NCT beefs up Chain of Custody assurance

June 19, 2024
NCT’s Roger Poole and Eric Msomi inform the growers of the strict new chain-of-custody requirements. (Photo courtesy Mfundo Ngcobo/NCT).

Small-scale tree farming on tribal land in the KZN midlands is alive and well, as evidenced by an enthusiastic turnout at a recent NCT field day at the co-op’s Ahrens timber depot, near Greytown.

This was a combined field day hosted by NCT’s Greytown regional office for growers supplying their timber to the Glenside and Ahrens depots. Around 80 tree farmers from the surrounding areas attended the field day to hear presentations from the NCT forestry team.

The focus of the day was on the need for growers to comply with NCT’s chain-of-custody protocols which are designed to ensure that every stick of timber crossing the weighbridge at the depot is legitimate, can be traced directly back to the grower, and can be verified by NCT head office if required to do so.

The reason for the elevation of chain-of-custody assurance to ‘High Priority’ in this little corner of South Africa is the growing raft of regulations around the world that are designed to prevent any illegal or stolen timber from entering the global supply chain, and more specifically, to stop illegal logging and deforestation.

A well lined out small grower wattle compartment, Ahrens.

European Union Deforestation Regulation

Central to all of this is the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) which came into effect in June 2023. This regulation requires that any product placed on the market or exported from the European Union did not result in deforestation anywhere along the supply chain, and that the products have been grown, harvested or obtained in accordance with the relevant laws of the country where the production took place.

The timber grown by NCT’s small grower members around the KZN midlands and in Zululand is sold as ‘controlled wood’ either directly as wood chips to markets in China and Japan, or to the Sappi-Saiccor mill on the south coast which exports the chemical pulp it produces to markets across the world. The wood chips and pulp are further processed abroad into paper and packaging materials or fabric, much of which inevitably ends up as finished products in the European Union.

The beginning of this global supply chain goes all the way back to every NCT member tree farmer who supplies timber to one of NCT’s depots – including the small-scale growers harvesting tiny one or two ha woodlots in Matimatolo.

The tree farmers took the news about the CoC requirements to heart. (Photo courtesy Mfundo Ngcobo/NCT).

Certified or controlled wood

In fact this regulation impacts upon every single farmer in South Africa that grows and sells timber that is used as raw material in the manufacture of products destined for mainstream global markets. This timber must either be certified by FSC or PEFC – or both – or at the very least must be sold as ‘controlled wood’ with full assurance of the legality of the whole supply chain.

Back to the Ahrens field day where the NCT team spelled out their requirements for purchasing members’ timber delivered to the depot. NCT is busy developing an app that runs on a mobile phone which will assist the growers to provide the essential info required to comply with their chain-of custody assurance. This includes taking and uploading a photo of the timber they have harvested before it leaves their plot on the short haul journey to the NCT depot. A marketer of clothing in Stockholm or Rome might request that photo to verify that the product he is selling has legitimate origins. Failure to be able to trace that timber all the way back to the grower would result in the mill gate being shut in the face of the timber supplier.

Another area of risk for the ‘controlled wood’ requirements of growers is the short haul transport from plantation to depot. Gone are the days when any old vehicle with wheels – licensed or unlicensed – can be used to haul the timber along dusty district roads from plantation to depot. If the vehicle and the driver and the load are not fully legal and legit, it’s game over. The chain of custody is broken and the timber cannot be sold as ‘controlled wood’. The mill gate will be shut once again.

Gone are the days of delivering timber to the depot with transport like this – Zululand circa 2008.

The growers attending the field day took the news about beefing up their chain of custody assurance pretty well. Some had questions around the difficulties they face in arranging suitable short haul transport, or navigating the technology required to use the app. But those are just some of the challenges that are going to have to be overcome if the timber supply chain is to remain intact.

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