FSA celebrates another successful year of business

Changing of the guard (L-R) Mike Peter (Executive Director FSA), outgoing FSA Chairperson Andrew Mason and incoming FSA Chairperson Buhle Msweli. Photo: Samora Chapman

FSA’s 22nd Annual General Meeting was held once again at the Fern Hill conference Centre in Tweedie in May, and was attended by a record number of members, forestry sector stakeholders and key office bearers from several government departments.

Andrew Mason handed over the FSA chairmanship to Buhle Msweli of the Small Growers Group as per FSA’s rotation policy, which has served the organisation well over the years. Duane Roothman of Sappi will serve as Vice-Chair for the year ahead.

In his opening address, FSA Executive Director Mike Peter, shared the good news that the Forest Sector has improved its BBBEE rating and achieved Level 3 for the first time, and that gender transformation efforts are bearing fruit in that women entering forestry programmes at tertiary education institutions in 2024 outnumbered men – also for the first time.

He also lauded the fact that the forest Sector’s engagement with stakeholders through the Public Private Growth Initiative (PPGI) is bearing fruit as the barriers impeding the progress of the Sector have been removed. However he cautioned that the hard work is not done as the sector needs to build on the opportunities thus created.

There were two excellent keynote presentations that kept attendees interested and provided fascinating perspectives on the road ahead for South Africa in general and the forest sector in particular. The meeting was held just a few days before South Africa’s general elections on May 29, and there was plenty of speculation as to what lies ahead for the economy and the country as the election results will have a massive bearing on the trajectory of our future.

Dr John Endres, Chief Executive Director of the Institute for Race Relations, presented the keynote address. Photo: Samora Chapman

The keynote presentation by Dr John Endres, Chief Executive Director of the Institute for Race Relations, appropriately titled ‘On the Edge’, provided a snapshot of the decline that has occurred across all South Africa’s economic indicators since 2008. This has resulted in low economic growth, fewer jobs, declining investment and the average South African is poorer as a result.

He said that the level of investment in the South African economy is way below what is required to turn the economy around because investors do not trust the direction that government policy is taking. Moreover the fact that almost half the people in South Africa are now receiving Social Grants coupled with an extremely narrow tax base, means that the South African economy is vulnerable and confidence is at an all-time low.

Katy Johnson (FSA), Khosi Mavimbela (Executive Director Forest Sector Charter Council) and Julia Rees (Dargle Poles). Photo: Samora Chapman

However our democratic processes still work and the looming General Election provides a glimmer of opportunity for political change. We may be entering a period of coalition politics which will be marked by volatility and an increasingly ineffective government, he said. The positive side of this coin is that it gives more space to the private sector to step in with solutions.

“The most successful political parties of the future will be the ones that manage coalitions the best,” he concluded.

Steven Ngubane of the Industrial Development Corporation provided info on the state development finance institution’s commitment to provide development finance for SMMEs engaged in the Agriculture and Agribusiness value chain, which includes forestry. He said the IDC plans to invest R1.4 billion in this sector over the next four years through their blended finance model. This model can be tailored to suite forestry which is a primary, low value and long term business.

Incoming FSA chairperson Buhle Msweli (right) thanks the IDC’s Steven Ngubane for his presentation. Photo: Samora Chapman

This model employs a 60:40 equity to credit ratio. This translates to an effective interest rate of 9% on finance packages up to R100 million, or 12% on packages up to R200 million.

Steven said that recipients of IDC finance packages are also required to invest their own funds in the enterprise, to ensure that they are fully committed to making it work.

After the business of adoption of the minutes from the 2023 AGM and the audited financial statements for the year ended 2023, attendees and guests were able to socialise and network at a vibrant cocktail after-party.

L-R: Vusi Dladla of NCT, Norman Dlamini (FSA), Tebogo Mathiane (Department Forestry, Fisheries & Environment), Freddie Humphreys (Land Bank) and Steven Ngubane (IDC). Photo: Samora Chapman

FSA Executive Committee 2024/25
Ex Large Growers Group
Duane Roothman (SAPPI) (FSA Vice-Chairperson)
Themba Vilane (Mondi)
Sean Brown (Merensky)
Itumeleng Langeni (MTO)
Sibalo Dlamini (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
Murray Mason - KZN / S Cape
Heiner Hinze - Mpumalanga / Limpopo
Graeme Freese - Past MGG Chairperson
Danny Knoesen - Ordinary Member

Ex Small Growers Group
Buhle Msweli - KZN Provincial Chairperson (FSA Chairperson)
Musa Mcwensa - KZN Deputy Chairperson
Fhatuwani Netsianda - Limpopo Provincial Chairperson

Small-scale growers attended the FSA AGM in numbers. Photo: Samora Chapman
Dave Everard (forestry consultant and former Sappi Forests Environmental Manager), Hlengiwe Ndlovu (Sappi Forests Environmental Manager) and John Scotcher (environmental consultant for FSA). Photo: Samora Chapman
Linda Vilakazi (Mondi) and Sandile Nkosi (Sappi Khulisa). Photo: Chris Chapman
FSA’s Stefan Links and Ronald Heath. Photo: Samora Chapman
L-R: Katy Johnson (FSA), Roger Poole (NCT) and Jacqui Meyer (Timber Pesticide Working Group). Photo: Samora Chapman



Search for biocontrol of invasive American bramble intensifies

Rubus section Arguti plant, Cedara. Photo: Costas Zachariades

Invasive American bramble is a thorn in the side of foresters, farmers and land managers across large swaths of South Africa. It chokes up grasslands, forest fringes and river banks, and is notoriously difficult to eradicate. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as a team of scientists are tracking these elusive invaders to find an effective biological control …

American bramble continues to be a major scourge to agriculture, forestry and biodiversity conservation in many of the temperate areas of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. The weed forms impenetrable, thorny thickets which impede the passage and access to water of livestock and other animals, replace grazing, smother young plantation trees and make the maintenance and harvesting of older trees difficult. Bramble infestations replace native vegetation, with negative consequences for natural ecosystems, particularly in temperate grasslands. They can also negatively affect specialist flower-visitors. Native bird species increase the spread and germination rates of invasive alien brambles.

There are a number of indigenous bramble species in South Africa, as well as several invasive alien ones. These all belong to the genus Rubus, which falls under the rose family Rosaceae. There are also many species, hybrids and varieties of cultivated Rubus. The most well know of these are the blackberries and raspberries, but they also include youngberries, boysenberries, cloudberries, dewberries and loganberries. There is a small berry industry in South Africa, but most of that sold in our shops is imported – Mexico, for example, is currently one of the main exporters of blackberries worldwide.

Examples of fruits on Rubus section Arguti, southern KZN. Photo: Grant Martin.

The biology of Rubus is somewhat unique, in that most or all species, although perennial, have a biennial flowering and fruiting cycle. “Primocanes” grow from the ground in the first year – long, robust stems which bear no flowers or fruit. In the second year, these become “floricanes”, which bear the flowers and fruit, and subsequently die back. The study of Rubus is also quite specialized, and comes with its own moniker – “batology” – while those who work with Rubus are known as batologists!

The genus Rubus is large and complex, and is characterized by its ability to hybridise. The genus is divided into a number of Subgenera, and within each of these, one or more ‘Sections’. It is widely distributed, with native representatives on six continents, and invasive alien species and hybrids are also widely distributed and cause great harm in certain areas. In South Africa, American bramble is the most damaging of the invasive brambles. Several introductions of various brambles into South Africa were made in the late 19th and early 20th century, chiefly with berry production in mind. By the 1930s, however, American bramble was becoming problematic: an early reference to this bramble as “Rubus cuneifolius” was by E.J. Philips and co-authors in 1939, in “Farming in South Africa”. Rubus cuneifolius is native to Florida and the southern states of the USA, with the common name “sand blackberry”. However, it was soon realized that there was more than one form of this bramble; J.P. Marais, in a 1960 report, divided it into the “Hilton Road variety” (which was shorter, more upright, and grew in more open areas) and the “Richmond variety” (taller, with more arching canes, growing more prominently in more sheltered areas with partial shade).

Jacobus Egberink carried out some of the first comprehensive studies on the weed and its control as part of his MSc in Agriculture through the University of Natal (now UKZN), completed in 1965. Dr Danie Erasmus, based at the Cedara campus of the Plant Protection Research Institute of the national Department of Agriculture (now the Agricultural Research Council’s Plant Health and Protection [ARC-PHP] institute) conducted further work in the 1980s, including on chemical control. Various other studies, on the biology and taxonomy of Rubus in South Africa, were also undertaken in the 1980s by Prof. Charles Stirton, Dr Johan Spies and Henriette du Plessis.

Rubus section Cuneifolii invasion in the Drakensberg. Photo: Michal Sochor.

Worldwide, biological control of Rubus species initially achieved low success, mainly because of the complex nature of the genus, in particular its tendency to hybridise, and therefore difficulties in finding natural enemies in the region of origin that were able to develop on the introduced target weeds. With the advent of genetic techniques, success rates have increased. In South Africa, the first attempts towards Rubus biocontrol were undertaken by Dr Mike Morris and colleagues of the Agricultural Research Council’s Plant Protection Research Institute in the 1990s, using plant pathogens (rust fungi). They discovered that one of these (Kuehneola uredines), already widespread in the country, only developed on the upright form of R. cuneifolius, and was not particularly damaging. They then imported another rust fungus (Gymnoconia nitens) from Florida, USA, where it had been collected off R. cuneifolius, into their quarantine laboratory. However, this fungus only infected some specimens of the sprawling form of American bramble, as well as a commercial variety of Rubus and a native species, so it was rejected as a biocontrol agent. Because of the differences in infection patterns between upright and sprawling forms of R. cuneifolius, Dr Morris and his team believed that these might in fact be two separate species; they also realized that the upright form tended to grow at higher altitude than the sprawling form. In the early 2000s, ARC-PHP attempted to initiate genetic work in order to understand origins and identities of the forms of American bramble present in South Africa, in collaboration with Dr Lawrence (Larry) Alice of Western Kentucky University, USA, but this project did not come to fruition.

Recent efforts – from 2018 on

Given the ongoing problems caused by American bramble, interest in undertaking a feasibility study revived in 2018. A small ARC-PHP project (managed by Dr Costas Zachariades) was granted funding by the Department of Environmental Affairs (its Natural Resource Management Programmes directorate, which includes the Working for Water programme). At a similar time, the recently formed Centre for Biological Control, attached to Rhodes University, initiated a project on northern temperate weeds, under the management of Dr Grant Martin. These two units collaborated. An M.Econ. student, Brett Mason, undertook a study looking at some of the costs and benefits of Rubus in South Africa. Coincidentally, in 2017 a young dynamic researcher from the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research, Olomouc, in the Czech Republic, Dr Michal Sochor, had started a study on the taxonomy and phylogeny of Rubus in South Africa, in collaboration with Dr John Manning of SANBI. Dr Sochor had previously undertaken research on the taxonomy and phylogeny of European brambles, and was thus highly experienced and knowledgeable; the European approach differs dramatically from the current American approach: European researchers tend to recognise many more species than their North American counterparts – while the latter are “lumpers”, the former are “splitters”, and will describe “microspecies”. This divergent approach has not been consistent; for example, from 1941-1945, Dr L.H. Bailey undertook the most recent comprehensive revision of the genus in North America, and recognized hundreds of species, many of which he described himself. In stark contrast, Dr Larry Alice, in a 2015 article, sank the entire Rubus section Arguti, consisting of about 110 species listed in Bailey’s monograph, under one species, R. pensilvanicus. While the assignment of variable forms to separate species or microspecies may be complex and confusing, the lumping of many variable forms under one species is not helpful for the purposes of identification of invasive forms and determination of their origins.

Close-up of Rubus section Arguti plant, Cedara. Photo: Costas Zachariades.

Dr Sochor and colleagues used several techniques in their work, including extensive field and herbarium studies across South Africa, aimed at clarifying Rubus taxonomy in the region with the help of DNA – ploidy estimation and assessment of reproductive mode. They have subsequently published their findings in two scientific papers: the first, in 2018, deals with Rubus in the Cape Floristic Region, while the second, in 2022, examines the entire country, and is thus more relevant for the purposes of American bramble. They found that the upright form of what had been previously referred to as Rubus cuneifolius is a separate species, and in a separate section of the genus, to the sprawling form. Unfortunately they were unable to put species names to these, and refer to them only as Rubus section Cuneifolii (upright) and Rubus section Arguti (sprawling). Rubus section Cuneifolii is found predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal, while Rubus section Arguti is more widespread, occurring predominantly in KZN, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Furthermore, the Arguti plants could be divided into two commonly occurring forms. Interestingly, both Rubus section Cuneifolii and Rubus section Arguti are “facultatively apomictic” (meaning that they can reproduce asexually) – apparently this indicates that both of these invasive Rubus are in fact hybrids, not true species; in discussion with Dr Sochor, he felt it was likely that such hybridization had occurred in North America, under natural circumstances, prior to the plants being imported into South Africa. Dr Sochor and colleagues also identified two hybrids of which one parent was Arguti and the other was one of two indigenous Rubus species, but did not find any hybrids of Cuneifolii.

Left: Dr Grant Martin. Centre: Rubus section Arguti invading young pine plantation, southern KZN (photo by Grant Martin). Right: Dr Costas Zachariades.

A year prior to the publication of the 2022 paper discussed above, Dr Bram van de Beek, a Dutch theologian who had devoted many years to the study of Rubus in South Africa, published an article focusing on the Cape, although he examined material from across the country, using only taxonomic features (i.e. no ploidy or reproductive methods). Collaborating with Dr Mark Widrlechner, an expert on Rubus taxonomy at the University of Iowa, they identified one of the two sprawling forms (Rubus section Arguti) as Rubus originalis and described the other as a new species, Rubus revealii. For the upright form, they identified a few (“stronger”) plants from KZN as Rubus pascuus but used Rubus probabilis for most plants. Dr Sochor does not feel confident in these identifications; in general we have aligned our work with Dr Sochor rather than Dr van de Beek, but we are also working with Dr Widrlechner in the USA.

In order to familiarize ourselves with the South African Rubus flora (both alien and indigenous), we joined Dr Sochor on one of his fieldtrips to South Africa, in early 2020. Despite our initial confusion as non-botanists, we soon found it quite easy to distinguish between various species based on characteristics such as leaf shape and flower colour. This trip also gave us an opportunity to look for natural enemies present on both alien and indigenous Rubus species. This proved interesting, as we found many more species of insects and pathogens on the indigenous species than the alien ones – although this is expected, it does give an indication that many natural enemies of Rubus are specialized, and secondly that were we to introduce natural enemies from North America onto these alien Rubus plants in South Africa, they have the potential to reduce the invasiveness of these plants.


Comparison of flowers and leaves of Rubus section Cuneifolii (top) and Rubus section Arguti (bottom). Photos: Michal Sochor.

Current work and the way forward

What is the relevance of the recent taxonomic and phylogenetic studies discussed above to our biocontrol project? The lack of much hybridization, together with the weediness of the plants, led us to restrict our focus to invasive North American Rubus i.e. plants previously falling under “Rubus cuneifolius” in South Africa. In order to progress, we need to firstly understand how many species, and how much genetic variability exists in these species in South Africa. We hope that it allows us to find plants growing in the USA which are close matches to at least some of these invasive Rubus, and thereby find potential biocontrol agents (insects, mites and pathogens) which are compatible with the plants. To achieve the first goal, Dr Sochor agreed to undertake genetic analysis of these species – we therefore undertook a fieldtrip across KZN in early 2023 to collect as much genetic material and herbarium specimens as possible (the latter have been lodged in the Bews Herbarium at UKZN, Pietermaritzburg). This fieldtrip confirmed previous observations that the upright form (Rubus section Cuneifolii) occurs more commonly at high altitude (KZN Drakensberg), while the sprawling form (Rubus section Arguti) occurs more commonly at lower altitude (KZN Midlands). Dr Martin also opportunistically collected some specimens in the USA while on a fieldtrip there for other purposes. Dr Sochor has conducted some analysis of our specimens, and has concluded that while the upright form is genetically quite homogeneous and consistent with a single species/hybrid, the sprawling form in KZN consists of three species/microspecies/hybrids (we still need to sample Rubus section Arguti in other provinces). Furthermore, he did not find a close match between the South African and North American specimens sampled, and the North American samples displayed a high level of variability amongst themselves.


Stem girdles caused by insect larvae on two indigenous Rubus species. Photos: Brett Mason.

So the identification of North American plants which are genetically close to ours remains a critical step. One way to do this is to obtain genetic material from Rubus herbarium specimens in the USA which are morphologically similar to our invasive ones. Dr Sochor has found that leaf material from herbarium specimens, even those over 100 years old, can yield good DNA. Dr Widrlechner has agreed to assist in obtaining such material, and also in re-examining Rubus specimens of species said to be similar to ours. Bearing in mind that both Rubus section Cuneifolii and Rubus section Arguti in South Africa are hybrids, we may not find a perfect match among herbarium specimens in the US, but we hope this exercise gives us some direction. If so, we can transfer our attention to the field in the US – to areas where these herbarium specimens were originally collected. Again, it would be extremely helpful if a local taxonomist such as Dr Widrlechner could assist us to identify these plants in the field. From there, there are two options, viz. (i) to survey these plants for natural enemies, and to import such natural enemies into quarantine in South Africa; (ii) a better option would be to plant out South African material among genetically similar plants in the USA on which natural enemies are present, and allow these natural enemies to colonise our South African plants on their own. In this way we will be more likely to obtain potential biocontrol agents which are compatible with our plants, and thus more likely to be successful in the field in South Africa, should they prove to have a sufficiently narrow host range (i.e. do not attack native or commercial Rubus) to be safe for release in South Africa. Whether the US biosecurity authorities would permit us to plant out South African Rubus is uncertain, but we plan to apply for permission to do so.

There is a final spoke in the works, and that is a lack of current funding. Funding from DFFE: NRMP became more erratic in 2018, and dried up completely in 2023, with no prospect of revival in the short term. CBC itself has funded some of the work since then, but its means are limited. Adequate funding would allow the US work described above to be undertaken properly, and, should natural enemies be found there that show promise as biocontrol agents, to import these into South African quarantine in order to conduct host-range testing.

Funding notwithstanding, what seemed in the 1980s and 1990s as an intractable, complex situation is now resolving itself into a more manageable research project, with some light at the end of the tunnel due to improved understanding of Rubus taxonomy and phylogeny. It is not inconceivable that within the next 10 years, an effective biocontrol agent could be released for one or more of the invasive North American brambles in South Africa, resulting in reduced vigour and competitiveness of these plants, and correspondingly, more cost-effective management using non-biocontrol methods.

Plant of Rubus section Cuneifolii. Photo: Michal Sochor.

Authors:-
C. Zachariades, Agricultural Research Council’s Plant Protection Research Institute
G. Martin, Centre for Biological Control

Notes from the field
Roger Poole, Member Services Co-ordinator for NCT and Agro-Chemical Liaison Officer for the Timber Industry Pesticide Working Group (TIPWG), provided some useful notes on the chemical control of American bramble …

Bramble is a tricky one due to it having two stages of growth, these being the older stems one always sees and then there is secondary (new) growth you'll find inside the thicket. Timing is critical. Best months to spray are between February through to April as the plant is building up reserves for winter so absorption of herbicide is the most efficient.

The best herbicide is metsulfuron methyl, it is slow acting and gives the best results. If there are other invasive species within the area of treatment, then one can look at glyphosate or the picloram/fluroxypyr formulation.

Glyphosate is not the best but does work on bramble that has been cut down. Depending on the size of the thickets one can apply it with a high pressure unit (bakkie sakkie) or tractor boom sprayer. Knapsacks only work on bramble that a person can walk through so you’ll have to cut the thicket with either a brush cutter or tractor-mounted slasher.

Aerial application has been done previously but water volumes need to be checked and applied as per label due to the need for penetration to ensure the mixture gets through the thicket and results in a good coverage.

Responsible forestry - the antidote to plastic

While life without plastic might be hard to imagine, there is a renewable, recyclable and sustainable alternative to single-use plastics and many other fossil fuel derivatives: wood from responsibly managed plantations and forests. This is the message from Forestry South Africa (FSA) ahead of the 54th annual Earth Day (22 April 2024).

“Since inception in 1970, Earth Day has grown into one of the largest civic events. Against the theme Planet vs Plastic, the need for solutions to ensure the health of the planet could not be more urgent, especially when it comes to dealing with the proliferation of plastic,” says FSA’s Dr Ronald Heath, adding that farmed trees have the unique potential as the starting block for countless materials.

A host of fossil-fuel derived, energy-heavy materials can be substituted with wood-based derivatives such as timber in place of steel and concrete, and specialised cellulose for textiles like viscose and rayon. Paper packaging is finding its way back onto supermarket shelves as brand owners make the switch from plastic. Cellulose and nanocellulose can be used as food additives, functioning as thickening agents, stabilisers or emulsifiers, providing a natural alternative to synthetic additives. Lignin, a by-product of papermaking, can be used as in agriculture, construction and for dust suppression.

“Our sector can even make polymers and chemicals out of wood. And, of course, wood and pulp provide the ingredients for everyday essentials like furniture and toilet paper,” notes Heath.

While wood holds promise in various industries due to its renewable nature, biodegradability and versatile properties, the key to a wood-based revolution is its sustainable, responsible production, the theme of FSA’s new video “What is responsible forestry?”

Across South Africa, from Limpopo and Mpumalanga, through KwaZulu-Natal, to the Eastern and Western Cape, there are 1.2 million hectares of commercial forestry plantations, more than 85% of which are certified as meeting the stringent environmental and social standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®). In addition, 40% of these plantations have international PEFC certification through the recently established Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS).

From these plantations, more than 15 million tonnes of wood and fibre are harvested annually and for every tree removed, another is planted in its place. This wood, grown using carbon dioxide (CO2), keeps carbon stored long after harvesting and transformation into timber for beautiful buildings, cellulose for high-end fashion, additives for food and pharmaceuticals, and bio-chemicals. One cubic metre of Eucalyptus wood removes around 880kg of CO2 from the air, storing around 240kg of carbon.

“South African forestry should be recognised as part of the solution for climate change, plastic pollution and rural unemployment. Wood is a renewable, low-carbon alternative to many of the drivers of climate change. Globally, forestry is considered an integral role player in a green economic recovery: certainly, this is the case in South Africa. It is time we promoted it as such, explaining what responsible forestry looks like and how it can be part of the solution to the environmental crises we currently face,” says Heath.

In an article by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, titled Time to realise the potential of sustainable wood for the planet, the authors make a strong argument for wood as a solution to climate change, believing wood can play a key role by substituting single use plastics such as drinking straws and food packaging as part of the global movement to end plastic pollution.

Responsible forestry goes way beyond the trees. As a rural industry in South Africa, forestry creates employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in some of the country’s most impoverished communities. Through social initiatives, it delivers education, health care, infrastructure and hunger eradication programmes.

Amid the forestry landscape, countless wetland, grassland and biodiversity conservation projects are underway in the 305 000 hectares of unplanted, natural areas within forestry landholdings.

Earthday.org seeks to end plastics for the sake of human and planetary health, demanding a 60% reduction in the production of ALL plastics by 2040. According to a recent study in the journal Science Advances, around eight billion tonnes of plastic have been produced over the past six decades, 90.5% of which has not been recycled, explains Aidan Charron from EarthDay.org.

“Our reliance on plastics could be the biggest gamble in the story of human health in history. We are all ingesting and inhaling microplastics. They are everywhere. Are we just hoping they are safe, or is even the remotest possibility they might be toxic so terrifying that we can’t contemplate it?” asks Kathleen Rogers, president of EarthDay.org.

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.

Navigating the minefield of pesticide use in forestry

Noxolo Ndlovu … her PhD study measures the residue from pesticide applications in forestry on soil, water and sediment. (Photo courtesy FSA).

A ground-breaking study undertaken in the KZN midlands shows that pesticides commonly used in South African plantation forests pose low or minimal risk of impacting negatively on the environment, but there are some red flags worth noting. This is mostly good news for growers who are restricted in terms of the number of pesticides approved for use, and are under increasing pressure from certification bodies, environmentalists and consumers, to minimise usage of chemical pesticides.

The study was undertaken by Nelson Mandela University PhD candidate Noxolo Ndlovu, who is employed as a researcher at NCT Forestry. Noxolo’s presentation was the highlight of the recent webinar hosted by the Timber Industry Pesticide Working Group (TIPWG).

Further good news for foresters is that the research team used the findings to develop a generic decision support tool to guide pesticide use tailored to South African conditions.

The data gleaned from the study is significant as there is a paucity of research on the environmental impacts of pesticide use in forestry in South African conditions.

The study was undertaken over a 26 month period between planting of E. smithii in 2020 and canopy closure in NCT’s Ingwe plantation in the KZN midlands. Ingwe is a fairly typical KZN midlands plantation situated on a steep site with a stream nearby, and therefore represents possibly a worst case scenario in terms of pesticide residue and run-off.

Slash on the site was burnt and previous rotation stumps were killed by chemical application, so there was little material present to absorb the pesticides applied during the study period. These applications included a pre-plant weed, soil-born insect pest management, weed management and foliar insect pest and disease management.

White grubs are beneficial to soil health on the one hand, but they can also damage the root plug of newly planted seedlings and cause plant mortality on the other hand. Chemical pesticides used to control white grubs in soil before planting are under intense scrutiny from certification bodies and environmentalists, and alternative, biological-based management solutions are required.

While the results of the study were encouraging from a forestry perspective, Noxolo was quick to point out that this was a single site, single rotation study and further research is needed to gain a clearer understanding of the impacts of pesticide use in different locations and under different conditions.

Glyphosate, which was used more often and in higher quantities than the other chemical pesticides tested, emerged with the cleanest record and was never detected in any of the soil samples. The concentrations of the other chemicals in the soil declined rapidly through successive sampling with no trace left after the final sampling.

All the pesticides tested showed up in water in a nearby stream after the first rain post application, but the concentrations had decreased significantly at the next sampling.

All of the pesticides tested (except glyphosate) were detected in stream sediment and lasted longer than they did in water, but did decrease over time and were below the detection threshold by the time of the final sampling.

After comparing the pesticide concentrations that they found in the soil, water and sediment at Ingwe against standard lab toxicity studies, the researchers concluded that the toxicity risks posed by the pesticides tested were generally low or moderate, but there were two red flags:-

• Metazachlor posed a ‘high risk’ to drinking water and to aquatic organisms;
• Cypermethrin posed a ‘high risk’ to sediment dwelling organisms.

PESTICIDETOXICITY RISK
SOIL
TOXICITY RISK
WATER
TOXICITY RISK
SEDIMENT
GlyphosateLowLowLow
TriclopyrLowLowUnknown
CypermethrinLow-High
MetazachlorLowHighLow
AzoxystrobinModerateUnknownUnknown

Noxolo concluded by saying that the study is a valuable first step in understanding the impacts of pesticide usage on the environment in SA, and recommended that further research is needed. This should include research into non-chemical methods of pest and disease management in forestry to reduce reliance on pesticides, she suggested..

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the buzzword that describes the current approach in agriculture and forestry to move away from narrow, traditional pesticide solutions to manage pests in a more economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally safe manner. This approach requires foresters to look at other, safer alternatives to manage pests and diseases - like biological-based solutions.

Addressing issues around IPM, Roger Poole, TIPWG’s agro-chemical liaison guru, said that although conventional chemical pesticide solutions for plant protection currently comprise 95% of the global agriculture market and biological solutions just 5%, the balance is shifting. The biological sector of the plant protection market is doubling every four to five years, growth is accelerating and there is a lot of R & D taking place in this space.

“Biological solutions could provide 50% of crop inputs by 2040,” he said.

Roger Poole … highlighted the potential for biological based solutions for pest and disease management and promoting soil health in the forestry context.

He said the TIPWG team is engaging with Andermatt Madumbi, a South African company backed by international expertise that is developing biological solutions to change the future of farming and food.

Driving factors behind this initiative are:-

• The ban on schedule 1A and 1B chemical pesticides, which for example affects the treatment of wattle rust in SA;
• There is a definite decline in soil health;
• Over-extensive farming practices – we are pushing the boundaries;
• Growing consumer concern for residue levels in food;
• Global pressure to improve sustainability;
• Growers seeking improved return on investment.

Wattle rust … foresters are currently heavily reliant on chemical pesticides to manage this destructive pathogen.

Biological products already being used include biofertilizers, biogrowth stimulants and biological pest control products. They are less toxic, effective and leave no residues behind.

Roger said that trials using biological products in commercial forestry in the Dumbe area have shown encouraging early growth results.

“It’s a new technology and confidence is building. However there are no silver bullets, it’s a long term thing,” concluded Roger.

Above and Below: Exceptional growth shown by wattle and grandis seedlings, both planted in November 2023 as part of the Dumbe trial. These photos were taken on 18 January this year. The trees were planted in either water or gel, mixed in with the biological products: 0,1g Eco-T ; 0,1g MycoUp Activ ; 2g V12 Initiate.

TIPWG co-ordinator Jacqui Meyer reported that her team would be evaluating all the products listed on the Approved Pesticides List to eliminate those that are no longer being used in forestry or are no longer available. This process would include a survey that will be circulated among all FSA members, and will result in a streamlined, up-to-date APL at the end of the day

FSC updating national standards

Richard Fergusson, co-ordinator for FSC Southern Africa, provided info on FSC’s National Forest Stewardship Standard for South Africa, which is currently in the process of being updated and revised. He said that the national standard was first implemented in 2017, and it’s time for an update to ensure it remains abreast of current conditions prevailing in the industry.

The national standard includes the FSC principles and criteria and the international generic indicators adapted to the national context to reflect the legal, social
and geographic conditions of forests.

The current standard has been extended until the revised standard is approved, which is expected to happen in early 2026. The process includes extensive stakeholder consultation and field testing.

He said that the revised standard would be slightly simpler than version one, and would include natural forests and non-timber forest products in its scope.

Jacqui Meyer … the TIPWG team is busy updating and streamlining the Approved Pesticides List for forestry in South Africa.

PEFC Group Scheme certification for small growers

Hlengiwe Ndlovu, Divisional Environmental Manager for Sappi Forests, proudly displays the PEFC-endorsed Sappi Group Scheme certificate for small scale growers.

Five small scale timber growers in KwaZulu-Natal have become the first participants in the award-winning Sappi Khulisa programme to achieve forest certification through the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) in the Sappi Group Scheme for small scale growers.

The five timber growers, with a total 8,143 hectares of timber area between them, have been successfully audited and awarded a PEFC Group Scheme certificate. The recipients of this significant milestone, and founding members of the Sappi PEFC Group Scheme, are:-

• iMfume Cluster, consisting of more than 20l individual small growers from the Mfume district near Scottburgh,
• Sobengwe Trading, Ixopo,
• MG Farming, Richmond,
• Mclean M, Underberg,
• Braecroft Timbers (Pty) Ltd, Underberg.

This follows years of intensive efforts by Sappi - working together with other stakeholders in the forestry industry - in addressing the barriers to certification experienced by small-scale growers in South Africa. PEFC is an internationally recognised certification system that provides assurance to end-use consumers of wood products that the raw material is sourced from sustainably managed forests.

Members of the Sobengwe Trading forestry team, Ixopo. Certification provides small-scale growers with access to international markets and assures consumers that wood-based products are responsibly sourced from sustainable forestry operations.

Sappi was the first grower company in South Africa to achieve PEFC certification through the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS) in 2021, after starting with the process in 2015. This involved participation in the development of a Forest Management Standard for South Africa, the development of mechanisms to support certification requirements and, in 2018, the endorsement of the standard and certification procedures. A certification tool was developed by the SAFAS team to assess plantations, based on several factors including environmental, social and economic conditions specific to South Africa.

“After years of collaboration and dedicated commitment to developing a forest certification standard for South Africa, this achievement marks a historical moment in our long journey to support and make forest certification more accessible to the small landowners that participate in our supplier programmes,” commented Duane Roothman, Vice-President of Sappi Forests.

Forest certification is used as a tool to ensure that responsible forest management practices are implemented in the forest, and that wood from certified forests can be identified throughout the supply chain. It enables conscious consumers to choose responsibly sourced wood-based products, and gives consumers the assurance that the woodfibre used to manufacture the products they are buying has been legally harvested in accordance with sound environmental practices, and that social aspects, such as indigenous rights, have been taken into account.

Forest certification and other voluntary codes of conduct are key tools for promoting sustainable consumption and production, and for combating deforestation, forest degradation and illegal logging by providing proof of legality and responsible management, harvesting and manufacturing practices.

For more info on PEFC visit: https://www.pefc.org/
For more info about SAFAS visit: https://www.safas.org.za

Water security in the cross-hairs

That’s the uMkhomazi river, a strategic water resource that rises in the southern Drakensberg mountains and serves thousands of downstream users, including the Sappi-Saiccor mill on the south coast. In the foreground are cleared alien wattles.

The Sappi/WWF Water Stewardship Partnership is making a difference in the uMkhomazi catchment, a strategic water resource area serving a myriad of downstream users …

There are no plantations here - except for the remains of a rogue black wattle jungle that has been cleared from the banks of the river - as we follow a well used footpath down into the uMkhomazi valley. This is tribal land used by the Nzinga people who live in a sprawling rural settlement a little way upstream from Impendle. They graze their cattle here on these grassy slopes, but over the years a combination of over-grazing, uncontrolled wildfires and encroaching alien vegetation has taken its toll on the landscape which has been losing its capacity to support the livestock upon which they depend for survival.

This is a familiar scenario in rural South Africa, where land degradation and deepening rural poverty go hand in hand. This process has significant negative impacts on the water quality that runs off the catchment and ends up in one of KwaZulu-Natal’s major rivers that serves a myriad of downstream water users.

But now things are changing in this section of the valley which has become a focus of attention following a ground-breaking Water Stewardship Partnership between Sappi and WWF-SA (the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa) that was launched in 2021. The alien wattle trees are gone, the cattle are being moved around in camps by local ‘eco-rangers’, wildfires are being kept out and the grasslands are beginning to show signs of recovery.

The eco-rangers move the community’s cattle into camps at night to stimulate the soil and encourage the natural grass cover to return on the bare patches of ground where alien wattle was cleared.

The Sappi/WWF team has engaged the Institute of Natural Resources (INR) to organise and support the local farmers to rehabilitate their rangelands and improve their herds so that they can earn a better living off their cattle. INR facilitated the clearing of alien wattle as well as the training of the farmers and the ‘eco-rangers’ who watch over the cattle, move them from camp to camp, keep wildfires and stock thieves at bay and engage in land restoration work.

The eco-rangers are managed by the local cattle owners who have joined the project. They have received training through Meat Naturally in regenerative grazing techniques, rangeland restoration and livestock management. Meat Naturally has also organised a mobile auction to enable the famers to sell their cattle and access new markets.

Mthobisi Gwala of the Institute of Natural Resources (left) and local cattle farmer Nkosi Nxamalala are engaged in a project to improve the rangelands and restore the health of the natural ecosystems in the uMkhomazi catchment.

One of the cattle farmers, Nkosi Nxamalala, was sitting on the hillside watching his cattle graze in the valley below, and accompanied us on our walk. He told us that 40 farmers from his community have joined the programme. They own 700 head of cattle between them, and they are starting to see how the improved grazing is benefitting them. He was especially thankful for the training he has received in animal health which has helped him to maintain a healthy herd.

Lower down in the valley where the wattle jungle has been cleared, the wattle slash has been used to create berms to prevent soil erosion on the bare patches of soil that have been left behind. Various techniques are being trialled to find the best way of encouraging the natural grass cover to grow back on these bare patches, including camping the cattle overnight so that their dung and the action of their hooves can stimulate and promote soil health and get the natural grasses to grow back.

According to Mthobisi Gwala of INR, many cattle farmers in neighbouring communities are beginning to see how good range management is benefitting the Nzinga farmers and are lining up to join the programme. He says INR is also busy implementing a similar programme with cattle farmers from the Ekukhanyeni community, located a little downstream from the Nzinga.

Local people were employed to clear alien wattle which had invaded the Nzinga’s traditional rangelands in the uMkhomazi valley, negatively impacting their cattle businesses as well as the health of the catchment. (Photo: Wanika Davids, WWF SA)
These berms constructed from wattle slash are used to prevent soil erosion on the bare patches of soil left behind after the alien wattle was cleared from the banks of the uMkhomazi river.

Water stewardship

What does all of this have to do with ‘water stewardship’ you may ask?

Well, an important component of improving the land management within the catchment involves engaging with local communities that occupy and utilise the land and providing them with the tools and the skills to turn things around and restore the health of the natural ecosystems. Healthy wetlands and grasslands store moisture, releasing it slowly downstream while protecting the soil from erosion, providing a healthy habitat for wild flora and fauna and better grazing for livestock which in turn benefits the communities. An added benefit is that healthy soils and grasslands store more carbon than degraded landscapes, thus mitigating the effects of climate change as well.

This is just one aspect of the Sappi WWF-SA programme that aims to improve water security in the uMkhomazi catchment. It is an ambitious and complex undertaking involving multiple stakeholders. The uMkhomazi is one of KwaZulu-Natal’s most strategic river catchment systems that extends all the way from the southern Drakensberg mountains to the sea.

Along the way the river provides the primary water resource for many rural communities such as the Nzinga, extensive commercial agriculture and forestry operations, as well as manufacturing businesses, peri-urban settlements and towns all the way to the coast.

The village of the Nzinga … many of the community members rely on cattle farming for their livelihoods.

Invested in the catchment

Sappi is heavily invested in this catchment with some 42 000 ha of plantation forestry spread across its upper reaches, while Sappi-Saiccor mill – one of the biggest dissolving pulp mills in the world – is situated on the banks of the river less than one km from its mouth where it enters the Indian Ocean.

According to Sappi’s Biodiversity Engagement Specialist, Craig Daniel, water security has been identified as a key risk for Sappi, with both their pulp manufacturing operation and the forestry lands being dependent upon a healthy catchment, viable communities and good quality water. It’s not surprising therefore that Sappi has joined forces with WWF-SA, one of the world’s leading conservation organisations, to address the challenges.

Beginning in 2021, Sappi and WWF have been collaborating with many other partners to achieve the objectives of the Water Stewardship Programme, which has four main focus areas:-
• To improve water governance through multi-stakeholder engagement;
• To promote efficient water-use;
• To remove alien invasive plants and rehabilitate wetlands and riparian areas;
• To strengthen the capacity of local communities in natural resource management.

Krelyne Andrew, GM Sustainability Dissolving Pulp at Sappi-Saiccor, says: “Sappi has prioritised Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 – the right to clean water and sanitation – as part of its business strategy.” This stewardship project is putting that promise into practice, she says.

The Sappi-Saiccor pulp mill is situated at the end of the uMkhomazi catchment just upstream from the river mouth.

Strategic water source areas

With water use having grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century and with South Africa being a water-scarce country, WWF-SA has chosen to focus many of its portfolio of projects on securing South Africa’s Strategic Water Source Areas. These are the areas that deliver over 50% of South Africa’s freshwater to downstream economies, while only making up 10% of the country’s land cover. The uMkhomazi catchment is one of these strategic water source areas.

To achieve its objectives, WWF-SA is pro-actively mobilising water stewardship partnerships throughout the country to bring together communities, corporations, government, and non-profit organisations to tackle the water challenges in the Strategic Water Source Areas. The Sappi WWF uMkhomazi Water Stewardship Programme is one such partnership.

“Our partnership with Sappi is crucial, as WWF cannot work on its own to secure these important Strategic Water Source Areas,” commented David Lindley of WWF.

Left to right: Dr Dave Everard, Mthobisi Gwala (INR) and Craig Daniel (Sappi) visiting the Nzinga tribal rangelands in the uMkhomazi valley upstream from Impendle.

Water governance challenges

Dr Dave Everard, former Sappi Forests Environmental Manager (recently retired) who has been involved in setting up the programme, said that a key aspect of the work of the project team is to address water governance issues. Dave said there are huge challenges out there that impact on water security, and the project has provided the team with an opportunity to engage with the many levels of stakeholders involved in water governance and usage. These range from the Department of Water and Sanitation, to local authorities, water boards, farmer associations, communities and other water users.

The Sappi team is all too aware that their own forestry operations can have an impact on the catchment

Commented Hlengiwe Ndlovu, Divisional Environmental Manager for Sappi Forests: “We recognise the impact our plantations can have in the uMkhomazi catchment and on freshwater ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers, and the importance of these being well managed. So, we promote water stewardship as a key part of our forestry management and make every effort to reduce the impacts of our forestry activities on water resources.

“The opportunity for green jobs through the partnership’s focus on alien invasive plant clearing is also fully aligned with Sappi’s commitment to Enterprise and Supplier Development that promotes sustainable livelihoods through capacity building of small and medium-sized enterprises,” said Hlengiwe.

A thorough review of the first phase of the project has been done, and the good news is that both Sappi and WWF have expressed their satisfaction with the platform that has been established in Phase One, and have committed to continue with the programme for another four year cycle, ending in September 2027. In addition to the freshwater work, the partnership will explore the integration of biodiversity stewardship and sustainable financing initiatives during Phase Two.

The cattle are camped at night to help restore soil fertility and grass cover, while during the day they are moved around the communal lands to give the grass time to recover and prevent over-grazing. (Photo: Wanika Davids, WWF SA)


Can Safcol save Pietermaritzburg’s plantations?

This is how parts of the Pietermaritzburg city plantation looks like today, where Illegal dumping and timber theft is rife.

The forests that surround Pietermaritzburg should be – could be – one of the city’s finest assets. If well managed they can yield a sustainable annual harvest of some 25 000 tons of timber and bark, provide visitors and residents with endless recreational opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, trail running and bird watching, while providing free ecological services in the form of fresh, clean water from the numerous streams that run through it.

Instead, over the past five years or so under the ‘management’ of the Msunduzi Municipality, the forest has become a major fire risk, a major alien plant infestation, an illegal dumping ground, rife with timber theft, and rapidly becoming a liability that produces little or no revenue for the city coffers. It has also lost its FSC certification, a globally recognised standard for responsible and sustainable forest management.

This scenario has been repeated in other municipal owned plantations in KwaZulu-Natal – such as Richmond – where forest assets have become seriously degraded under the management of municipal officials who appear to have little interest in sustainable forest management.

However after years of indecision, some sanity has at last prevailed and there is hope that the Msunduzi plantation forests may be salvaged. The good news is that the City has signed a three-year plantation management contract with the state-owned forestry company, Safcol, which has considerable experience in plantation management.

Whether the Safcol team has the will, the budget - and the time - to turn this plantation around, remains to be seen. Forestry is a long term business. Eucalyptus trees take eight years to reach maturity after planting, wattle trees take 10 years, and pine trees grown for sawlogs more like 25 years. So there is not a lot anybody can do in three years, unless the aim is just to extract value over the short term by harvesting standing trees.

Harvesting operation on the go back in 2012. The city plantations are located on the hills around the city with deep soils and good annual rainfall, and have the potential to be highly productive.

It would take years of work and significant capital investment to rehabilitate the plantation, fix the roads, put in fire breaks, clear the alien invasive plants encroaching on tree compartments, conservation areas and wetlands, while all the time carefully re-planting every hectare that is harvested with good quality material. This is a job for forestry professionals with a long term interest. Getting the plantation back onto a sustainable management footing would generate significant revenue for the city, boost its image and tourism potential, and create dozens of additional jobs both on-site and downstream.

It is understood that Safcol will have an option to renew the contract at the end of the three years, provided they can demonstrate an acceptable level of service. This is the rationale behind the current short-term contract, which hopefully will become a more realistic, longer term commitment after the three years is up.

According to a Safcol spokesperson, the Msunduzi plantations will be managed by Thabo Ndhlovu and his team from Safcol’s Ngome plantation in KZN.

Commenting at the signing of the service level agreement with Safcol, Msunduzi city manager Lulamile Mapholoba acknowledged the difficulties the city faced in their efforts to manage the plantations, and lauded the agreement with Safcol as a “very significant development in the history of the city”.

FSC surveillance audit on the go back in 2012 … the Pietermaritzburg plantations were part of NCT’s group certification scheme, but have subsequently lost their certification status.

Established in 1910
Pietermaritzburg’s commercial plantations were established way back in 1910 by the municipality, and originally comprised almost exclusively of wattle. Over the years some of the wattle was phased out and replaced by Eucalyptus and pine as the timber markets changed. The trees were removed entirely in some areas, to create the suburbs of Northdale and Woodlands. It currently covers an area of some 2 000 ha, 1 500 ha of which is planted to Eucalyptus, wattle and pine.

The plantation was managed by NCT Tree Farming from 1988 up until 2017. Under NCT’s management the plantation achieved FSC certification, a globally recognised standard for sustainable forest management.

During this period the NCT team, working in conjunction with the city's Parks and Recreation Department, started clearing the riparian areas inside the plantation, and embarked on a programme of planting indigenous trees. A number of local schools participated in the tree planting efforts, and the Wildlands Trust donated over 20 000 trees to the initiative.

Photo taken in 2012: Forester Rajesh Ramsamy and Steve Germishuizen of the SANBI Grasslands Programme (now with SAFAS) view a clean riparian zone between compartments where indigenous trees have been re-introduced by NCT and the City Parks Department. This zone was previously planted up with commercial trees, the stumps of which are still visible.
Photo taken in 2023: This conservation area is overgrown with alien invasive plants, but many of the indigenous trees planted by NCT and the City Parks Department some 12 years ago are still surviving.

This served to create a beautiful, natural environment that attracts a variety of birds and animals, and also creates a canopy that discourages the growth of invasive alien vegetation, thus making future maintenance of these areas easier and cheaper.

Unfortunately these open areas inside the plantation are now choked with weeds after the years of neglect, but the good news is that many of the indigenous trees planted during NCT’s time have survived and are still visible in between the bugweed, lantana and American bramble.

Plantation audit
A report compiled by the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS) team in 2020 following an audit highlighted the poor state of the plantations. The audit yielded 13 major non-conformances with the SAFAS standard. “This represents a drastic failure in plantation management,” stated the Report’s author, Steve Germishuizen.

The audit highlighted irregularities in the contractual arrangements regarding the silviculture operations and timber harvesting that was taking place at the time; dangerously high risk for severe fires due to poor plantation management; roads in very poor condition and getting worse; inadequate control of timber theft and the management of illegal dumping; lack of a programme to control and eradicate listed invasive plant species in conservation corridors, wetlands and buffer zones; and harvested areas not being re-established.

“It is clear from the findings that the Msunduzi plantations are in a severely degraded state and urgent action is required before the costs of restoring them become prohibitive and the plantations become a threat rather than an asset to the city,” concluded the report.

Despite the fact that the city officials had requested the audit by SAFAS in the first place in the hopes of achieving PEFC certification, they failed to respond to the Report and the SAFAS team never heard from them again.

The fact that Safcol is now managing the plantation provides a glimmer of hope that it can be rehabilitated to the point where it can once again become a productive asset and a jewel in the crown that serves the city of Pietermaritzburg and its residents.

Photo taken in 2023: Bugweed flourishing inside the plantations.
Photo taken in 2023: Erosion ravaged plantation road.



Forestry on the front foot

Sappi plantations in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has awarded in FSA’s favour unanimously and with costs, on the important matter of existing lawful water use! This confirms FSA’s long-held position that all plantations that were in existence at the time of the introduction of the National Water Act in 1998, are deemed to be an existing lawful water user, irrespective of whether they were previously authorised under pre-1998 legislation. It also means that those rights cannot arbitrarily be withdrawn or expropriated by the State.

In further good news the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s original rulings in FSA’s favour on genus exchange, which means that genus exchange does not require a reduction in planted area or authorisation from the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). Furthermore, DWS cannot enforce a ‘use it or lose it’ policy to deprive legitimate water users of their rights.

FSA Executive Director Mike Peter has described these judgements as a “momentous victory for the industry” which he says protects the assets and rights of growers.

More good news on the transport front is that the Department of Transport is planning to formalise the PBS vehicle system into legislation. PBS trucks have been transporting timber and other goods as part of a ‘pilot project’ for several years, and they have proved to be safer and more efficient and cost effective than standard long haul trucks. Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga has confirmed that the current status quo regarding the use of PBS vehicles will continue until the formal legislation is ready to be implemented.

FOCUS ON FORESTRY 2023

Simon Shackleton (left) of John Deere provides insight into the impressive JD eight-wheeled harvester that was on show at the field day. Operating the harvester for the demo was CMO’s mechanised harvesting instructor Gilbert Khumalo.

New forestry equipment, strategies & insights

The big international forestry brands plus local equipment manufacturers and service providers as well as mulchers, chippers and grinders made their presence felt at the Focus on Forestry 2023 event held in the picturesque KZN midlands in early November. Against the backdrop of the magnificent Karkloof mountains and surrounded by Sappi’s well kept gum and pine plantations, forestry stakeholders gathered from far and wide to see the latest equipment up close and gain some keen insights from dozens of presentations that covered just about every aspect of the forestry business.

There was also a lot of networking, socialising and catching up with old friends on the fringes of the conference, as there has been a long gap since the last Focus event that was held before COVID hit.

The overall message from the conference was that forestry businesses have and will continue to encounter hard times in the form of international trade disruptions, weak economic cycles, logistics bottlenecks, rising input costs, fires and extreme weather events, but at the end of the day forestry is part of the solution for many of the world’s biggest challenges and is on an upwards trajectory.

In his keynote address, Dr Ole Sand, Managing Partner of Criterion Africa Partners (CAP), which has invested millions of dollars in forestry businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, says forestry assets have been and are still undervalued. But the positive impacts forestry makes on the global climate balance, the protection of biodiversity, employment and infrastructure are in the early stages of being recognised, valued and monetized.

(Left to right) Mark Barnado, manager of Sappi’s KZN plantations, Dr Ole Sand of Criterion Africa Partners, who delivered the keynote address, and Michal Brink of CMO.

He said plantations constitute just 3% of global forest area, but account for 47% of global industrial roundwood supply, while natural forestry is already beyond capacity. The demand for industrial roundwood is expected to increase by 600 – 900 million m3 per year by 2050.

Africa is a continent where forestry plays a massive role in providing people with goods and services, but there is a critical need for more efficient and more sustainable management practices.

Population growth in Africa is driving wood demand and unsustainable forest use. The continent accounts for 20% of total global wood consumption and 36% of global fuelwood consumption. However much of Africa’s fuelwood production is unsustainable, said Dr Sand.

He said subsistence agriculture is the biggest driver of global deforestation. In Africa natural forests are harvested beyond capacity, and as a result deforestation and degradation is continuing.

“Fuelwood consumption with charcoal the driver will continue, while new plantation development that is taking place is insignificant.”

In this regard, he says that the private sector is doing a better job managing plantations than the state.

Dr Sand said that the CAP team believes there are only two solutions: scale up smallholder plantation development, and improve efficiencies in charcoal production.

He says the scarce resource in African forestry is knowhow and management capacity – not capital.

“When given the market opportunity, smallholders will respond,” he concluded.

Wayne le Roux of Hintech, proudly South African manufacturers of a range of grabs as well as the Urus cable yarding systems, loaders, loggers and shovel yarders.

Wood replacing fossil fuels

“Everything made from fossil fuels today can be made from a tree tomorrow,” said Brazilian forest engineer Marcos Wichert of Stora Enso.

Intensification of forest management is happening, producing more from less is the objective, while making forests more resilient by:-

• Reducing use of agro-chemicals
• Improving soil health
• Reducing CO2 emissions.

Forestry operations are developing fast with GPS devices on planting tubes and even spades to map each tree, AI thinning selectors on harvesters, remote machine operation and unmanned autonomous timber trucks.

And the new frontier, he suggests, is about gaining a better understanding of the role of beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil. At the end of the day growing anything - including trees – is all about soil health.

Empowering smallholders

Michal Brink of CMO endorsed Dr Sand’s opinion on the role of smallholder tree farmers.

“Future forestry expansion will be driven by smallholders, because the land belongs to communities,” said Michal.

The role of corporates is to serve as anchors to support and empower smallholders.

He says CMO is providing simple, affordable and scaleable solutions to enable smallholders to get their operations certified.

“Empowered smallholders are the vehicle to expansion of sustainable plantation forestry into the future,” he concluded.

ProMac is another proudly SA made logger manufactured in Richards Bay.

Resilient forestry

Independent forester Michael Henson talked about resilient forestry and the fact that reducing the risk of failure is much more than just about site and climate.

He said clones are “impressive when they work, and equally impressive when they fail”, and are a “roll of the dice” as they have a very restricted genetic base and carry a higher biosecurity risk than seeds which are genetically more diverse.

Nelly Ndlovu of Mondi Zimele spoke of the need to do more research into agro-forestry to help small-scale growers to improve their cashflow.

Bongiwe Mafuya of Emabhaceni Development and Nature Solutions described how clearing of alien vegetation in the Eastern Cape has created jobs and improved rangelands and agricultural fields. Further good news for the community is that since the alien plant removal, the local river is flowing freely again.

Philip Hall of Mbombela-based Forestry Plant & Equipment shows off the Summit grapple carriage for high productivity yarding. It even comes with a camera attached so the operator can follow the load safely to the landing.

FPA’s on the edge

Addressing the perennial topic of fires in forestry, Ian Henderson lamented the lack of support for FPAs from the Forestry Department and the fact that only 46% of state owned landholders are members of FPAs, while private sector membership is keeping many FPAs afloat. He suggested small FPAs should join forces to establish bigger, more viable FPAs.

Gideon van Lill of Amathole Forestry explained how they reduced fire damage in their Eastern Cape plantations from 5 894 ha burnt between 1999 to 2004 while it was under Safcol management– to 340 ha burnt between 2005 to 2023 while under Amathole Forests management. The key, he said, was meticulous, detailed risk assessment and a very focused and structured approach to risk reduction. Also improved, co-ordinated involvement of external role players.

Andre Scheepers from Anco Manufacturing displays the new bakkie-sakkie made in SA and equipped with a Husqvarna pump for powerful fast-action firefighting.
Andre Scheepers of Anco Manufacturing talks up the advantages of their 4000 litre high tech firefighting unit which comes complete with all the bells and whistles.
Side-view of the Anco firefighting unit.

PBS trucks

The sudden termination of the highly successful PBS truck pilot project by the Department of Transport in September 2023 - without giving any reasons - has put forestry logistics at the crossroads. The benefits of the PBS timber trucks to growers, to the economy, to the environment and to the safety of road users has been plain to see.

“With freight rail in South Africa failing us, the PBS trucks have saved our lives,” said Francois Oberholzer of Forestry South Africa.

He acknowledged that the ‘Pilot Project’ status of the PBS trucks had to end at some point, and is hopeful that the programme’s termination signalled that the PBS trucks would be absorbed into the legislation so that they can continue to improve the efficiency of road transport.

Francois said that 56% of conventional trucks currently operating on SA’s roads would not pass the PBS safety tests.

Loggers and loaders from Zululand-based Bell Equipment.

Rail

David Taylor of Tailor Rail company expressed his optimism that private sector participation in freight rail in South Africa is coming, but that the stakeholders need to move forward with extreme caution as there are multiple infrastructure and operational challenges.

By the way, 170 metres of cable theft takes place in SA every hour of every day. That is just one of the challenges that freight rail operators will face. Will we see the return of the green uniforms of the Railway Police?

One-pass harvesting

Andrew Cooper of Mondi explained their journey to single-pass harvesting. This has largely been achieved with extensive trial and error and working closely with the manufacturers of harvesting heads.

The aim is to reduce stem processing time, wear and tear on equipment, and stem damage. He reckons that two to four tons of fibre per hectare is lost from excessive stem damage during multiple-pass processing.

The trick is variable pressure control on the rollers which need to be finely tuned to the tree characteristics and conditions at the time of harvesting, coupled with fewer rollers and more knives.

The heads endorsed for one-pass harvesting are:-
• SP 661E
• Waratah H225E
• Log Max E6
• Ponsse H7 Euca

Andrew said that the system balance is critical, and edge trees are a problem for one-pass harvesting.

“The journey to one-pass harvesting is very complicated and difficult to manage, but very worth it in the end,” he said.

Major learning: one size DOES NOT fit all.

Waratah head, mounted on a purpose-built John Deere harvester, is one of the iconic global brands.
New Ponsse head capable of rotating through 360 degrees with members of the local and international Ponsse support team (extreme right) Janne Tarvainen of Ponsse Finland, and second right Chris Odendaal of MTS Parts, principle Ponsse dealer in South Africa, based in Mbombela, Mpumalanga.
The Log Max 10000 XT head for extreme heavy duty logging, attached to a Tigercat tracked harvester, distributed and supported in South Africa by AfrEquip.

Biomass processing

Willem van der Merwe of Africa Biomass Company is a pioneer of chipping, mulching, grinding, shredding and billeting everything from post-harvest forestry slash to prunings, bush clearing and alien vegetation reduction in forestry and agriculture.

He says three hectares of cleared alien vegetation gains enough water savings to irrigate one ha of farmland.

Furthermore, 1.7 tons of good quality woodchips has the same energy value as one ton of coal, and reduces the carbon footprint by 95%.

He says markets for processed biomass material need to be found close by, on farms, in factories and in local small towns where more and more opportunities are opening up.

The big Bandit chipper, dubbed the ‘Beast’, reduced medium-sized pine logs to a neat pile of woodchips with effortless ease. It is operated by Africa Biomass Company.
This is the business end of the Bandit chipper …
SA manufactured Wuhlf 960-2 mulcher put through its paces at the field day by Grant Moodley.

Community-focused carbon project

Candice Taylor of the New Forests Company provided insights into a community-focused carbon project in Uganda which will provide small-scale growers with additional income from carbon credits earned in their operations. One of the objectives of the project is to encourage the small growers not to harvest their trees too early before they reach maturity, which is what they tend to do in an effort to boost their cashflow.

She said the project has taken three years to monetize, and will take five years to break even.

“Carbon shouldn’t be your side business – it should be a part of your core business,” she said.

And finally a word of advice: beware of the ‘carbon cowboys’ … so-called expert consultants who charge a fortune when you can do it yourself with a bit of effort. It’s complex, but it’s not rocket science.

Fanie Viljoen (left) and Jacques van der Watt of George-based Novelquip Forestry with one of their pitting attachments.
Jody Ivins of KZN midlands-based LP Engineering with one of their grabs … they also support Ponsse harvesting equipment in the Midlands.