STIHL supports rhino dehorning project

The rhino are darted and then the horn is cut off just above the growth point, using a chainsaw. The process is quick and painless.

There has been an alarming surge in rhino poaching, particularly within the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP), forcing Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, in collaboration with WWF South Africa, to undertake a rhino dehorning programme. KZN lost a total of 325 rhinos in 2023, with 307 of those poached within HiP, despite concerted efforts to stem the tide.

The dehorning programme marks a pivotal moment in Ezemvelo’s anti-poaching efforts, aligning with proven strategies implemented elsewhere, such as in Kruger National Park. Ezemvelo CEO, Sihle Mkhize, stressed that while dehorning is ‘not a panacea’, it forms part of a comprehensive approach to disincentivise poachers. “Rhino dehorning goes against the grain of what we stand for, but the persistent threat posed by poachers has necessitated more drastic measures,” he said.

The dehorning programme complements the recently approved Ezemvelo KZN Guardianship Strategy for Rhinoceros, which aims to significantly reduce poaching incidents. The strategy includes:
o Approximately R11 million from the KZN province to erect a smart fence to cover a significant portion of HiP where poaching levels are high;
o Financial support of +-R40 million from the Dept of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment to extend the area protected by the smart fence;
o Increasing field ranger numbers from 45 to 88 and improving ranger living conditions;
o Installing trackers in all vehicles;
o Improving relations with adjacent communities;
o Additional helicopter hours with night vision capability;
o The appointment of Sthembiso Ndlovu as the Senior Manager: Rhino Protection

To ensure that the dehorning process is as fast and as safe as possible, STIHL SA has donated equipment to WWF South Africa to support this cause, including eight high-powered chainsaws, sharpeners and protective chainsaw pants to be worn by those doing the dehorning.

“If removing their horns is the only way we can save the lives of our magnificent rhinos, then it has to be done, albeit with a sense of sadness,” says STIHL managing director, Hayden Hutton. “We are humbled to be able to play a part in this project, undertaken in such tragic circumstances. We hope this will ensure the survival of this species so that the next generation of humans is able to see rhinos in their natural environment - not only in picture books.”

Preparing a rhino for dehorning in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, KwaZulu-Natal. The aim is to deter poachers.

Baboon business like a hornet’s nest

Chacma baboon … partial to chewing the bark of pine trees (Photo courtesy Justin O’Riain).

Baboons vs forestry is a highly controversial topic that can be likened to a hornet’s nest. It’s best left alone, because when it is disturbed it tends to explode and cause an almighty furore.

At the moment things have been fairly quiet on the home front, but the problem has not gone away. In fact baboon damage to commercial pines – and now eucalypts – is steadily rising (mainly in Mpumalanga province in South Africa) as bark chewing among plantation dwelling baboons spreads from troop to troop, and from generation to generation.

A recent webinar hosted by FAO, FABI and FISNA (Forest Invasive Species Network for Africa) put this controversial topic into the spotlight.

While research into understanding baboon behaviour is ongoing in South Africa, there are still big question marks around why exactly baboons chew bark, and how to reduce baboon damage in commercial plantations in a primate-friendly manner?

Causes of bark chewing among plantation dwelling baboons cannot be attributed to a single overriding factor, but is more likely a combination of several factors, according to researchers:-

Baboon damage on a harvested pine tree, Mpumalanga.

According to ICFR researcher Ilaria Germishuizen, the average troop size in Mpumalanga plantations is 42 individuals. The average troop size in adjacent natural forests is 18. It seems therefore that chacma baboons are becoming increasingly well adapted to living in plantations. This is not good news for plantation owners as the damage to growing trees increases. For example, up to 87% of trees in one plot being monitored as part of the research was damaged by baboons. This activity threatens some 60% of pine trees growing in South Africa.

The bigger trees in a stand are more likely to be chewed by baboons, while the damage to the bark impacts negatively on the growth of the tree. In extreme cases the timber from chewed trees is of such poor quality that it cannot be utilised – even for pulp.

How to reduce baboon damage to plantations is another ongoing debate with few primate-friendly solutions on the radar. I say ‘primate-friendly’ because many South African farmers with high value nut and fruit orchards simply shoot any baboon that sets foot on their farm. End of problem. This is not a viable option for forestry which is under much more intense scrutiny from members of the public and especially environmentalists. Chacma baboons are not a protected species so they are not well protected by the law.

Bark chewing in Argentina

Valentin Zarate, a PhD student at the Instituto de Biologica Subtropical at UnaM University, Argentina, provided some interesting info about Capuchin monkeys chewing the bark of pine trees in Argentina, causing extensive damage. Their research has shown that it may be a fall-back food resource for Capuchins when other food resources are scarce – e.g. in winter and early spring.

Capuchin monkey (Photo: Dennis Jarvis, Creative Commons).

Forest owners in Argentina are providing supplementary food for Capuchins on feeding platforms during winter and spring months in an effort to keep them away from plantations, which is apparently showing some promise in reducing tree damage in that territory.

The ICFR is doing on-going work on monitoring baboon damage in Mpumalanga plantations, gaining a better understanding of baboons behaviour and mapping baboon damage hotspots.

But one gets the feeling that sooner or later someone is going kick over a hornet’s nest, and baboons and forestry will be in the limelight again.

Natural forests combat non-native tree invasions

The native biodiversity of natural forest patches like this one in the foreground play a crucial role in buffering against invasions by non-native plants and trees, while the non-native eucalypt plantation in the background provides the timber resource for countless products. Good land management is required to ensure that the non-native eucalypts fulfil their function, while the natural forest, which harbours the biodiversity that underpins a healthy landscape, needs to be carefully protected.

A new study, published recently in Nature, has found that the native biodiversity of natural forests largely buffers the severity of non-native tree invasions.

The bad news, however, is that humans remain mostly responsible for introducing non-native tree species to an area in the first place – either intentionally or accidentally.

These are two of the key findings from a global study to determine the relative importance of human activity, environmental conditions, and biological diversity as drivers of tree invasions worldwide. The study, titled “Native diversity buffers against severity of non-native tree invasions” was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, 23 August 2023.

Prof. Cang Hui, holder of the South African research chair in mathematical and theoretical physical biosciences at Stellenbosch University (SU), and one of the co-authors of the study as part of the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative (GFBI), says trees are exposed to a wide range of ecological and human factors, and tree invasions are both drivers and passengers of global environmental changes.

This is because of their size, long life span and important role in forestry, foraging, city landscaping and reforestation, as well as carbon sequestration and climate regulation. Yet invasion biologists have long been struggling to identify the ecological mechanisms driving the invasion success of a small portion of non-native tree species.

Their findings support the biotic resistance hypothesis, which holds that greater diversity in the native community will fill the ecological niches and reduce available resources, thereby limiting non-native species to take up niche spaces.

The prominent role of human activities, however, came as a surprise: “Our findings suggest that human activity may overwhelm ecological drivers of invasions and even reduce the influence of ecological processes,” he warns.

Three of the most frequent non-native trees in the GFBI database (left to right) Black Locust; Osage orange; Tree of Heaven (Photos courtesy iNaturalist, Dave Richardson, Rosario, and Gehardt).

Repeated human introductions of plant species, especially close to ports and airports, play an important role in the initial introduction process. The severity of the invasion, however, is predominantly a result of the intrinsic diversity of the native community.

It is therefore important to conserve natural forests to maintain high native tree diversity, they write in the paper.

Furthermore, because many tree species are introduced purposefully for forestry or to support local livelihoods, they recommend that local stakeholders are included when making decisions about how best to benefit from these managed forests.

Some of the other findings include:

Read the full article here: Delavaux et al. (2023) Native diversity buffers against severity of non-native tree invasions

Help protect natural forest & save the Cape Parrot

World Parrot Day, celebrated on 31 May 2023, puts the spotlight on the critically endangered Cape Parrot, colourful resident of South Africa’s Afromontane southern mistbelt forests. There are less than 2 000 Cape Parrots left in the wild as their habitat has been eroded by the consequences of extensive, uncontrolled logging in the past, on-going forest degradation, disease and the illegal capture of wild birds for sale.

Now communities, businesses and members of the public can get behind the Wild Bird Trust’s Cape Parrot Project to help protect and expand the natural forest habitats of this iconic bird in an effort to ensure its long term survival.

The current distribution of the Cape Parrot is restricted to a mosaic of Afromontane Southern Mistbelt forests from Hogsback in the Eastern Cape through to the southern KwaZulu-Natal. There is also a small and disjunct population in Limpopo province. Cape Parrots are dependent upon large indigenous trees, particularly Yellowwoods, for food and as nesting sites, where they use existing cavities to lay eggs.

The uncontrolled logging of these natural forests that started in the 19th century would have had a huge impact on the Cape Parrot population as mature hardwoods – especially yellowwoods - were targeted for felling. These natural forest patches are now protected for conservation purposes and logging is outlawed, but the forests are still under pressure from population growth and land use changes.

The Cape Parrot is also known as the Knysna papagaai, woudpapagaai (Afrikaans), isiKwenene (Zulu). isikhwenene (Xhosa) and hokwe (Tswana). It is only found in South Africa and has been listed as Birdlife’s Bird of the Year for 2023.

To ensure this species does not go extinct, the Cape Parrot Project is engaging with communities, organisations and the public to raise awareness of the threats the bird is facing and to educate people on how to maintain a healthy habitat for the parrot. The goal is a sustainable ecosystem for not just the parrots, but all the forest species and for surrounding communities.

The Cape Parrot Project team uses research and science to drive conservation action. A key strategy is to partner with local communities to get involved in habitat restoration. Alien vegetation is managed to assist natural forest regeneration, and planting of indigenous species is undertaken where appropriate.
Seeds are collected from a variety of local indigenous trees in the nearby forests and germinated in compost. Thousands of indigenous tree saplings are produced in community-run nurseries located close to the forests as well as the main nursery at the project base in Hogsback.

“Community members are encouraged to grow seedlings which the project then buys back. These seedlings are planted back into appropriate degraded forest habitat. Thus, the Cape Parrot Project strengthens local social-ecological resilience through creating livelihood opportunities in local communities that are dependent on a healthy ecosystem and their surrounding indigenous forest,” said Dr Francis Brooke, Research Manager for the Cape Parrot Project in Hogsback.

The project also engages with local schools encouraging children to become agents of positive environmental change, and to increase their appreciation for the indigenous forests and all the species that call these forests home.

By restoring the health of the natural forest patches, the project also contributes to mitigating the impacts of climate change and supporting local communities. Natural forests sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide a suite of ecological services like improving air and water quality and protecting biodiversity.

Dr Kirsten Wimberger, Director of the Cape Parrot Project, said: “The restoration of forests campaign - Myforest - will be launched on World Parrot Day, 31 May, where the public can get involved by helping to protect the Cape Parrot and demonstrate their commitment to conservation in South Africa”.

As a partner of the Cape Parrot Project, participating companies can build on their sustainability portfolio while also raising awareness about the project. The Cape Parrot Project has a growing and dedicated following on social media, including conservationists, bird enthusiasts, and individuals who care about environmental issues. By partnering with the Cape Parrot Project, companies can pride themselves on adopting a social responsibility program that is making a difference and do their bit for the planet.

For more info visit www.wildbirdtrust.com


Cape parrots ahoy!!
by Chris Chapman
Passing through the tiny town of Creighton in southern KZN early one morning, my colleague James Ballantyne suddenly shouted “Cape parrots” and pulled over onto the side of the road to get a better look.

I could see a flock of birds disappearing over a nearby hill, but couldn’t make out what they were.

“Definitely Cape parrots,” said James. “Let's follow them and see where they go.”

With that he jumped back in the car and off we went in the general direction that the flock appeared to be taking, which was the opposite direction of our field day location. I was not convinced that this wild goose chase would yield anything of interest, and I was not aware that we even had a proper parrot in South Africa.

Soon we came to a clump of large yellowwoods just outside the town and James pulled over again. Sure enough there they were, barely discernible against the glare of the sky, high up in the canopy. I managed to get a photo of one of these parrots, and only when I got back home and enlarged the photo could I make it out properly.

Now I am a fan of the Knysna papagaai and keep an eye out for them whenever I am around a natural forest – although I haven’t seen one since. But I will keep looking!

My photo of the Knysna papagaai, high up in a yellowwood outside Creighton, southern KZN.

Clearing alien invasive trees from Cape mountains

The Husqvarna crew that assisted the Helihack team to clear alien trees from the Langeberg mountains wilderness area, in celebration of Earth Day on 22 April: (L to R) Charles Henderson, Pieter Smuts, Johan Kruger, Larry Morris, Divan Vermaak and Wynand Lombaard.

A collaborative initiative between Cape Nature, Helihack, Husqvarna, local landowners and other interested parties, was launched in mid-April to clear invasive pine trees from the Langeberg mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Western Cape’s Bosmansbos wilderness area.

The project, which coincided with Earth Day on 22nd April, aimed to clear alien vegetation which has invaded this remote wilderness area and poses a serious threat to its biodiversity.

“Husqvarna supports many conservation efforts in South Africa and we first became involved with Helihack two years ago,” commented Divan Vermaak, Husqvarna’s Veld Management Specialist. “This was in response to their innovative approach towards the sustainable management of water resources through the elimination of invasive pine trees in the province’s remote mountain catchment areas. As champions of sustainable land (veld) management, we understand that no single organisation can achieve this goal alone. Husqvarna, therefore, put its weight behind this latest Helihack project by sending in a team and equipment to assist.”

Vermaak explains that because water management falls within the veld management spectrum of their business, they have been very fortunate to participate in a couple of previous Helihack projects, supplying PPE and equipment to make the mountaineers’ jobs easier.

“During a Helihack operation, experienced volunteers are suspended from helicopters and dropped with their chainsaws onto remote mountain tops where they clear invasive pines and other alien plant species,” he explains.

Preparing to be lowered onto a mountain top to clear alien vegetation.

Over the two or three days of the undertaking, the group cut down some 5 000 trees.

Teams of volunteers were airlifted to specific locations on the Langeberg mountain range, braving rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions. Relying on each other's expertise and support they were able to successfully clear the invasive pines and other vegetation threatening the delicate ecosystem and help to restore this World Heritage Site to its natural state.

Working in this remote environment, the battery-powered Husqvarna chainsaws were pushed to the limit by the Helihack team.

“The Helihack team has been testing our battery-operated chainsaws to see how they handle this type of work, and the feedback has been great,” says Vermaak. “As a result, Husqvarna sponsored a battery-operated chainsaw as well as training on the safe use of this equipment.”

Michael Raimondo said that the battery-operated chainsaws have proved to be a game changer for the Heliack team as they are light, reliable and easy to operate.

“We have to work very quickly and the battery-operated chainsaws are light and reliable which saves time and energy,” said Michael. “Made for purpose, you can flip off one battery and put on another, even while dangling from a rope with your chainsaw next to you. With just two batteries, you can operate the chainsaw all day.”

Raimondo added that when working in wilderness areas, quiet is better than noisy and the battery-operated chainsaw really delivered in this regard. The battery-operated chainsaws were backed up by the Husqvarna petrol-powered chainsaws which were used to clear the larger trees.

“Through our successful partnership with Helihack in collaboration with all the other stakeholders involved, we have demonstrated the incredible impact and success that can be achieved when people work together towards a common vision,” concluded Vermaak.

For more info about Husqvarna chainsaws visit www.husqvarna.co.za

Joy as pepper-bark trees come back from the brink

FSA’s Nathi Ndlela and small-scale grower Rejoice Shozi hand over prized pepper-bark trees to the Dube Traditional Council and community members.

Forestry South Africa (FSA) has distributed rare and endangered pepper-bark trees (Warburgia salutaris) grown by the Warburgia Programme to schools, traditional healers and forestry community leaders, in celebration of Arbor Week.

This is in support of a highly successful initiative to propagate and re-establish this important indigenous tree which has become highly endangered throughout southern Africa due to rampant harvesting of its bark for use as traditional medicine.

Warburgia salutaris, commonly known as the pepper-bark tree or ‘isibhaha’ in isiZulu, is renowned for its medicinal anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. The bark of the tree has been used by traditional healers to cure colds and chest infections for centuries and is now registered by the South African Health Products Regulatory Body. Unfortunately, its popularity has pushed the species to the brink of extinction in the wild as commercial muti gatherers have been harvesting the bark from trees growing in the wild and even in protected conservation areas. As a result the trees have become increasingly scarce and are now considered critically endangered. The harvesting methods used by muti collectors are not sustainable and the trees often die a few months after harvesting.

Thankfully, a collaborative effort between Kruger National Park, Sappi, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Agricultural Research Council (ARC), Honorary Rangers and many other partners has brought this species back from the brink. A key part of the initiative is to promote the planting of the tree in suitable areas and to educate traditional healers and muti collectors how to harvest from the trees in a sustainable way that does not kill them off.

The FSA team decided to support this programme by distributing pepper-bark saplings in the small-scale grower communities to celebrate Arbor Week.

Nathi Ndlela putting in the work on a hot spring day in Zululand, where he planted a tree with learners of Amabuye Secondary School.

The event started in Mpembeni, part of the Dube Tribal Authority, where FSA's Business Unit Manager, Nathi Ndlela and small scale grower representative Rejoice Shozi, handed over trees to learners at Amabuye Secondary School and planted a tree with the learners. Trees were also handed over to local traditional leaders and traditional healers.

This was followed by a handover of trees by local small grower representative Busi Mnguni to community leaders, traditional healers as well as learners at Kantayi Secondary School at the iMkhwanazi Tribal Authority area near Port Dunford in Zululand.

Small grower representative Busi Mnguni addresses the Mkhwanazi Tribal Authority, community leaders and traditional healers about the value of conserving and sustainably harvesting the pepper-bark tree.

“Small-scale growers are the ones with the deepest ties to the communities neighbouring South Africa's forestry plantations, so it made sense to go through them when organising an Arbor Day celebration aimed at benefitting forestry communities and conservation," explained FSA’s Nathi Ndlela.

Commented Rejoice Shozi, FSA Small-Scale Grower representative : "I am happy and proud to be creating this connection between FSA and my community, it is important. It is also important that we are doing something that will benefit the conservation of nature and our soil, planting trees does this and we need to do more of it."

"We are highly appreciative of FSA coming into our community and donating these trees,” commented traditional healer Zakhele Nxumalo. “Pepper-bark trees are no longer found in our indigenous forests and people cannot access it locally. With these trees we can change this. We have also learnt today about how to grow and harvest these trees correctly, that cutting the bark can kill the tree, so it is better to harvest just the leaves that also have medicinal properties."

Traditional healer Zakhele Nxumalo (left), had never seen an actual pepper-bark tree before receiving his own sapling from FSA. He has to travel to Durban's muthi market to buy ‘isibhaha’.

Kruger National Park
The initiative to save the pepper-bark tree was launched in 2011 initially to propagate the trees and distribute them to communities living around the Kruger National Park in an attempt to take the pressure off the few remaining wild trees. In 2014, Sappi came on board and began using its tree breeding and production expertise to propagate pepper-bark trees from cuttings for distribution to rural communities, which expanded the project from the Kruger National Park to KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

A major breakthrough for the project was the discovery that the medicinal properties so highly prized in the bark, are also abundant in the twigs and leaves. Thus, the twigs and leaves of trees planted out in the field can be harvested within four years – much earlier than would be the case for bark harvesting which can only be done on an adult tree. This ensures that the trees can be harvested sustainably, providing health benefits and economic opportunities for traditional healers and muti traders alike.

A key aspect of the project is education. Workshops are held with traditional healers and community members to inform them about growing and nurturing the trees, as well as harvesting them sustainably.

A working group has been set up to co-ordinate and drive the Warburgia salutaris conservation project going forward. Gene banks and seed orchards have been established within this working group partnership, and assistance has been extended to Swazi and Zimbabwean conservation authorities to help them increase the number of trees growing in their countries.

Michele Hofmyer who has been involved with the Warburgia programme from the start, explains the importance of pepper-bark distribution programmes: "By handing out the plants freely to traditional healers and community members, we are taking the pressure off the wild populations. Traditional healers know what a rare and valuable plant this is, so are willing to accept cultivated pepper bark if they know the seeds were sourced from wild individuals. They are also open to new ways of utilising the plant, using the newest two leaves and bud instead of the bark, which are just as potent as the bark but far more sustainable to harvest. The robust nature of the pepper-bark tree, its readiness to grow in sunlight or shade and its ability to be planted straight into the ground or in a tub, makes it incredibly suitable to this kind of project. I hope that one day when we drive through the communities and neighbourhoods that have received our trees, there will be a pepper-bark growing in every garden, school and community building.”

Thanks to the efforts of the Warburgia Programme, it looks like the pepper bark's conservation status will be downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘vulnerable’ when it is next reviewed.

The tree is formally protected under SA legislation in the revised National Forests Act (2012) and the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (2004).

The Cape sawlog PINCH!

The scramble for scarce roundlog resources in the Southern Cape has stakeholders on edge while government takes tentative steps to begin the process of bringing 22 000 ha back into timber production…

The timber industry in the Southern Cape has a long history that goes back to the 19th Century. We’ve all seen those grainy black and white photos of woodcutters felling and sawing huge indigenous hardwood trees in the natural forests around Knysna, George and the Tsitsikamma. The giant logs were hauled to the mills by teams of oxen where they were sawed up for use as building material, furniture, tools and implements, wagons and railway sleepers.

When the authorities eventually realised that the natural forests could not sustain the scale of the logging, they mercifully introduced management controls and then stopped it completely, placing the remaining natural forests in the region under conservation management.

To fill the void the government of the day as well as private entrepreneurs started planting pine to provide the raw sawlogs needed by the sawmills and countless downstream manufacturers and processors engaged in the timber industry, which by this stage underpinned the entire regional economy. The area under pine expanded from the Boland to Plettenberg Bay, and was concentrated around George, Knysna and the Tsitsikamma.

After 1992 government had a re-think about forestry and established Safcol to manage the state plantations on a commercial basis. A decision was made to lease out the 85 000 ha of Cape plantations via a tender process. MTO won the tender and took over management of the plantations in 2001 under a 75 year lease. Prior to this Cabinet made a decision to convert some 45 000 ha of the Cape plantations out of forestry into conservation and other land uses as these plantations were considered marginal and not commercially viable. In terms of the lease MTO was to hand back the exit areas as they were clearfelled at full rotation.

When a fire in the Tsitsikamma in 2005 destroyed some 16 000 ha of plantations, the volume of timber available for sawmillers and other processors in the region began to shrink as the gap between supply and demand became evident. This was the first of many blows that would erode the timber resources over the next 15 years or so. The roundlog shortage was exacerbated by the closure of plantations in terms of government’s exit strategy.

This prompted MTO and other stakeholders to start lobbying government to reassess its exit strategy, which they maintained had not taken into account the full socio-economic impacts that the exit would have on the regional economy.

Exit reversal
As a result Government appointed the Vecon Consortium in 2006 to re-assess the viability of the exit areas, which recommended that half of the exit areas – 22 000 ha – be restored to commercial forestry. Cabinet approved the exit reversal of the 22 000 ha in 2008.

Meanwhile the roundlog shortage began to impact on local timber processors with the smaller, informal mills going out of business first. Between 2005 and 2006 11 sawmills closed in the Cape. At the same time there were fears that the land being handed back to SANParks and other authorities was becoming a fire risk.

As the years rolled by, MTO as the incumbent managers of the state plantations tried various approaches to persuade government to allow it to re-establish and/or manage the re-growth of the exit reversal areas after clearfelling. At the same time community leaders and other stakeholders started applying pressure to stake their claims to the land. Bold decision-making and dynamic action was needed, but was not forthcoming.

In 2014 (six years after the Cabinet decision) a feasibility study for the re-commissioning of the VECON forestry areas was presented to the IDC. In May 2017 a land rights enquiry for the Western Cape re-commissioning areas for DAFF was presented to the Western Cape Forestry Forum.

In November 2019 DAFF and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development put out a tender for a transaction advisor to assist with the development of a sustainable forestry business model in the Western Cape recommissioning areas.

In the meanwhile the 2017 and 2018 wildfires delivered a hammer blow to the region and put a huge hole in the sawlog resource, and skewed the age class distribution.

The urgent need to re-commission the 22 000 ha was identified as a priority deliverable in the Forestry Sector Masterplan, a part of the Public Private Growth Initiative backed by the president himself.

By this stage the shortage of sawlogs – especially the large B,C & D class logs required by the sawmills producing structural lumber – is reaching critical levels, raising tensions among stakeholders even further.

Some of these mills, like AC Whitcher and Boskor, are partially or wholly dependent upon MTO for suitable roundlogs to keep their mills operating at capacity. MTO has its own mills in George and Longmore to keep supplied with logs as well, so there is a conflict of interests at play.

Both Whitcher and Boskor (owned by Swartland Investments) are old, established family-owned Cape businesses. Their supply contracts with MTO have long since been curtailed and they are reduced to haggling over roadside auctions. Job losses are on the cards. Many smaller mills and pole manufacturers in the region are in the same boat.

Survival mode
“We are surviving for now … we are simply outbidding all the competition because we still can, but this is not sustainable,” commented Hans Hanekom, CEO of Swartland which owns and operates the Boskor sawmill in the Tsitsikamma. Swartland manufactures doors and windows in their factory in Cape Town.

“For now we are taking everything into the mill that we can - even rejects. We need mainly B, C & D class logs but can use the upper end of A class logs as well. Half of our pine business is for export. The commodity boom due to COVID helped us as prices climbed, but it is getting over now … we are hanging on for dear life. Sooner or later we will lose the export business because our raw log prices are too high – we are competing in this market with Brazil, Chile and Poland.

“There were 300 000 cubes of roundwood a year available in the Tsitsikamma … now its 200 000 cubes, and 100 000 cubes is being taken to George by MTO. We are buying the lion’s share of timber sold at roadside here in Tsitsikamma,” said Hans.

AC Whitcher is slightly better off as they have 1 200 ha of their own plantations in the Titsikamma, which supplies some 10-15% of the mill’s roundlog requirements. Another 25% of their timber intake is supplied in terms of a long term contract with MTO. For the rest they must compete with the open market for roadside sales.

According to Gene Ritchie who manages the AC Whitcher sawmill, they are over-harvesting their own plantations to keep their mill busy.

AC Whitcher sawmill employs 300 people and Boskor around 150 people.

PG Bison, which operates the large Thesens sawmill in George, is better off as they have their own plantations, although they also suffered losses during the recent fires.

Kareedow Kreosoot Werke (KKW) in E Cape is also feeling the pinch. They employ 76 people and produce 12 000 cubes to 16 000 cubes of SABS approved poles a year for domestic and international markets. According to branch manager Lelani van der Walt they are running short of poles for processing – especially the species that they need i.e. P. radiata. She said they were getting the bulk of their poles from MTO but no longer … the supply dried up around December last year. They also source poles from private growers. E. grandis is also scarce, she says, and they are trucking in raw poles from KZN.

“We knew there was a shortage looming, but the crunch has actually arrived – not just for us but for everybody including the small sawmillers. We have hope that we will continue to be able to source the right raw poles we need, if they plant up unplanted and burnt areas etc … I pray that something will come up, otherwise it is inevitable that jobs will be lost.”

Avocados
The news that MTO is planning to convert 4300ha of forestry land to avocados has not gone down well with the sawmill lobby. Neither has the fact that, as at January 2020, 8.7% of MTO’s sustainable plantation area was temporarily unplanted – presumably mainly areas burnt in the 2017/18 fires.

According to the MTO Management Plan TUP will increase to 14% by 2024, whereafter it will reduce to 1.5% by 2029.

“It’s a dire state of affairs, and there are no easy answers,” commented Roy Southey, Executive Director of the Sawmilling Association of SA. “The small independent millers are really battling. Everybody has known the timber shortage has been coming for a long time, but now it’s critical.”

The pressure on the Department to get a move on and put the 22 000 ha out to tender is ratcheting up, and all of the stakeholders are positioning themselves to pitch hard for these plantations, which are expected to be offered in three or four packages.

Albi Modise, Chief Director of Communications for DFFE told SA Forestry that the process would begin during the 2021/2022 financial year.

He said that the preferred model will be for investors to partner with neighbouring communities, and that the leases would be for a maximum of two rotations.

MTO response
MTO CEO Greg Woodbridge welcomed the news that DFFE plans to move on returning the Vecon areas into timber production.

“We believe revitalizing the forestry cultivation on the Vecon areas is long overdue and will go a long way in enhancing the round log supply to the market. MTO attempted over an extended period of time to have the decision around exit plantations reversed, however we were not successful. Through ongoing engagements with DFFE we are in support of their plans of returning the 22 000 ha back to forestry. It is our opinion that this could have been done several years ago and the impending volume cliff could have been avoided. MTO stands ready to assist in whichever manner this initiative takes to restore the forestry industry in the area to previous levels that will benefit the local community and the industry,” said Greg.

“MTO’s operations in the Southern Cape have been significantly affected by fires over an extended period of time, however we continue to invest in our forestry assets to ensure we get the plantations into full rotation. The average growth cycle for our trees is between 18-22 years which gives us the clear runway for getting our plantations into full rotation and the timing to realize the maximum volume possible.”

The exit reversal areas are currently being managed for fire protection and alien clearing by the Forestry Support Programme and Working on Fire.

According to Braam du Preez of the Forestry Support Programme, there are pockets of trees in some of these exit reversal areas that have regenerated naturally and are growing well. This will give the new lessees a bit of a running start when they take over management of these areas, some of which have been lying fallow and unproductive for years.

In any event there is going to be a lot of investment required and a lot of work for local people when these areas eventually come back on stream!

*First published in SA Forestry Annual 2021

Integrating wildlife management and forestry in Zambia


Mbizi Farm in Eastern Zambia is one of those rare businesses that successfully integrates wildlife management with commercial forestry management objectives.

The 17 000ha estate, which employs nearly 50 people from surrounding communities, provides a personalised safari experience to visitors from around the world.

The mixed Mopani woodlands in which the farm is situated contains many tree species that are of significant importance to local communities for their fuel and other needs. Many of these tree species also have significant commercial value and about 2 400 m3 of Mopani, Kiaat, Pod Mahogany and Mukosa timber is harvested annually and processed at the Mbizi Sawmill for the production of export planks and other timber products.

The farm is FSC certified and as such provides assurance that it is managed in a responsible and sustainable manner.

This is a first for the Mopani ecoregion which covers extensive areas in Eastern Africa, and is home to an abundance of wildlife including elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and many other species.

New machines and technologies have been introduced at Mbizi to ensure low impact selective harvesting of the trees is conducted in terms of forest management plans that allow for the sustainable use of the woodlands and forests. Mbizi is also serving as a model for other local operations to opt for sustainable forest certification through the Afzelia Group Scheme.

Mbizi Farm is traversed by the Luangwa river which is an important water resource for farms and villages across eastern Zambia. Responsible management of this farm ensures that it will continue to provide valuable ecosystem services to surrounding communities.

Mbizi Farm is managed and owned by two Swedes, Michael de Gre-Dejestam and Lennart Packendorff. It is one of the first FSC certificates in Africa, and probably the world, where the management of wildlife is fully integrated with commercial forest management objectives.


Massive mangrove restoration project launched in Mozambique

Around 100 million mangrove trees to be planted; total project area 185,000 ha; 200,000 tons of CO2 to be offset annually...

The largest mangrove reforestation project in Africa has been launched by Mozambique’s Ministry of Sea, Inland Waters and Fisheries (MIMAIP) in partnership with Blue Forest, a UAE-based mangrove reforestation specialist.

The project will be implemented in the biodiversity-sensitive provinces of Sofala and Zambezia, spread across 185,000 hectares of mangrove forests. It is expected that between 50-100 million trees will be planted as part of this long-term partnership. This project will offset approximately 200,000 tons of CO emissions annually, equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road.

Mozambique has over 300,000 hectares of mangroves along its coast, which is one of the largest tracts of mangrove forest in Africa

The partners will utilize high resolution satellite imagery, LiDAR technology and remote sensing data to identify key ‘hot spots’ where the need for restoration is highest. Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms will then be used to decipher the satellite data and field measurement to customize the reforestation activities in an accurate, efficient and transparent manner.

The reforestation work will be carried out in collaboration with several stakeholders tackling the issue of mangrove forest restoration in Mozambique. Public institutions such as the National Directorate for Forrest (DINAF) and the National Fund for Sustainable Development (FNDS), as well as universities and NGOs will be engaged in this flagship campaign.

The project will be financed through carbon credits that will be generated through the reforestation and conservation activities over the 30-year period of this partnership. The proceeds will be shared between the local and national stakeholders as per the guidelines set by FNDS.

Xavier Munjovo, Permanent Secretary of MIMAIP, commented: “Mozambique has over 300,000 hectares of mangroves along its coast, which is one of the largest tracts of mangrove forest in Africa. We are delighted to partner with Blue Forest and to introduce innovative technology in the way we map and restore our vital mangrove forests for generations to come.”

Vahid Fotuhi, Founder and CEO of Blue Forest, added: “Mozambique is a hugely strategic country when it comes to mangrove forests. We are thrilled to partner with MIMAIP and to work in coordination with all the public and private national and provincial institutions, as well as the local communities in Sofala and Zambezia on this historic project. Tens of thousands of people and endless marine life will benefit from this project.”

Mangroves are a rare ecosystem that support biodiversity and provide vital ecological services including coastal protection from floods and storm surges, water filtration, carbon sequestration and nursery grounds for thousands of species of fish and crustaceans.

Mangroves all around the world are under threat due to urban development and poor farming practices upstream which release excess sediment into rivers.

Conservation and forestry

The NCT Tree Farmer of the Year is awarded annually to tree farming operations that display excellence in sustainable plantation management. Candidates for the award are assessed against broad sustainability principles.

The 2021 winners in the Commercial Tree Farmer category are Brendon Raw and his wife Ninette, who manage their forestry business from a smallholding in the Karkloof in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. They have built up an integrated timber business including 1 000 ha of plantations and a sawmill.

Brendon and Ninette are also enthusiastic conservationists, and have taken on the role of protecting highly sensitive grasslands and wetlands at the headwaters of a major catchment that feeds into the Umgeni River which serves agriculture, industry and rural and urban settlements all the way from the Karkloof to the coast. These grasslands and wetlands are teeming with wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. The conservation areas have been successfully integrated into their highly productive plantation operation which produces sawlogs for their own sawmill and other markets.

NCT Forestry is a leading marketing co-operative catering for the needs of independent timber growers in South Africa. It has 1 800 shareholders/members who collectively own 300 000 ha of timber, which constitutes 21% of afforested land in SA.

See the video here...