Harvesting in S. Cape

June 30, 2011

A group of timber merchants and furniture manufacturers based in Knysna are up in arms over the lack of progress made by SANParks in restructuring the harvesting and auctioning of indigenous hardwood and blackwood timber.

The last auction of indigenous hardwood and blackwood logs by SANParks was held in May 2010. SANParks announced then that they intended to restructure the harvesting and auctioning system that has been in place since they took over management of the southern Cape natural forests in 2005.

According to a SANParks spokesperson, a decision was made to focus on their core conservation activities and to outsource the harvesting and auctioning of timber, which they were running at a financial loss.

In November last year, SANParks called for expressions of interest in the harvesting and auctioning of timber from the private sector. A number of proposals were submitted, including one from the Southern Cape Timber Buyers' Co-operative, whose members include timber merchants and furniture manufacturers in the Knysna area.

SANParks is now awaiting Treasury approval to move ahead with the restructuring and put the operation out to tender.

Running short of raw materials
In the meantime, the members of the co-op say their businesses are suffering as they are running short of the indigenous hardwoods that are their lifeblood. They are questioning why the process is taking so long, and why SANParks didn't start the restructuring process a lot earlier in order to ensure that this valuable local industry has access to the raw materials that they need.

Len du Plessis of SANParks' Knysna office says that their request to put the harvesting and auctioning operation out to tender is awaiting the approval of the national Treasury, which is necessary as the forests are a state asset.

"We are communicating with Treasury every day in an effort to speed up the process," said Len. "As soon as we get the necessary approval, we will advertise the tender notices." He said that it should take around 12 weeks from the Treasury approval date to the commencement of harvesting.

"We are seeking a long term solution that will best serve the interests of the country and the industry," Len concluded.

Chairman of the Southern Cape Timber Buyers' Co-operative, Robin Clark of Touw Meubels, said the co-op currently has 14 members who represent around 80% of the buying volumes of indigenous hardwoods.

He said that the co-op had submitted an expression of interest to SANParks at the end of last year. "We are confident that we can run the harvesting operation more efficiently, and we would engage an independent organisation to handle the auctioning of timber," he said.

Key considerations for SANParks regarding the restructuring are that the harvesting is environmentally sustainable and is done according to the current timber yield regulation system that is in place, and that there is equitable access to the timber.

According to Koos Botha of Botha and Barnard, a prominent local furniture manufacturer and co-op member, the shortage of indigenous timber has resulted in him losing orders, and jobs are starting to be shed within the industry. He said that he is busy importing hardwood from the USA to replace local hardwoods.

Private forest resource
Although SANParks manages the bulk of the natural forest resource in South Africa, there is some natural forest around Knysna that is in private hands. This includes Parkes' forest and Hooggekraal, which is owned and managed by Geo Parkes & Sons (Pty) Ltd, one of Knysna's oldest timber businesses (see separate article on page 13). This company has a special permit to harvest indigenous tree species. The company negotiates prices directly with buyers, and is able to harvest most of the indigenous hardwood species that SANParks harvests.

However, Geo Parkes and Sons Managing Director, Jim Parkes, says that despite the apparent shortage of indigenous hardwood timber on the market, local buyers are not taking full advantage of the resource that he has to offer.
The members of the Southern Cape Timber Buyers Co-op that SA Forestry magazine spoke to indicated that they felt GEO Parkes and Sons prices were too high. Jim Parkes, on the other hand, maintains his prices are reasonable, and says he's prepared to negotiate with individual buyers.

Clearly, there is a problem in that the local businesses are not seeing eye to eye, with the result that the indigenous hardwood timber resources are not being fully utilised.

In the meantime, the indigenous hardwood timber buyers of the southern Cape are anxiously awaiting the issuing of tender notices from SANParks which would mean that the logs they need for their businesses will soon be flowing again.

Hardwood timber merchant and transport operator

Dalena WolmaransDalena Wolmarans in her timber warehouse in Knysna.

Dalena Wolmarans runs two businesses in the Knysna area that were started by her father in 1958 – Adam Stander Houtverkoper and AJJ Stander Transport. She buys indigenous hardwood timber and blackwood, mainly at SANParks auctions, saws it into planks and dries it in her kiln at the Knysna premises, and then on-sells it to customers.
On the transport side, she runs two MAN trucks and hauls timber for local sawmills and harvesting contractors.

Dalena says that the timber industry has played a significant role in the history and development of Knysna, but feels that currently there is not enough support for the small timber businesses in the southern Cape. She says that the suspension of timber harvesting by SANParks over the past year has left her short of raw materials, and has put her business under severe pressure.

Dalena is very hands-on, does her own sawing with a portable Wood-Mizer, sharpens her own saws and drives the trucks to deliver timber to customers if necessary as well.

Timber Village: a showcase for indigenous hardwood timber products

Jock McConnachieJock McConnachie dries indigenous hardwood timber in the yard behind Timber Village.

Jock McConnachie is the owner of Timber Village in Knysna. It is a popular stop-off for visitors to this picturesque coastal town who are looking for original, hand-made products made from local, indigenous hardwoods such as yellowwood, Witels, ironwood, stinkwood and White Pear.

Jock buys timber, mainly locally grown indigenous hardwoods from wherever he can get it. The main source of supply has been the SANParks auctions, but he also gets logs from windfalls and from local residents and farmers who have to cut trees in their gardens.

All the hardwood timber he uses is air dried over a period of about one year. This is much slower than kiln drying, but gives him a better result.

Jock employs a number of talented carpenters who manufacture furniture to order as well as stock items that are displayed in the shop.

Published in June 2011

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