Dr Andrew Morris, who retired from his post as CEO of the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) at the end of March, has had a big impact on the forestry industry in southern Africa in the course of a long and distinguished career.
He has been at the centre of ground-breaking research in Swaziland and South Africa that has played a key role in improving soil quality, plantation productivity and forest health. Imbued with an infectious sense of humour and an irrepressible intellect, Andrew can always be counted on to raise challenging questions and engage in robust debate and exchange of ideas among colleagues and forestry professionals.
After graduating with an Honours degree in Soil Science from Reading University in the UK in 1976, Andrew was employed as a Soil Physicist at the Agriculture Research Centre of the University of Swaziland.
In 1979 he joined the Usutu Pulp Company of Swaziland where he was involved in ground breaking research to explain and correct a yield decline in pine pulpwood plantations. This led to the introduction of fertilizer applications to improve the fertility of the soil, which reversed the productivity decline. This research was the basis for his PhD which he obtained through Reading University in 1987.
On his return to Swaziland, he formed a multidisciplinary research team that developed silviculture research in re-establishment practice, weed control, site-species matching, tree breeding and forest protection, that together with a new site classification realised significant benefits through the introduction of site-specific silvicultural practices.
In 1997 he was appointed General Manager for Research and Nurseries with Sappi Forests based at Tweedie in the KZN midlands. He transferred the concepts of integrated multidisciplinary research used in Swaziland, founded on site classification, across Sappi’s South African plantations. This led to the application of site-specific silviculture practices, and the continued development of tree improvement programmes that delivered improved eucalypt and pine planting stock to the plantations. Propagation research resulted in the modernisation of nursery production to produce the genetically improved rooted cuttings of various hybrids.
The application of this work has had a big impact on the forestry industry with eucalypt wood production per unit area of land significantly increased. Sappi’s eucalypt MAI effectively doubled between 1981 and 2000. Site classification, site-species matching, genetically improved planting stock, application of fertilizer at planting and improved weed control have all played a key role in this productivity improvement.
In a country where the area suitable for commercial wood production is limited with no opportunity for significant expansion, these productivity improvements are crucial in meeting growing demand for wood and wood fibre in South Africa.
Seeking a new challenge to help develop research initiatives beneficial to the whole forestry sector, Andrew joined the ICFR as Research Manager in 2013. His career up to this point had taken him from active research to research management, and the move to the ICFR was intended to reverse this trend. But once again he was required to perform a management role when, from 2017, as Director he led the institute through a major restructure securing new funding for a suite of research projects.
The ICFR Business Manager Karin Nagel took over from Andrew as Acting CEO from 1st April. She has a strong management support team in Julian Chan (Group Leader Tree Breeding), Ilaria Germishuizen (Group Leader Sustainable Production) and Greg Fuller (Technical Support).
“The ICFR continues to provide high quality applied research relevant to policy and practice in the forestry sector which requires continued collaboration with other organisations to deliver the needed multidisciplinary understanding,” concluded Andrew.
Andrew has been an Honorary Professor, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Pretoria, and Honorary Research Fellow of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is author and co-author of more than 35 peer reviewed scientific papers and has presented at numerous scientific conferences, symposia and workshops. He has been involved in several forestry feasibility studies in Africa, South America, China and South East Asia. Industry roles have included Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Camcore International Tree Improvement Cooperative at North Carolina State University (2003-2011), leader of the South African Pitch Canker Control Programme and Editor-in-Chief of Southern Forests: A Journal of Forest Science.
A scientist at heart, Andrew says he is looking forward to continuing his involvement in the forestry industry as a research associate for the ICFR.
“Throughout my career I have been privileged to work with a host of knowledgeable, innovative and motivated researchers, technicians and foresters, and it would be nice to help the next generation in some small way,” he said.
He believes further opportunities exist for investment in forestry research that can bring important improvements to the various forestry value chains important in South Africa, and benefit to the tree farmers who supply the wood.
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