Forestry South Africa held its 21st AGM in the KZN midlands in May, attended by a record number of members and invited guests who were treated to two blockbuster keynote presentations that helped to put the crises facing South Africa into perspective …
What a year 2022 turned out to be for the South African forestry sector! After surviving the Covid pandemic in 2020 and the failed insurrection and looting spree that took place in KZN and Gauteng in 2021, forestry stakeholders were hoping for a more stable and prosperous 2022. But the crises just shifted … to energy (or the lack of it) with load shedding ramping ever upwards; and to logistics where a strike by Transnet workers brought freight rail – that was already in a state of decline – to a standstill in October, costing the battered SA economy R1 billion per day in lost opportunities.
Meanwhile the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted international markets, creating logistics bottlenecks and causing prices of commodities like fuel, coal, tyres and fertilizer to skyrocket.
In between all of that, the resilient forest sector survived – even thrived in many instances – aided and abetted by the Forestry South Africa team which muscled its way closer to the levers of power to help find solutions for a number of pressing national issues.
Here is a brief highlights package of FSA activities during the year 2022 that were covered by outgoing FSA chairperson Themba Vilane during his address at the recent FSA AGM, and were elaborated upon in his Foreword in the recently published FSA Annual Report.
Ports and rail
The FSA team established regular meetings with the CEO of Transnet and her top management team, and task teams working on ports and rail met throughout the year, playing a hand in bringing the Transnet strike to an end. As a result of this involvement, Executive Director Michael Peter was asked to serve in a President-led task team working on the reforms needed to address the use and recapitalisation of rail and ports in South Africa.
FSA is also serving on a Presidency-led energy committee which is playing a key role in addressing the energy crisis.
“Having our association at the forefront of these national crises interventions is a great testimony to the regard in which our sector is held,” said Themba.
Research and innovation
Forestry’s growing partnerships with government also bore fruit with FSA securing Sector Innovation Funding of R35.2 million from the Department of Science and Innovation. This funding serves to increase forestry’s research capacity in crucial areas.
Furthermore, the signing of an MoU between FSA and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) will bring an additional R9 million per year for forest protection.
Recommissioning of state plantations
Perhaps the biggest news of the year came just before Christmas when the DFFE called for expressions of interest from the private sector for the operation of 22 000 ha of state-owned forestry plantations in the Western Cape. These former pine plantations have been lying dormant for anything between five to 20 years, as they were handed over to the receiving agents after clear-felling at rotation end by the previous lease holder, MTO Forestry. They were originally part of government’s forestry exit strategy in the Western Cape, but following an outcry from industry stakeholders and further research, Cabinet decided in 2008 to recommission these plantations.
After years of lobbying by FSA and other stakeholders, the process of bringing them back into forestry has begun at last. This is good news indeed and will revitalise forestry and sawmilling in the Western Cape (see story on SAF Online - https://saforestryonline.co.za/articles/w-cape-state-plantation).
“We hope that this signals the start of the process for the rest of the Category B and C state plantations which have been overrun by timber thieves and criminal syndicates …” said Themba.
On the land reform front, the FSA Land Committee has come up with concrete proposals to bolster support for communities who have come into forestry through land reform initiatives, in an effort to ensure that a sustainable fibre supply from these plantations is maintained. These include a feasibility study stage in the land restitution process to better inform settlement negotiations; a suite of appropriate settlement models; a crop ownership transfer model and the provision of appropriate post-settlement support for land reform beneficiaries.
Timber volumes up
Finally, Themba applauded the fact that timber sales recorded by FSA members during 2022 were the highest since 2018 at 13.970 million tons (6.2% higher than 2021 volumes). Gum sales were the best performer at 7 million tons (18.5% higher than 2021 volumes), wattle was second best at 1.4 million tons (up 15.5% on 2021 volumes) and pine at 5.5 million tons (down by 7.8% vs 2021 volumes).
These timber sales volumes would have been much higher had it not been for the devastating floods that occurred in KZN in April and the impacts of the rail and port strike in October, the consequences of which are still being felt across all sectors of the economy.
“Should the country succeed in addressing the two biggest challenges we are facing in logistics and energy, this bodes very well for the future of timber growers, especially with the major investments which have been made by our sector in pulp and paper, particle board, sawmilling and renewable energy,” said Themba.
The FSA team paid tribute to two stalwarts of the Forestry Sector, Brian Aitken and Murray Mason, both of whom have put in multiple stints as FSA office bearers over the years, and who have contributed enormously to the success of the sector.
FSA Executive Committee for 2023/24
Ex Large Growers Group
Duane Roothman (SAPPI)
Themba Vilane (Mondi)
Sean Brown (Merensky)
Itumeleng Langeni (MTO)
Tsepo Monaheng (SAFCOL)
Ferdie Brauckmann (TWK)
Penwell Lunga (PG Bison)
Gerald Stoltz (York Timbers)
Mark Armour (co-opted)
Ex Medium Growers Group
Andrew Mason - KZN (MGG Chair) (FSA Chairperson)
Murray Mason - KZN / S Cape
Heiner Hinze - Mpumalanga / Limpopo
Graeme Freese - Past MGG Chairman
Danny Knoesen - NCT
Ex Small Growers Group
Buhle Msweli KZN Provincial Chairperson (FSA Vice-Chairperson)
Musa Mcwensa KZN Deputy Chairperson
Fhatuwani Netsianda Limpopo Provincial Chairperson