Small grower from Richards Bay wins NCT award

October 27, 2011

Sihle 'Brian' Msweli from Richards Bay area was named NCT's top tree farmer in the category of farms managed on communal land at this year's AGM.

NCT's top small grower Sihle Msweli and his brother Lawyer
NCT's Elvis Nyathela (left) and top small grower
Sihle Msweli in a fine Eucalyptus stand.

Sihle (left) with his brother Lawyer Msweli, who
drives the truck used to transport their timber to
the mill in Richards Bay, about 50 kms away.

Sihle hails from the KwaSokhulu tribal authority, north of Richards Bay. He was raised by his grandmother and spent most of his school holidays and free time on her 12 ha timber land, learning about forestry. This created an interest and passion for tree farming from an early age. His grandmother later allocated him 6.3 ha of planted land so that he could pursue his own forestry business.

Over the next few years, he acquired more land here and there and today operates 22 ha, planted mainly with G x U hybrids. His plantations are scattered around his home in small plots of a few hectares each. This creates logistical problems, but there is no other way for a successful communal land farmer to accumulate additional land to work.

He became a member of NCT in 2004 with full membership status, and maintains that the technical assistance and advice he gets from NCT has played a key role in his success.

In 2008, Sihle resigned from the Defence Force to concentrate on his forestry operations, after he realised that he could make a full-time business out of tree farming. He does all his own silviculture and harvesting and maintains a workforce of 16 full-time employees and 10 contractors. He also does his own loading and transport from his plantations to the mill at Richards Bay.

NCT commended Sihle for his silvicultural techniques and fire protection practices.

  • Prior to fire season, external fire breaks are slashed and internal belts are sprayed. Compartments are then burnt to clear the area and suppress weeds during the initial growth of seedlings. Burning is carefully planned to avoid fire crossing over to neighbouring plantations. This operation is then followed by applying a 3x2 pitting espacement operation that creates access within the compartment. This also ensures that fire protection and harvesting operations are efficiently executed.
  • Seedlings are sourced from reputable nurseries in Zululand. A carefully planned planting operation is carried out on well-prepared sites to ensure high survival growth.
  • Weed control on Sihle's stand is managed through manual slashing and the use of approved chemical sprays.

"NCT workshops have played a big role in my business in terms of acquiring forestry skills and knowledge. I'm proud to be a member and hope I can make a positive contribution to the organisation," he said.

NCT's man in charge of assisting the small growers in Zululand is Elvis Nyathela. He organises regular workshops and field days to which the small growers are invited.
"We get an overwhelming response from the small growers," commented Elvis. "We believe that if we build them up, we can get a sustainable supply of timber. We discourage the small growers to fell under-sized timber, and we teach correct silvicultural practices," said Elvis.

NCT does site-species matching to ensure that the growers are planting the best trees, and provide small loans for on-going maintenance work.
Small growers like Sihle can also secure guarantee supply contracts with NCT, and if they meet their obligations, can earn R10/ton premium.

Tree farming appears to be by far the most common land use in the Sokhulu area where Sihle operates, with small stands of Eucalyptus scattered all around. This also creates opportunities for Sihle to offer other growers contracting services, either in silviculture, harvesting or transport.

Published in August 2011

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