Another state plantation handed over for community management

DFFE Deputy Minister Makhotso Sotyu (blue dress, centre) helps to plant a tree to commemorate the handover of the Mabama plantation to the traditional authority in Limpopo.

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries & the Environment (DFFE) is on a roll as another state-owned plantation is handed over to a local community to manage – this time in Limpopo province in the far north of the country. The 72 ha Mabama plantation – planted primarily to Eucalyptus species – is situated in the Vhembe district of Limpopo, and was handed over to the Mashamba Traditional Council recently.

The Community Forestry Agreement was approved in March this year by the Minister of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, after numerous engagements between the Department and the Mashamba Traditional Council who had expressed interest in managing the plantation.

This is the 28th plantation to be handed over to communities since 2023, and the first in Limpopo province. These are small, Category B and C plantations many of which are not currently viable commercial enterprises as they have been poorly managed by under-resourced DFFE staff for years, and have been further damaged by timber theft and wildfires.

The handover of Category B and C state plantations is one of the commitments expressed in the Forest Sector Masterplan approved by government in 2022. The Masterplan maps out the growth, investment and transformation plan for the sector.

It presents the recipient communities with an opportunity to establish local businesses to operate and develop these plantations for the collective benefit of the community members. DFFE has undertaken to provide support to assist the communities to operate the plantations optimally and add value to the resource, and has opened the way for the involvement of the private sector to partner with the recipient communities.

Excited community members at the plantation handover.

“The Department takes cognisance of the fact that these plantations are not necessarily in a condition that is ideal for timber production purposes and require a lot of work and resources to turn them around,” commented DFFE Deputy Minister Makhotso Sotyu at the handover ceremony.

“I would like to make a commitment on behalf of the Department that we will provide the community with the necessary support that is required to make these plantations productive in future. It must be noted that these plantations are categorised as woodlots, and the Department will work with the affected communities to develop a plan that will ensure the management of these resources in a sustainable manner going forward.

“We commit to undertaking initiatives such as site species matching to determine the ideal species that can grow well in this area, provision of technical and advisory support services and training of beneficiaries to empower them with knowledge and skills of sustainable forest management. Furthermore, the Department can provide seedlings that will be needed to re-establish the plantations. These commitments are further outlined in the post settlement support package that is in the process of being finalised by the Department,” said the Deputy Minister.

“Where feasible, we will also try to link communities with strategic partners who will then assist with additional expertise and resources to recapitalise the plantations. The success of this project depends on the commitment of the communities in ensuring that the land is kept under forestry production,” she said.

NCT’s small scale tree farmer of the year

Vikesh from Pmb Power Products presents Sydney with a brand new STIHL chainsaw.

Sydney Qedumona Hlanguza from the Umvoti tribal area has been nominated by the NCT Forestry team as their Small Scale Tree Farmer of the Year for 2023.

This is a prestigious award presented annually to tree farmers who display excellence in the management of their plantations grown on tribal land.

After spending 20 years working in the formal sector, first as a teacher and then with Old Mutual’s sales division, Sydney returned to his traditional home in Ntembisweni in the Umvoto tribal area where he bought a plot situated adjacent to his family’s ancestral land.

Evidence of Sydney’s excellent forestry operations with effective weeding around newly planted tree seedlings.

Initially he managed a small rural trading store but was eventually persuaded to try his hand at forestry, initially planting wattle on his land from seed acquired from NTE.

By the time those first trees reached maturity, Sydney had made contact with NCT’s Greytown District Manager, Cliff Walton, who helped him find a market for the timber.

This was the start of a long-standing relationship between Sydney and NCT, with Sydney becoming a member of the co-op in 2010.

Sydney continued to plant wattle on his land, and now also manages the wattle plantations on the adjoining land owned by his two brothers. He has a total of three hectares of wattle under his management.

Sydney’s three hectares planted with wattle.

Sydney has been instrumental in assisting the foresters from NCT and NTE to roll out Project Wattle Regen in the Umvoti tribal areas, which aims to support the small-scale growers to improve their productivity, and expand the areas planted to wattle.

Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii) is an ideal tree crop well suited to local conditions, and with ready markets nearby.

Most of the wattle timber grown in this area is marketed through NCT which has chipping and export facilities at the nearby port of Richards Bay. The wattle bark is marketed through NTE which has a factory near Greytown that turns freshly harvested wattle bark into tannin and adhesives, destined mainly for the export market. Wattle timber not marketed through NCT is also widely used by locals in many applications such as fencing posts and building material.

Young wattle seedlings are planted in a fenced enclosure to protect them from being trampled by cattle.

Sydney shared some of the many challenges he faces daily. Goats, cattle, and duiker breaking through his fences and seedlings being removed shortly after planting. Fire also is a constant threat and part of his management plan is making sure that he has good firebreaks during the winter months. He deals with challenges faced proactively and responds tactfully. He allows neighbours to collect firewood on his property in a controlled manner, this way he gains allies rather than enemies.

In addition to his forestry business, Sydney also runs a small side-business selling gas refills, lectures in Theology at a local Bible college, and is a speed-walking champion for good measure.

Sydney is a proud father of seven children. His older children are all in successful careers while he is still responsible for his last two who are both training to be teachers. Sydney’s wife works for the University of KwaZulu-Natal as an admin clerk.

He is a humble person who is always open to learning and improving. He considers himself a “student of life” and is always ready to take advice from people who know more about something than himself.

Sydney’s fire breaks – fire is a constant threat, especially in the dry winter months.

Phillip Mpangela – guardian of the KwaMbo forests

Phillip Mpangela (right) and Muzi Sibiya discussing forestry business.

Story and photos: Samora Chapman

Phillip Mpangela has been growing trees in KwaMbonambi, northern KwaZulu-Natal, for 25 years. He started working in the family forests alongside his father in 1997, immediately after finishing high school. Over the years he took over the maintenance of the woodlots and gradually acquired and planted all of the family land belonging to his siblings. Today he manages over 30 hectares of land – all stocked with carefully maintained Eucalyptus trees, which grow tall and strong in the sandy white soil of his ancestors.

“Our lives are tied to the animals and the earth,” says Phillip as he looks out on his timber farm. He is joined by Muzi Sibiya from Khulanathi Forestry and the two foresters take a walk to a newly planted compartment to check on the progress of the young trees. It’s a hot spring afternoon in Zululand – the homestead is surrounded by fields of maize and a noisy flock of goats scatter into a grassland nearby to graze.

The newly planted area is well fenced to protect it from livestock, and the seedlings are growing strong under the watchful eye of Phillip, the guardian of the forests.

Khulanathi Forestry supply both the seedlings and the market access for Phillip’s business, a vital partnership that supports the small grower through all the phases of forestry. The seedlings are sponsored by Mondi Zimele, Khulanathi’s strategic partner in empowering small-scale timber growers in the region. Mondi Zimele supplies 500 000 seedlings to small growers in the region every year.

Phillip Mpangela passes on some insights into forestry to the next generation.

“My father instilled in me a passion for the land,” reflects Phillip. “I wish to do the same for my children. This business will be passed on to them … but my hope is that they will do more skilled work and be able to employ people to manage the day-today running of the plantations.”

Phillip hires up to 20 local people when he is harvesting and 10-15 people when he is doing other work like planting, maintenance and fire break preparation. He recently bought his own labour carrier and three chainsaws.

Muzi Sibiya assists with timber orders as well as procuring timber transport to either the Khulanathi depot in KwaMbonambi, or directly to the Mondi Mill in Richards Bay. “Timber transport is a challenge because of the high cost … but at the same time it is good for others to have jobs,” comments Phillip.

Khulanathi also offers technical skills transfer through field days and ongoing mentorship on the business and operational aspects of forestry.

Muzi Sibiya uses his bike to get around on his weekly visits to the small-scale growers he works with in the region.

“The relationship with Khulanathi has been productive,” says Phillip as he sits on a log-stack in the shade to escape the blazing afternoon sun. “Muzi came to check this site and approve the land … makes sure that I’m not planting too close to the watercourse. All the support goes a long way – the seedlings, the market for the timber, the advice is all very valuable. Forestry is so important to life in KwaMbonambi.”

Phillip explains that he uses his knowledge and experience to support other small growers in the community. “My role is to guide the community, especially with the more technical things like burning firebreaks, spacing out during planting and advising on the right time to harvest. We are planting GU clones with a spacing of 2.4 metres and harvesting on a five-year rotation.”

One of Phillip Mpangele’s well-kept Eucalyptus compartments.

Phillip is in the process of diversifying into livestock (cattle and goats) as well as agriculture. A new development is that of intercropping – the planting of beans and peanuts in-between the Eucalyptus seedlings. This venture promises to create a new income stream and maximise use of the available land.

His future plans are to continue expanding his timber farm and set up a family trust for his children. “I’m not afraid to say that I will be a millionaire in five years,” he says without a shadow of doubt. A bold statement and proof that forestry is going a long way toward sustaining current and future generations in the communities of KwaMbonambi.

Harvested timber ready for market.
Phillip Mpangele’s homestead with trees, maize fields and goats all neatly fenced off into separate camps for maximum productivity.

Once a chainsaw operator – now a grower

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 and read our previous post in the series: Rejoice Shozi – Soil is the source of life.

Transforming Sappi’s supply chain, building thriving communities

Mhlekazi in deep discussion with Nombhuyiselo Ndlovu, Mhlekazi Forestry’s SHE Officer.

The story of Mhlekazi Forestry, which has secured a five-year contract to do silviculture and fire fighting work for Sappi in KwaZulu-Natal south, provides clear evidence that investing in the development of local, community-based entrepreneurs brings a multitude of benefits for business, for the individual entrepreneur – and for the country at large. It also demonstrates that the entrepreneurs are out there; they need to be identified, provided with opportunities and support and they can flourish.

Simon Phoswa, better known as ‘Mhlekazi’, is one of those irrepressible entrepreneurs who has made the transition from the informal to the formal economic sector, creating sustainable jobs in the rural areas where unemployment is at an all-time high.

Mhlekazi grew up in the southern KZN hinterland and left school early to earn a living and help support his family. He got a heavy duty license and landed a job as a truck driver for a local forestry company. He proved himself to be more than capable and was subsequently promoted to silviculture foreman. This company was eventually bought out by Sappi. Soon thereafter Sappi decided to outsource their forestry operations, and Mhlekazi was retrenched along with many other forestry workers. This led to him securing a job as a manager with a silviculture contracting business.

When this business closed its doors, Mhlekazi found himself out in the cold once again, and so established his own contracting business. He started off doing work for small-scale growers participating in Sappi’s Khulisa programme, as well as the occasional ‘ad hoc’ contract for Sappi.

Then in 2018 Sappi established an Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) unit to take on the development of local community-based suppliers to provide substance to its vision of building strong, resilient communities in the areas where it operates. The logic behind this strategy is based on Sappi’s Shared Value Principles and the UN Sustainable Development Goals aimed at building thriving local communities. A key part of the strategy involves transforming Sappi’s supply chain to include local community-based SMEs.

The Mhlekazi team busy pitting for Sappi at Riverdale outside Richmond.

Mhlekazi was a prime candidate for this programme. He already had a contracting business embedded in the local Richmond community, understood silvicultural operations inside out and knew Sappi’s southern KZN plantations like the back of his hand. Moreover, he had the essential traits required to be an entrepreneur: he’s a self-starter with plenty of passion, a strong work ethic, is solutions-oriented, has a never-give-up attitude and natural leadership skills. These are character-defining traits that you can’t easily teach to someone - you either have them or you don’t.

Mhlekazi has them in spades. He is a larger than life character and is extremely well known and respected by people from all walks of life in the region. He was already running a contracting business which employed 40 people, owned a herd of cattle and was operating two taxis.

Sappi’s ESD team started working with Mhlekazi, providing him with the tools and the skills he would need to make it as a Sappi contractor. When Sappi put out its silviculture tender for its business unit KZN South in 2021, Mhlekazi threw his hat into the ring and participated in the pitching process like any other aspirant contractor.

According to reports his presentation was top notch and he was successful in persuading the Sappi team that he was indeed the right man for the job. Mhlekazi Forestry (Pty) Ltd duly secured a five-year contract responsible for silvicultural operations and fire fighting services. Sappi’s Southern KZN business unit includes some 6 400 ha of Eucalypts plantations, supplying fibre to the massive Sappi-Saiccor mill in Umkomaas.

Members of Sappi’s forestry and Enterprise & Supplier Development teams provide ongoing support for Mhlekazi Forestry. Left to right: Sipho Magubane (Sappi Forester) , Donald Nkadimeng (Sappi ESD), Aaron Ntokozo Nzimande (Mhlekazi Forestry supervisor), Steve Pay (Sappi Richmond Forestry Manager), Lesiba Lamola (Sappi ESD), Mhlekazi, Nombhuyiselo Ndlovu (Mhlekazi Forestry SHE Officer), Patrick Maringa (Sappi KZN South Area Manager) and Bongani Hadebe (Sappi Community Services Officer).

Mhlekazi Forestry currently employs 80 people sourced from local communities, and does land prep and plants around 600 ha a year, as well as performing fire fighting services. His staff has received training in all the core silvicultural activities and are well drilled in terms of health and safety requirements. Sappi sets high standards for its silviculture operations and the Mhlekazi team has to be spot on when it comes to weeding, pitting and planting.

Mhlekazi has a long-term vision and has brought his son, Sphesihle, into the business, and is assisted by one of his daughters, Nonsikelelo.

His team recently swept the boards in Sappi’s in-house regional fire-fighting competition, underlining the importance of injecting fresh new energy into this crucial aspect of forestry operations.

"The Sappi team has played a crucial role in our growth and development, and have been instrumental in opening doors for our business, providing business support, guidance and  encouragement. We truly value the support from Sappi,” says Mhlekazi.

Safety is an integral part of Mhlekazi Forestry, and Mhlekazi believes this has played a pivotal role in his business longevity.

"Many of our peers that started with us have not sustained their business because they neglected safety in their operations. We prioritise and value safety in our business," he says.

Mhlekazi has made the step up from the informal sector to become one of the biggest silviculture contractors in Sappi’s KZN South area.

Mhlekazi Forestry gets on-going support from Sappi’s ESD team, which brings in specialists from inside the company to provide advice, training and mentoring when required. It is a collaborative effort. They also utilise the services of a number of external organisations that provide specialised training, business and financial resources and expertise designed to support emerging SMEs.
Sappi’s local Community Services Officer Bongani Hadebe said that having Mhlekazi Forestry on board was important to strengthen Sappi’s standing in the wider community, and that providing sustainable jobs for local people was playing a vital role in building those communities and boosting the local economy.

This desire to help local communities to flourish, was one of the main reasons that Sappi established a dedicated ESD unit tasked with helping to incorporate small and medium enterprises into the mainstream economy.

This initiative has been further bolstered by the creation of a dedicated multidisciplinary team within Sappi comprised of ESD,  Human Resources and  Corporate Communications members, in a forum known as the Community Management Committee (CMC) at its business units. The purpose of the CMC is to identify shared value opportunities that help identify and support local entrepreneurs as well as to promote the sourcing of goods and services from local suppliers where possible.

Mhlekazi checks the dimensions of a pit to make sure it conforms with Sappi’s standards.

E Cape State plantations handed over to local communities

By Justin Nyakudanga

The Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) Hon Ms. Makhotso Sotyu (MP) handed over three category C plantations - namely Lehana, Fort Usher, and Makhoba - to the Batlokoa and the Makhoba Traditional Councils. The handing over of these plantations took place at a ceremony held in Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape recently, and is in line with the provisions of the National Forests Act, 1998 (Act No.84 of 1998).

The plantation handover follows the signing of an MoU between DFFE and the Dept of Public works and Infrastructure that states that all State land with expired leases should be recommissioned back for forestry commercial plantations, with the aim of entering into a Community Forestry Agreement with communities that are currently occupying the land.

The plantations have a combined hectarage of 362 ha and were established between 1978 - 1984 for purposes of job creation and to provide fuel wood for locals. The current tree species growing on the plantations include hardwoods such as Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Eucalyptus tereticornis, Eucalyptus badjensis, and Acacia mearnsii (black wattle). Located at an elevation of 1 441 meters above sea level, Mount Fletcher has an average yearly temperature of 18.18 degrees C, (-3% lower than South Africa’s average) and receives about 575 mm annual rainfall. The Mean Annual Increment for hardwoods in the district is estimated to be between 10-12 tons per hectare per annum.

It is understood that the plantations will need to be clear-felled and re-planted in order to bring them back into production. Chief Montoeli Lehana, the traditional leader of the Batlokoa Traditional Council, bemoaned the neglect of the plantations by government foresters from the year 1998. The Chief said that the plantations were well managed up until the early 1990s, but since then they have been neglected and degraded by fire and rampant timber theft.

The Deputy Minister acknowledged that the forestry sector in the rural areas had been neglected for quite a long time. However she said her Department is busy working on turning the situation around. She hinted that her department had crafted a Master Development Plan involving many stakeholders including local rural communities, Working on Fire, local police, traditional authorities, local municipalities, and forestry and community development specialists.

When asked for comment with regards to the plantation rehabilitation plan, the local DFFE officials indicated that they were considering planting short-term rotation (6-8 years) species such as cold-tolerant Eucalyptus hybrids for pulp and wood chips markets on the better sites, and pine species on the poorer sites where a long term view is required. The plantations have the potential to create 30 permanent jobs and an extra 20 seasonal jobs. The closest timber markets include PG Bison’s board plant in Ugie, local sawmills, and the Sappi Saiccor pulp mill in Umkomaas. 

The communities that have been entrusted with these plantations will have to establish some sort of business structures to operate them and secure the funding and support that they will need to get them up and running.

The Mayor of Matatiele Cllr Sonwabile Mngenele thanked the minister for stepping in to assist with this project and assured her that the district would work hard to get things going and make the project a success. 

Sihleza Community ready to plant trees

Forestry is catching on in the Umzimkulu district of southern KwaZulu-Natal, with another community forestry project about to kick off.

Peter Nixon of Rural Forest Management shows stakeholders where the Sihleza community will start planting later this year. The neighbouring Zintwala plantation is visible in the background.

The Sihleza community is poised to establish a 345ha plantation on the hills around their villages. After years of preparatory work, including undertaking an EIA, obtaining a water use permit from the Department of Water Affairs, securing strategic partners and mobilising funding for the project, the excited community is ready to start planting in November or December this year.

SA Forestry magazine attended the first Sihleza Project Steering Committee meeting recently. It was held in a tiny forestry office at the Zintwala community forestry project, which is situated right next door to the Sihleza project. Most of the key stakeholders and partners were present, including members of the Sihleza Development Company, Sappi Forests, Rural Forest Management (RFM) and Rural Forestry Development, the IDC, Umzimkhulu Municipality and the provincial Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

Members of the Sihleza community approached RFM in 2003 to assist them in developing their own forestry business. In 2006, Sihleza obtained a planting permit and permission to cultivate the land. However, due to lack of funding, the RFM team of Peter Nixon and Themba Radebe, was unable to take this process forward until some years later when finance was obtained from the IDC to assist with the facilitation phase of the project.

In 2012, RFM applied to the DEDT Gijima Fund, for a R3,2m grant for Sihleza with the IDC and Sappi as loan funding partners, Sappi as an off-take partner, and RFM as the Business Development Consultant. In February 2013, Sihleza’s application was approved, giving the community the green light to go ahead with the project.

Plans are to establish 345ha of eucalyptus on the slopes above the community villages.

The model for the project is similar to that used in both the Umgano (Mabandla community) and Zintwala projects, and involves the establishment of a community trust as custodians of the project and a (Pty) Ltd company to run the forestry operation. In the case of Sihleza, the Community Trust has a majority shareholding in the company, while Sappi and IDC, who have provided loans to the community for the purposes of establishing the plantation, also have shares in the business. These shares provide security for the loans, and the shares will be sold back to the Sihleza Community Trust once the loans have been repaid.

Peter Nixon and Themba Radebe of RFM will provide technical and management support to the Sihleza forestry project. James Ballantyne of RFD provides development support to the community.

A key component of the project throughout has been the support that has come from the community’s traditional leadership, without which such a project is not possible.

The Sihleza Forestry Company will employ community members to do all the forestry work including establishment, maintenance, fire prevention and eventually harvesting. According to Peter Nixon they will be planting eucalyptus, including E. grandis, E. dunnii and G x N. The majority of timber harvested will be sold as pulp to Sappi, and the balance will be for other markets, including transmission poles.

Once harvesting begins, a timber transport company will be contracted to haul the timber from plantation to market. However, Peter is busy negotiating with Transnet Freight Rail in an effort to revive the freight rail service from Donnybrook, which would result in huge savings for the community forestry projects in the district.

The close proximity of the Zintwala forestry project has been an inspiration to the Sihleza community, and some of the community members have gained forestry experience through their involvement in that project.

The Zintwala community operates a 320ha eucalyptus and wattle plantation, which is now in rotation. It was established soon after the Mabandla plantation in 1998, with RFM providing technical and management support.

Like the Mabandla Forestry Project, there are many other exciting projects which have sprung up around the core forestry business, such as a honey project and now, a Land Care project being supported by the Department of Agriculture, where additional members of the Zintwala Community are to be employed to rehabilitate areas of overgrazing and erosion and eradicate alien weeds from within the community area, and to fence off certain areas to control grazing within the community.

A Zintwala village with part of their plantation behind. Forestry is the first business enterprise that this community has become involved in. The plan is that it should provide a springboard for further business and development projects.
Members of the Sihleza Forestry Project Steering Committee are looking forward to establishing their own plantation on the hills above their village. Left to right (back row): Xolani Jikazi, Joseph Cwele, Grattar Mahlaba, Dumile Cwele, Nonzuzo Hlotshane, iNkosi Nombulelo Ngwadla, Ntombekhaya Hlotshana. Left to right (front): Mzingisi Mahlaba and Sibonelo Cwele.

*Published in June 2014

Comparing community forestry in South Africa and Tanzania

Community-owned forestry as the basis for conservation and development: Village Forest Reserves in southeastern Tanzania.
by Jeanette Clark [Forests Consultant |]

The Village Natural Resource Committee at Liwiti. Photo by Jonas Timothy.
Evaluating harvestable Mpingo. Photo by Anne-Marie Gregory.

In South Africa, there are a growing number of commercial forestry enterprises owned and controlled by local rural communities. The Mabandla community-owned forestry plantation in Umzimkhulu is one of the best-known examples and has been featured several times in SA Forestry magazine. Village-owned forestry businesses are also on the rise in rural Tanzania and provide the opportunity for interesting comparisons and contrasts with those in South Africa. I recently visited remote rural villages in the Kilwa District of southeastern Tanzania that are members of an FSC Group Scheme based on the sustainable harvesting of miombo woodlands. In this article, I aim to share some of the interesting features of the Tanzanian community-owned forestry operations, and draw attention to similarities and differences between them and plantation-based community forestry projects in South Africa.
Village forest reserves in Tanzania

Tanzania is unique in southern and east Africa in having a legal and administrative basis for full village ownership and control of both land and forests, a legacy of Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa and rural development policies of the 1970s. Unlike rural villages elsewhere in Africa, Tanzanian villages can register and form corporate entities through elected village councils. Registered villages can thereby take transfer of village land, forests and other assets and start commercial enterprises. Tanzanian law makes provision for the establishment of village government through elected Village Councils, and for full collective ownership of village land, including natural forests and woodlands.

The 2002 Forest Act further made provision for Village Councils to demarcate Village Land Forest Reserves (VLFR) and to make legally binding by-laws to manage these forests. An elected Village Natural Resource Committee (VNRC) is charged with managing the forest reserves.

Mpingo FSC Group Scheme
In the Kilwa District of southern Tanzania, a local NGO, the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI), provides support to a number of villages running commercial forestry enterprises based on sustainable harvesting of indigenous woodlands. Of the 15 villages supported by MCDI, eight are now FSC-certified and make up the MCDI FSC group scheme. Mpingo is the Swahili name for Dalbergia melanoxylon, the African blackwood, one of the main species commercially harvested in these woodlands.

The eight Group Scheme members together own and manage over 100 000ha of miombo woodlands. The area of woodlands owned by each of the group scheme members varies in extent. The smallest is at Kikole, 454 hectares, and the largest, at Nanjirinji, 61 505 hectares. The Mpingo group scheme started in 2009 and membership is gradually increasing as sustainable harvesting systems are developed and implemented in the villages supported by MCDI.

The miombo woodlands in the area contain a number of valuable indigenous hardwood species with an established place in international markets (see sidebar article on page 22). A key element of the support provided by MCDI is to link its members with lucrative niche markets overseas. One such market is that for FSC certified timber for making musical instruments. Mpingo itself (African blackwood) is highly sought after for the manufacture of flutes, clarinets, bagpipes and other instruments. The villages also sell timber to local markets, mostly as standing timber.

Timber as a sustainable revenue source for local development
The Village Forest Reserves of southeastern Tanzania combine low impact sustainable harvesting of selected high value timber species with forest conservation. At the same time, revenue is generated for local development. In Tanzania, all revenue generated from Village Land Forest Reserves accrues to the village itself.

This is unlike other countries in the region where logging companies pay concession fees (or bribes) to the District or National government, and local villagers have no say and do not benefit directly from timber harvesting. I remember interviewing an elderly woman in a village in Zimbabwe some years ago who complained about what she perceived as the theft of her trees. One morning she had awoken to the sound of chainsaws. A logging company, granted a concession by the District Council, was busy felling the indigenous hardwood trees she had been protecting along the boundary of her home field. When she went to the Council offices to demand financial compensation, they had laughed at her, she said.

This not-uncommon scenario has been turned around in Tanzania, where villagers themselves own and control their timber resources, and benefit directly from timber sale revenues. The Nanjirinji village, for example, has used the revenue generated from timber sales since joining the scheme in 2012 to construct new market and primary school buildings as well as upgrade village water supplies.

Comparing Community Forestry in South Africa and Tanzania
Locally controlled forestry. Community-owned plantation enterprises in South Africa have several elements in common with the Village Forest Reserves in SE Tanzania. The central element in common is community ownership and control. Also common is that forestry is being used as a catalyst for community development. At Mabandla, the revenue from plantation timber sales is used to start other resource-based enterprises that will generate further employment and revenue for the local villagers. The Mpingo model is to leverage additional revenue from the forests, through increased timber sales, securing higher prices and trading in other markets, in particular, those in carbon credits. Although still at the planning stage, models predict annual revenue from carbon markets of up to USD $0.5 million for the largest village forests.

Development support partners. The support of committed and skilled professionals is of critical importance to the success of enterprises in both countries. At Mabandla, Rural Forest Management cc (RFM) has been providing technical and managerial support since inception. In Kilwa, the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative (MCDI) plays the same role. There is one interesting difference, RFM is a for-profit company and the Mabandla business pays in full for support services they receive, whereas MCDI is an NGO that receives donor funding to support their operations. Both partners are however moving in the direction of mixed model for financing their support services: a percentage-of-revenue fee paid by the community forestry businesses, supplemented by grant/donor funding. RFM has recently set up an NGO, Umsonti, for the purposes of broadening their support to community-owned forestry businesses in South Africa. In both cases, the support provided by the development partners has been key to attaining FSC certification. In both cases also, priority is being given to developing technical and managerial capacity within the communities.

Distribution of benefits. A key issue in community-owned businesses is the distribution of benefits, and forestry projects are no exception. In forestry, the main benefits are access to employment and direct revenue from the business. At Mabandla, the forestry company employs village residents to carry out all silviculture and harvesting operations. Wages and working conditions are in line with industry norms and legal standards. The Mabandla Trust is responsible for identifying people to work for the company. Rather than spread the work opportunities more widely, they have opted to provide secure employment to the few. The Trust’s vision is however to provide additional employment opportunities through a number of other community-owned businesses.

In Tanzania, a rather different approach to employment is followed. Firstly, forestry operations differ from those in plantations and are confined mainly to forest protection and harvesting. The Village Natural Resource Committee (VNRC) members themselves do most of the forest management and protection work; including marking boundaries, forest protection patrols and supervision of harvesting operations. The VNRC members pay themselves a fixed daily rate for approved forest management work they do (work plans are approved at quarterly Village General Assembly meetings). The remuneration rate, whilst not excessive, is considerably higher than labour rates in the area and the minimum wage in the country. It is an issue that has potential to become divisive, and that MCDI has taken note of. All timber is sold standing, and buyers employ local people to fell timber using two-person crosscut saws (under Tanzanian law, no chainsaws are allowed in the forest), stacking and loading. In some cases buyers make use of their own workers. The VNRC at Nanjirinji said they did not want to risk losing customers by insisting on the use of local labour. As markets build up and become more secure, this condition may be introduced.

When it comes to revenue sharing, in both countries, profits are mainly ploughed back into further development in the area. Elected representatives (the Trust at Mabandla and the Village Councils in the case of the Mpingo villages) are responsible for decisions about disbursement of profits. General Assembly meetings provide a mechanism for oversight by the community at large. Of course, these structures are not infallible or watertight in preventing abuses and there remains a need for external checks and balances. In both cases, the support partners pay a key role in this regard.

FSC certification also could provide an oversight mechanism in this regard. Intra-community equity and benefit sharing is however not captured in the current FSC standard at criterion level, nor is it reflected in the draft

International Generic Indicators (IGIs). This concern was raised in the Mpingo IGI field test report to the FSC.

Village land ownership and governance. Tanzania has a legal and administrative basis that allows villages to legally own and manage land and natural resources. Elected village councils were introduced in the 1960s and replaced traditional authority structures. The village councils provide the basis for effective and democratic village level governance, quite unique in the region. Village General Assembly meetings, open to all adult residents of the village, are held on a quarterly basis. Secure tenure and effective institutions for governance are key ingredients in sustainable community forestry initiatives. In South Africa, tenure rights and governance structures are weak in the former homeland areas where much of the potential for community-owned forests exists.

Although 20 years have now passed since the first democratic elections, the South African government has yet to put in place a framework to upgrade tenure rights in the former homeland areas. The land occupied by local communities, including those at Mabandla, is still owned by the State and tenure rights of local communities are weak. The lack of formal tenure increases risk for the community and investors, and limits business transactions and access to finance. The National Forests Act does not provide for full community ownership and control of natural forests reserves. Provisions extend only as far as co-management with the State.

The lowest level of local government in South Africa is the local municipality. Local municipalities are responsible for vast areas encompassing multiple villages and towns. There are no formal democratic governance structures in place at village level equivalent to village councils in Tanzania. At Mabandla, the Chief has played an instrumental role in the success of the forestry enterprise, and works closely with an elected community Trust. In many other rural areas however, traditional authorities abuse their powers and stand in the way of effective and democratic governance at local level.

Community owned forestry businesses in South Africa and Tanzania are proving effective in providing local employment, a sustainable source of revenue for local economic and social development as well as promoting natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. They provide inspiration and important lessons for rural communities and their development partners throughout southern and east Africa, as well as other parts of the world.

Thanks to Marie-Christine Flechard of Soil Association Woodmark for the opportunity to join the Tanzanian IGI field test team, the Nanjirinji VNRC committee for sharing their experiences with us, and the staff of MCDI for hosting the field testing exercise and providing much of the information on which this article is based. Particular thanks to Steve Ball of MCDI for providing helpful review comments.

Mpingo – D. melanoxylon. Photo by Steve Ball.
Cross section showing heartwood, Mpingo. Photo by Anne-Marie Gregory.

Miombo woodland timber species
Dalbergia melanoxylon African blackwood, Mpingo (Swahili). Mpingo is one of the most expensive timbers in the world and is valued by the musical instrument trade because of its high density, fine texture and exceptional durability.

In addition to the flagship Mpingo, the following are highly prized timbers commonly found in south-eastern Tanzania:

The following species are also highly prized but are less common and/or have mostly been logged out:


*Mpingo Community Development Initiative:

**Published in June 2014

Umgano Sawmill taking shape

The Mabandla community of southern KwaZulu-Natal, one of the pioneers of community-owned forestry in South Africa, is taking their timber business to the next level with the establishment of a sawmilling business known as the Umgano Timber Company (Pty) Ltd.

Sawmill manager Dave Wigley and Mayford Jaca, Mabandla Community Trust Chairman, at the Umgano Timbers sawmill site.

Construction of the sawmill has already started on a site adjacent to the plantation established by the Mabandla Community Trust in 1998.

Thanks to the long-term vision of the Mabandla Trust members and Peter Nixon and Themba Radebe of Rural Forest Management (who provide technical and management support to the Trust’s forestry business) some 450 ha of pine was planted on a sawlog rotation during the plantation establishment phase. This pine is now due for second thinnings, and it is this timber that will supply the sawmill’s raw material and makes the venture possible.

Umsonti Community Forestry NPO (Umsonti), a newly formed Section 21 company focusing on community development, has established a strategic partnership with the Mabandla Community Trust in Umgano Timbers. Umsonti’s directors are forestry and development specialists, some of whom have been involved in the Umgano project since the beginning. They are Peter Nixon, Themba Radebe, James Ballantyne, Mike Howard, Jeanette Clarke and Ilan Lax.

Umsonti, a not-for-profit company, successfully secured a grant from the Vumelana Advisory Fund to develop the sawmill business plan and bring the project to the point of bankability. Both the Mabandla Community Trust and Umsonti have invested capital in the venture, and the IDC came on board with a supporting loan. Construction has already begun, and second-hand sawmilling equipment has been purchased from Charles Anderson of Patula Products in Donnybrook. This includes a Woodmizer breakdown saw, a multi-rip saw, cross-cut saw and a bandsaw.

The Pine thinnings from the Mabandla plantation will supply the mill’s raw material needs for the first three years – thereafter clearfelling will begin so the flow of timber will increase going forward. Plans are in place to plant an additional 200ha of pine to secure the mill’s future raw material supply and allow for expansion of the business, according to Peter Nixon.

The initial production target for the sawmill is 150 cubic metres per month. A pallet mill will produce another 50 cubic metres/month. The sawn timber will be supplied wet-off-saw to local markets, and there are plans to value add on site. The mill will employ 17 people recruited from the Mabandla community and will be managed by local entrepreneur, Dave Wigley.

The power for the sawmill will be supplied initially by a diesel generator, but plans are in place to generate energy on site using solid waste, solar and wind-power (there is no Eskom power at the site).

Self-reliance is one of the key objectives of the business. Timber used in the construction of the Sawmill buildings is sourced from the Mabandla plantation and is treated on site.

According to James Ballantyne, Umsonti was established specifically to assist communities to address poverty and create jobs through the development of sustainable forestry and related businesses. Umgano Timbers is its first major project.

The Mabandla community forestry operation is the foundation of what has become known as the Umgano Project. It was well supported by a strong traditional leadership from the outset and created a platform for further development that now includes the sawmill, a land care programme, a cattle breeding business and conservation initiatives. A strategic partnership with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has seen the establishment of a 1 500ha nature reserve on Mabandla community land, which will provide a platform for eco-tourism initiatives.

The forestry, which is FSC-certified, provides an annual turnover of R12 million, and 100 full-time and another 30 part-time jobs for Mabandla community members. The plantation comprises some 850ha of eucalyptus in addition to the 450ha of pine. The Eucalyptus is supplied to Sappi Saiccor as well as the transmission pole market.

The Mabandla Community Trust has a majority shareholding in all businesses operating on the project land, in order to generate funds to satisfy the main objective of social and economic development of the greater community.

The business model focuses on entering into joint ventures with businesses or organisations able to offer a high degree of expertise, experience and business skills to ensure the success of the business ventures.

The first time SA Forestry magazine reported on the Mabandla Forestry Business was in its May/June 2008 issue. Mayford Jaca (who is still actively involved as the Trust Chairman) commented then (with obvious pride): “This plantation is like our own goldmine. There was nothing here before, but now we have work for our people”. The Umgano Timbers sawmill is the next phase in strengthening this already stable community forestry project.

Umsonto directors (left to right) Ilan Lax, Peter Nixon, Themba Radebe, Jeanette Clarke, James Ballantyne and Mike Howard.
Mabandla community member Zweli Baleni and James Ballantyne with a log cabin built using Umgano timber. The cabins are being developed by the Umgano Timbers team to be used in a community-owned eco-tourism project.


*Published in June 2014