work commenced in June 2006 with the preparation of fire breaks aimed at allowing the use of fire to clear much of the area proposed for planting in 2006. However, the Eastern Cape experienced one of the wettest winters in decades and the vegetation never dried off sufficiently well to allow any block burning to take place. The area was slashed and the brush piles of unwanted vegetation burnt.

By the end of the planting season, the team had successfully established 14 ha of pine plantations. Recent work has focused on preparing for the upcoming fire season with the preparation of fire breaks and fire control training.

The project has made a significant contribution to the livelihoods of the people of Cata through the payment of wages and the new skills that the members of the different forestry teams have learnt. Selection of workers for the teams was thoughtfully done to ensure that as many families in Cata as possible, had an opportunity to earn wages through the Forestry Project.

Enterprise development and business administration skills have also been focused upon by BRC and Fractal Forest and it is envisaged that the people of Cata will be operating their own forestry enterprise entirely independently of outside support, within about two to three years.

Published in September/October 2008

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