NCT beefs up Chain of Custody assurance

NCT’s Roger Poole and Eric Msomi inform the growers of the strict new chain-of-custody requirements. (Photo courtesy Mfundo Ngcobo/NCT).

Small-scale tree farming on tribal land in the KZN midlands is alive and well, as evidenced by an enthusiastic turnout at a recent NCT field day at the co-op’s Ahrens timber depot, near Greytown.

This was a combined field day hosted by NCT’s Greytown regional office for growers supplying their timber to the Glenside and Ahrens depots. Around 80 tree farmers from the surrounding areas attended the field day to hear presentations from the NCT forestry team.

The focus of the day was on the need for growers to comply with NCT’s chain-of-custody protocols which are designed to ensure that every stick of timber crossing the weighbridge at the depot is legitimate, can be traced directly back to the grower, and can be verified by NCT head office if required to do so.

The reason for the elevation of chain-of-custody assurance to ‘High Priority’ in this little corner of South Africa is the growing raft of regulations around the world that are designed to prevent any illegal or stolen timber from entering the global supply chain, and more specifically, to stop illegal logging and deforestation.

A well lined out small grower wattle compartment, Ahrens.

European Union Deforestation Regulation

Central to all of this is the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) which came into effect in June 2023. This regulation requires that any product placed on the market or exported from the European Union did not result in deforestation anywhere along the supply chain, and that the products have been grown, harvested or obtained in accordance with the relevant laws of the country where the production took place.

The timber grown by NCT’s small grower members around the KZN midlands and in Zululand is sold as ‘controlled wood’ either directly as wood chips to markets in China and Japan, or to the Sappi-Saiccor mill on the south coast which exports the chemical pulp it produces to markets across the world. The wood chips and pulp are further processed abroad into paper and packaging materials or fabric, much of which inevitably ends up as finished products in the European Union.

The beginning of this global supply chain goes all the way back to every NCT member tree farmer who supplies timber to one of NCT’s depots – including the small-scale growers harvesting tiny one or two ha woodlots in Matimatolo.

The tree farmers took the news about the CoC requirements to heart. (Photo courtesy Mfundo Ngcobo/NCT).

Certified or controlled wood

In fact this regulation impacts upon every single farmer in South Africa that grows and sells timber that is used as raw material in the manufacture of products destined for mainstream global markets. This timber must either be certified by FSC or PEFC – or both – or at the very least must be sold as ‘controlled wood’ with full assurance of the legality of the whole supply chain.

Back to the Ahrens field day where the NCT team spelled out their requirements for purchasing members’ timber delivered to the depot. NCT is busy developing an app that runs on a mobile phone which will assist the growers to provide the essential info required to comply with their chain-of custody assurance. This includes taking and uploading a photo of the timber they have harvested before it leaves their plot on the short haul journey to the NCT depot. A marketer of clothing in Stockholm or Rome might request that photo to verify that the product he is selling has legitimate origins. Failure to be able to trace that timber all the way back to the grower would result in the mill gate being shut in the face of the timber supplier.

Another area of risk for the ‘controlled wood’ requirements of growers is the short haul transport from plantation to depot. Gone are the days when any old vehicle with wheels – licensed or unlicensed – can be used to haul the timber along dusty district roads from plantation to depot. If the vehicle and the driver and the load are not fully legal and legit, it’s game over. The chain of custody is broken and the timber cannot be sold as ‘controlled wood’. The mill gate will be shut once again.

Gone are the days of delivering timber to the depot with transport like this – Zululand circa 2008.

The growers attending the field day took the news about beefing up their chain of custody assurance pretty well. Some had questions around the difficulties they face in arranging suitable short haul transport, or navigating the technology required to use the app. But those are just some of the challenges that are going to have to be overcome if the timber supply chain is to remain intact.

Wattle field day in Eswatini

Wattle growers at the field day networking and watching demo’s of forestry tools.

A successful wattle field day jointly organised by Eswatini-based Montigny Investments and South African-based NTE was held at Mhlambanyatsi in Eswatini recently, attended by around 60 enthusiastic tree farmers and stakeholders.

The aim of the field day was to promote co-operation and networking between stakeholders involved in forestry business across the border, and to share ideas about how to grow and market wattle timber and bark effectively.

Eza Mapipa of NTE said that Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) has good growing conditions for wattle, and that co-operation and collaboration between wattle growers, processors and marketers across the border was important in order to expand the resource into the future. Montigny has vast areas planted to wattle in Eswatini, and there are many small scale wattle growers active there as well, said Eza.

Presentations from invited guests from forestry businesses were followed by a field visit to a Montigny wattle plantation with live demonstrations of latest equipment and methods.

NCT Forestry’s Craig Norris discussed the importance of good land preparation for planting wattle with quality pits and good planting techniques. He also touched on the need for effective after-care and weed control to ensure productive, uniform stands.

Erich Jacobs of Sunshine Seedlings shared info about sourcing good quality planting stock and how to look after the seedlings on their journey from nursery to field. It is crucial to transport them carefully so that seedlings are not damaged in transit. He said they should be kept in a shaded area and watered regularly so they don’t dry out before they are planted.

The Stihl hand-operated earth auger makes good quality, uniform pits for planting trees.

The Stihl team demonstrated the use of a Stihl earth auger for creating uniform pits for planting, and also the effectiveness of the Stihl MS 260 chainsaw that is light but powerful and well suited to forestry work.

Callum McKenzie of Pietermaritzburg-based Silvix Forestry demonstrated the use of various forestry tools including the Faka-Plenty hand-operated planting tube that enables a field worker to put a seedling in the ground and add gel to the pit without having to stoop down, as well as some highly effective spraying tools for effective weed control.

Callum McKenzie of Silvix Forestry demonstrates a hand-held sprayer connected to a specially designed backpack for effective weed control.

Cliff Walton of NCT shared info about Project Wattle Regen, a joint NCT and NTE programme that provides support to small-scale wattle growers in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. These growers supply their timber to NCT and the wattle bark to the NTE factory at Hermannsburg.

William Aherin, Industrial Manager at NTE, provided some info on the wattle bark market, while Eza Mapipa shared insights on corrective pruning of young wattle trees to maximise growth and tree form. He also demonstrated the correct way to bundle wattle bark for transporting to the NTE bark factory at Iswepe just outside Piet Retief in South Africa.

Eza Mapipa of NTE demonstrates the correct way to bundle wattle bark for transporting to the bark factory.

Eza explained that the bark should be delivered as fresh as possible, preferably within 24 hours of harvesting. The bark should also be securely bundled with the white inner bark facing inwards so it is protected from exposure to the sun and weather. This will ensure top quality fresh bark that fetches a premium price.

Linking small-scale wattle growers to market

Stihl technical training officer Phawu Silosini explains the benefits of the BT230 Earth Augur to the small growers at the NCT field day at Glenside.

The NCT forestry team hosted two field days for small-scale growers in the KZN midlands at their Glenside and Ahrens depots in March.

These depots play a crucial role in the timber business of the small-scale growers as they are located close to the growing areas thus requiring a relatively short haul from field to depot. The NCT team weighs the in-coming timber, schedules the payment to the grower and arranges the long haul transport from the depot to the NCT chipping facility at Richards Bay.

The purpose of these field days is to familiarise the growers with the timber specs required, to provide the latest info about different aspects of planting, tending and harvesting, and to encourage the growers to network among themselves and interact with the NCT team.

Fisokuhle Ngcobo explains the benefits of correct spacing in this wattle compartment at his homestead in Matimatolo. Fisokuhle and his wife Nomthandazo Hlombe were NCT’s Small-Scale Tree Farmers of the Year in 2021. They manage six ha of wattle and supply NCT’s Ahrens depot.

NCT forester Eric Msomi explained the most common timber defects that the depot will not accept. These include:-
• Undersized (less than 50 mm diameter) and oversized (more than 500 mm diameter) timber
• Wrong length - the depot requires 2.4 metre lengths
• Crooked and bent timber
• Timber that has been poorly de-branched or de-barked
• Burnt timber and timber that has started decomposing
• Timber that is contaminated with stones, rubble, metal or other debris
• Timber too fresh – ideally timber should be delivered to depot from around three weeks after harvesting.

One grower raised the issue of timber theft and wondered why he can’t deliver his harvested timber to the depot immediately after harvesting, as the longer it lies around in the plantation the greater is the risk of it being stolen. Eric explained that freshly cut timber is too wet to handle, and also because NCT sells its wood chips as bone dry tons and so it must be weighed at least three weeks after harvesting when the moisture content is sufficiently reduced.

It was suggested that growers could mark their timber with a green dye after harvesting so that it can be identified as belonging to an NCT member, which may discourage the timber thieves.

Timber loading at NCT’s Glenside depot, KZN midlands.

Another issue that came up for discussion at the Ahrens depot field day was the challenges that growers face of getting their timber to the depot. It seems that there is a shortage of reliable transport available for the small-scale growers in these tribal areas to haul their timber from field to depot. This has been an on-going problem as the loads are often quite small and the growers don’t have suitable transport of their own, so they are reliant upon informal, local transporters when available.

Eric also explained to the growers the importance of accurate record keeping in order to verify the origin of all timber delivered to the depot. He explained that the timber is sold as ‘Controlled Wood’ and so the ‘Chain of Custody’ – the timber’s journey from plantation to market - has to be tracked and verified as legal and proper.

The STIHL SA team were on hand to demonstrate the use of their range of equipment designed to improve the productivity of small-scale timber growers and farmers. These included the following:-
• WP230 water pump – easy to move around by hand, ideal for pumping water into an irrigation ditch or water tank, moves up to 250 litres per minute.
• BT230 Earth Auger – drills perfect holes in the ground for building or fence poles and is ideal for creating uniform pits for planting.
• SG230 Sprayer – delivers powerful spray capacity ideal for plantations or small farms.
• MS260 Chainsaw … this little baby is designed for felling, de-branching and cross-cutting small timber. It’s light, powerful and reliable.

All of this equipment is available at STIHL dealerships around the country.

A Stihl team member demonstrates the correct method of sharpening the saw chain using a proper Stihl chain sharpening kit. It’s quick and easy once you know how and should be done every time you stop working to fill the machine with petrol. That way the saw is always sharp, more fuel-efficient and easier to handle.

The Eradispray team, based in Pietermaritzburg, demonstrated the use of their Faka-Plenty hand-operated tree seedling tube planter as well as various tools for doing chemical sprays before and after planting to eliminate weeds. These sprayers are attached to special backpacks that are designed for comfort and meet Mondi’s health and safety requirements for contractors working on their plantations.

The tree farmers supplying both if these depots are primarily growing wattle timber which is in big demand among NCT customers around the world. Wattle timber is also used extensively by the local people as building poles and for fences etc. The farmers in this region are also fortunate in that they can sell fresh wattle bark to the bark factories operating close by, which provides them with additional revenue at harvest time.

Callum McKenzie of Eradispray demonstrates the Faka-Plenty manual planting tube which enables the planter to plant effectively without having to stoop down and get his or her hands in the soil – and a sore back.

Wattle growers share experiences


Foresters from NTE and NCT hosted a field day for an enthusiastic group of small-scale wattle growers at NCT’s Ahrens depot near Greytown in the KZN midlands recently.

During the workshop a number of growers who are participating in Project Wattle Regen shared the knowledge and experiences that they have gained over the past few years through their participation in the programme. These talks were followed by a field visit to two of the growers’ wattle plantations in the nearby Matimatolo tribal area.

Project Wattle Regen is a joint venture initiative between NTE and NCT that was launched in 2018 in the Greytown area. It is focused on the growing of wattle which is a popular tree crop with local people as it has many uses around their smallholder farms and two established nearby markets in the form of NCT, which purchases the timber for pulp, and NTE which purchases fresh wattle bark for processing at their Hermannsburg bark factory

The primary aim of the initiative is to promote sustainable forestry in co-operation with small-scale wattle timber growers, to increase managed hectares of wattle plantations and thereby facilitate the development of small growers to optimize their business potential and management.

According to Cliff Walton of NCT and Eza Mapipa of NTE, who are working closely together to drive the project, there has been growing interest among their members to plant wattle in a sustainable fashion and to increase the productivity of their woodlots. The Project Wattle Regen participants, who currently number 21, receive technical advice and support, free, improved wattle seedlings and herbicide and insecticide for planting, as well as market access for the timber and bark that they produce.

Participation in Project Wattle Regen is open to growers who meet the following requirements:-
• Ownership and permission to occupy and plant the land endorsed by the representative Tribal Authority in writing.
• The area has to have been previously planted to trees.
• A fence of kinds has to be erected to protect the planted seedlings from cattle, goats etc.
• The owner of the land has to be a full member of both NTE and NCT and have a supply history.
• All labour costs are carried by the landowner

Assistance provided to the participating growers includes: -
• Technical support
• Chemicals to do a pre-plant spray (weedicide and insecticide)
• Wattle seedlings

In the spring of 2018, the first plantings began in the Ntembsweni Tribal area and these efforts have since expanded to Matimatolo and beyond. Roughly 6 – 8 ha has been established yearly and there are 21 individual participants, some of whom have established more than one wattle woodlot.

Planting has ideally taken place at the optimum time from November through to January when the rain is generally good. All planting is done with one litre of water into manually prepared pits with a dimension of 25cm x 25cm and 25cm deep.

The idea of the workshop and field days was to encourage participants to work closer together and share their experiences with each other, thus paving the way for building a more sustainable base of wattle growers in these tribal areas. This in turn translates into a more stable bark and timber resource for NTE and NCT.

Transport was highlighted several times as a major problem experienced by the growers. One of the growers, Mrs Z Bhengu, said she now had her own truck and was already talking to some of the other participants about how she could assist them to get their bark and timber to market.

Mr Gwala also spoke about the poor condition of the district roads in their area and the problem with road drainage. He appealed to the participants to make sure their roads on their property were well constructed and drained properly. He mentioned that he had created a drain parallel to his property to drain off excess runoff from the district road so that it did not cut through his property, and this was working well. 

Mrs T Masikane, a wattle grower and former board member of NTE, pointed out a number of advantages that the local growers enjoy regarding the supply of wattle bark to NTE. She said that the Hermannsburg bark factory is situated just 20 kms from Matimatolo, so the close proximity of the market is an advantage. Also, she said that the NTE factory is flexible to accommodate small-scale wattle growers who come in late during the season to request bark allocation. The bark season traditionally runs from September through to the end of May.

The growers have also been taken on a factory tour so now they know more about the manufacturing process and the products that their bark is used to produce, and they understand how the quality of the bark they deliver impacts on the final product. 

A number of the participants said that the indoor workshop session was of great value as they were able to share ideas and experiences, and there was a general call to have more frequent workshops in future.