Phillip Mpangela – guardian of the KwaMbo forests

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

Story and photos: Samora Chapman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SA Forestry 2021 Annual published

SA Forestry’s 2021 Annual printed edition has been published. This 80-page glossy publication covers the forestry industry from seedling to mill, and includes reviews of the year in forestry as well as analysis, trends and innovation in the industry that provides the primary raw materials for countless downstream processors and manufacturers.

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Logset forestry equipment makes its South African debut

The Logset TH75 Eucalyptus Head made its South African debut in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg recently. The head, developed in South America for fast and efficient Eucalyptus harvesting and de-barking, is manufactured in Finland by Logset, manufacturers of a full range of forestry harvesting equipment.

Logset has signed a dealer agreement with Green Projects that will see the KwaZulu-Natal-based company market and sell Logset harvesters, forwarders and harvesting heads across Southern Africa. Green Projects will provide a full range of after sales service, parts, maintenance and repairs to Logset customers in the region.

“We are honoured to represent Logset in our territory,” commented Green Projects MD Frank Uzzell. “The Logset products are robust and productive, and are well suited to meet our customers’ needs.”

“We are excited to start working with Green Projects. They have vast experience in selling forest machinery and therefore they are the perfect partner to bring the Logset brand to Africa,” commented Logset CEO Tommi Ekman.

Logset offers a comprehensive range of cut-to-length harvesting equipment including seven harvesters, seven forwarders and seven harvesting heads.

Of particular interest in the Logset stable is the 8H GTE Hybrid harvester. It sports an electric motor that is integrated with the machine’s diesel engine, providing an additional boost of up to 104 kW of power when the machine is under pressure during peak loads. This technology enables the diesel engine to operate at a constant pace which results in fuel savings of up to 25%, claim the manufacturers.

Frank says that in addition to the harvesters, the forwarders will offer harvesting contractors a big advantage, and that clam bunk versions of the forwarders have generated a lot of local interest already.

Green Projects has brought in the Logset TH 75 head which is mounted on an excavator and is busy doing demo’s in the KZN midlands and Drakensberg areas for growers and harvesting contractors.

The Logset TH75 was developed specifically for use in Eucalyptus harvesting in Brazil and is well adapted to local conditions in South Africa, says Frank.

The SA Forestry team saw the head working in a E. nitens compartment in the Drakensberg recently. It was also adept doing thinnings in a nearby pine compartment.

Logset was established in Finland in 1992, and currently operates in 25 countries around the world. Its first harvester was the 500H which was launched at the famous Elmia Wood Fair in Sweden in 1993. A few years later Logset launched its first forwarder, and started manufacturing heads in 2011.

The hybrid harvester was introduced in 2016, the first machine of its kind in the world.

Comparing community forestry in South Africa and Tanzania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*Mpingo Community Development Initiative:

**Published in June 2014