Once a chainsaw operator – now a grower

February 13, 2023

Part Two in our focus on the small-scale tree farmers of KZN ...

Enoch Mathenjwa manages 40 hectares of eucalyptus and is one of many small growers in Zululand that supplies timber to the Mondi Richards Bay Mill.

Story and pics by Samora Chapman

Enoch Mathenjwa’s journey in forestry goes way back - nearly four decades back to a different time in South Africa. In 1983 Enoch got his first job in forestry as a chainsaw operator for Shell Forestry in KwaMbonambi. Little did he know that he would eventually own 40 hectares of his own lush forests, scattered across the deep rural area of Thelizolo, where a mosaic of small timber farms reach as far as the eye can see.

“I grow slowly but surely, every year, a bit at a time,” he says with a toothy grin, sitting on the back of his bakkie on a sandy farm road. “I own a taxi business in the village … and every time I make a profit, I grow more trees. I only deal with Mondi Zimele and Awethu Forestry,” he adds, referring to the market connection to the Mondi Richards Bay Mill in the south.

Despite having worked in forestry as a young man, it was only in 2006 that Enoch decided to establish his own plantation. He requested land from the local chief and planted his first four hectares in an effort to establish a side business that could supplement his income. About one rotation later, in 2012, he was introduced to Awethu Forestry, a local forestry agent that was implementing Mondi Zimele’s master plan to boost rural development in the region through forestry.

“When I joined Awethu and the Mondi Zimele programme, everything changed,” he says with pride. “The advice, the high-quality seedlings and the access to the market encouraged me to grow the business and take forestry more seriously. Looking back, I have been able to do many things through forestry. I even paid the deposit for this bakkie right here,” he says, giving the bakkie a pat like it was a noble steed.

Enoch takes a walk with Ntombifuthi Mthembu and Nonkazimlo Mkwa of Awethu Forestry, which is the implementing agent of Mondi Zimele's Forestry Partners Programme.

Awethu Forestry supports Enoch at every level of the business, operating as the vital connection between the small-grower and Mondi. At harvest time Awethu Forestry coordinates a local harvesting contractor to fell the trees and then a short-haul contractor to load the timber on a tractor-trailer and navigate the winding and treacherous sandy roads to the nearest Awethu depot. From there, the timber is loaded by hand onto a 38 tonne truck, which carries the precious cargo all the way to the Mondi Mill, some 265 kilometres to the south. And that’s the origin of the paper and packaging products manufactured by Mondi that are sold all over the world.

These are the nuts and bolts of the Mondi Zimele Forestry Partners Programme, a unique partnership that has seen a total of 933 690 tonnes of timber delivered to Mondi in the last 15 years, generating R803 million in revenue for the small growers of Zululand.

Awethu Forestry coordinates transport for the long haul from the Thelizolo depot to the Mondi Richards Bay Mill, 265 kilometres to the south.

Fire and the future
Enoch says that fire is the main threat to his forestry business. “There are honey hunters in this area – they use fire to smoke out the bees and harvest honey. This is a danger to the plantations, especially since we do not have fire-fighting equipment,” he explains.

He goes on to highlight the importance of firebreaks and keeping compartments clean so that there is less fuel for a fire if one does break out.

Enoch’s vision for the future is to buy his own tractor-trailer and timber truck so that he can deliver his own timber to the Thelizolo depot AND handle the long haul to the Mondi Richards Bay mill. This will also enable him to start a timber transport contracting business to service the many other growers in the area. And so the cycle continues to grow and evolve, benefiting more and more people along the magical value chain … from seedling to mill.

GU clones are the best trees for the dry and sandy conditions in Zululand.

Find out more at mondizimele.co.za and read our previous post in the series: Rejoice Shozi – Soil is the source of life.

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