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.

Turning wood into animal feed

Sappi’s lignin-based Pelletin product is a key ingredient of animal feeds.


Lignin, a major component of wood and an abundant organic polymer, provides a multitude of functions especially in the industrial and agricultural sectors. Sourced from the wood pulping process as a side stream, Sappi SA uses it to produce Pelletin, a lignin-based additive in animal feed manufacturing.

Pelletin, which is produced at Sappi’s Tugela Mill, is used in the preparation of animal feeds as a binding agent that replaces oil-based binders.

Sappi has recently achieved GMP+ Feed Safety Assurance certification for Pelletin, which is an internationally recognised program for feed safety management.

Extracting valuable lignin from wood pulp.

“Sappi’s certification gives Pelletin a competitive edge in the global lignin market, as it demonstrates its compliance with the highest standards of quality assurance and risk management in the animal feed industry,” says Jason Knock, general manager, Lignin for Sappi Southern Africa. This is vital for the health and welfare of livestock and the safety of food products derived from them, as well as the issue of food security in the country, he says.

Lignin, which is recovered from the pulping process of paper and board manufacturing, is becoming an increasingly important natural alternatives for oil-based products, and is a prime example of the growing bioeconomy.

Plantation trees provide the primary resource for a growing array of wood-based products from structural timber, poles, planks and boards to clothing fabric and animal food additives.

“As a technical lignin, Pelletin primarily functions as a binder in the production of compound animal feeds and acts as a natural glue that binds the feed ingredients and additives together. This makes for a cost-effective compound feed pellet with enhanced durability and strength,” says Jason.

The combined anti-caking and dispersing properties of the product promote mixing uniformity and homogenous blending of all feed ingredients, acting as an effective lubricant reducing friction in the pelleting process, as well as reducing wear and tear on the manufacturing equipment.

Lignin is a major component of wood, extracted during the pulping process.

Finding biodiversity in timber plantations

Eucalyptus plantation set back from riparian area, Karkloof.

Finding a balance between wood fibre production while conserving biodiversity and minimising environmental impacts is the big challenge facing the forestry industry all over the world. In South Africa it has a particular significance because almost all timber production comes from planted forests established in the wetter grassland areas located along the escarpment and eastern coastal plains.

These plantations, which occupy some 1% of South Africa’s land area, play a vital role in providing the primary raw material for a wide range of products from paper and packaging to structural timber, veneers, boards, fabric and charcoal, to name but a few. The forestry and forest products industry generates 10.4% of South Africa’s agricultural GDP and 4.5% of manufacturing GDP, creating 105 600 direct jobs and 43 500 indirect jobs in the process.

Crucially, these plantations have made it possible to protect the natural forests in South Africa from over-logging by providing the wood fibre needs of the growing population. Many of the plantations in this country were established by government specifically for this purpose.

But the loss of biodiversity which underpins life on earth and the ecosystem services upon which we depend, is a massive red flag for every country in the world, South Africa included. As populations increase more land is transformed from its natural state, and inevitably, the biodiversity supported by those natural systems is negatively impacted.

Sappi Forests Environmental Manager Hlengiwe Ndlovu (left) leads the way across a grassland conservation area at the top of the Karkloof mountains. It is located on Sappi’s Lebanon plantation, and borders with the indigenous forest in the Karkloof Nature Reserve.

This places a heavy responsibility on land managers to proceed cautiously when biodiversity, ecosystem services and the health of the entire natural environment is at stake.

So how do we continue to provide the wood fibre raw materials that we need from alien tree plantations that have transformed natural grassland, while at the same time conserving biodiversity? This was the focus of a recent visit by key staff members from SA National Biodiversity Institute, Department Forestry, Fisheries & Environment, Forestry South Africa and Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa, to Sappi’s plantations in the Karkloof in the KZN Midlands.

What followed was a fascinating journey from the comfort of the Karkloof Country Club (and a delicious cappuccino) to a natural grassland in the middle of Lebanon plantation at the top of the rugged Karkloof mountains; to the 160 ha Shafton-Kusane wetland surrounded by forestry, dairy and sugar farms; to the magnificent Karkloof Falls where the Karkloof river plunges 105 meters into a gorge before joining the Umgeni river which provides the primary water resource for several million people downstream.

Sappi Forests Environmental Manager Hlengiwe Ndlovu and Sappi’s former Environmental Manager (now retired) and Chairperson of the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme, Dave Everard, provided fascinating insights into the company’s strategy to achieve this elusive balance.

The Karkloof falls, a popular picnic spot, is at the centre of an impressive network of mountain bike and hiking trails.

Water

The thread that stitched this journey together was the water that trickles out of the springs and seeps at the top of the catchment. It makes its merry way along countless streams, through wetlands, natural forest patches, plantations, grasslands and farms, gathering momentum as it goes before entering the mighty Umgeni River which provides life-giving water for millions of people all the way to the coast. The water’s journey serves to emphasize the connectedness of the landscape, the fact that how we use the land in one place ultimately affects the health of the land everywhere.

Key to understanding Sappi’s - and indeed much of forestry’s approach – was the patchwork nature of the landscape. From the top of the Karkloof mountain we could see that the plantations stretching across the valley below were not contiguous wall-to-wall trees. There were open grassland corridors between the tree patches, along the rivers and around the wetlands and the steep, rocky outcrops. These open areas constitute around one third of the forestry company’s landholding, and are proactively managed for conservation purposes.

The way these open, unplanted areas are connected to each other, to the wetlands, high conservation value areas and natural forest patches in the landscape, plays a crucial role in their effectiveness as biodiversity enablers. If well planned out and managed, timber estates can therefore become ‘green corridors’ that allow the free movement of plants and animals, thereby supporting biodioversity in the landscape.

The group that attended the Biodiversity in Forestry field day arranged by the Paper Manufacturers Association of SA (PAMSA) and Forestry South Africa (FSA) and hosted by Sappi Forests at their Karkloof plantations. Left to right: Dave Everard (Chairperson of the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme), Hlengiwe Ndlovu (Sappi Forests Environmental Manager), Julie Borland (R & D consultant, PAMSA), Alex Marsh (SANBI), Jane Molony (Executive Director, PAMSA), Jennifer Zungu (SANBI), John Scotcher (Environmental consultant, FSA), Tshifiwa Ramatshimbila (Director Woodlands & Indigenous Forests, DFFE) and Trudy Sebelebele (Forest Certification Manager, Sappi).

Grassland

The grassland we visited at the top of the mountain was a kaleidoscope of different grasses, forbs and bulbs thanks to the fact that it has been protected from excessive livestock grazing, and periodically burnt to mimic nature and promote biodiversity. Encroaching alien vegetation has been kept at bay.

Directly below the grassland an indigenous forest blankets the steep slopes of the mountain. This forms part of the 3 275 ha Karkloof Nature Reserve which includes 198 ha of Sappi owned land, land leased out by several other private landowners as well as land purchased by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Although the forest was heavily logged back in the day, it has remained undisturbed for half a century and harbours a huge array of birds and animals, plant and tree species including the magnificent yellowwoods and stinkwoods. It lies within the upper catchments of the uMgeni and uThukela rivers which are of crucial strategic importance in supplying water to millions of downstream users.

Undisturbed grassland conservation area in between Lebanon plantation and the indigenous forest of the Karkloof Nature Reserve.

Wetland

The Shafton-Kusane wetland is situated in the centre of the Karkloof valley, and fulfils a vital function of capturing, storing, filtering and slowing down the water that drains out of the mountains. It covers an area of 160 ha and was ranked as highest priority in terms of broad regional conservation priorities and opportunities for providing key goods and services. Sappi has pulled its trees back to expand and protect the wetland, and does on-going invasive alien weed control. They’re also busy upgrading all the stream crossings above the wetland to ensure the water flows freely and unimpeded.

The Karkloof river meanders through the 160 ha Shafton-Kusane wetland before plunging over the Karkloof falls.

Karkloof trails

Below the wetland the river enters forest land again, and then plunges over the spectacular Karkloof waterfall. Here we encounter a different side of forestry. This is the focal point of one of the country’s best known trail networks. There are 250 kms of carefully curated single track trails and forestry roads snaking through plantations, grassland corridors and conservation areas, used by mountain bikers, runners and hikers from far and wide who come here to savour what the beautiful KZN midlands has to offer. There is also a well-kept picnic area for day visitors who just want to unwind and enjoy the scenery.

Providing safe public access to these forests and trails is part of Sappi’s social commitment to promote eco-tourism and the local economy.

In the midst of all this, Sappi needs to operate an efficient and productive forestry operation that sustains jobs and keeps shareholders and stakeholders happy.

The Biodiversity field trip ended at the picturesque picnic spot located in the middle of a Sappi plantation, with the magnificent Karkloof Falls as the backdrop.

Biodiversity

Sappi has partnered with organisations such as the SA National Biodiversity Institute and WWF, as well as other plantation owners through Forestry South Arica, to mainstream biodiversity into the forest sector. This includes ambitious catchment management projects that extend beyond their own borders as well as the stewardship programme which facilitates the proclamation of nature reserves and protected areas on forestry land.

Sappi maintains 160 important conservation areas, including seven nature reserves, on its plantation lands in South Africa.

This work includes on-going water quality assessments and monitoring, integrated weed management plans and maintaining and enhancing soil function, a crucial component of sustainable forest management.

Forestry in South Africa is regarded as a streamflow reduction activity, and is regulated and controlled by a raft of legislation. New afforestation is restricted to catchments where spare water is available. The total planted forestry area has actually shrunk over the past 10 years or so, and is unlikely to be expanded in the foreseeable future. Plantations range in size from several thousand-hectare estates all the way down to tiny, one or two hectare plots grown by small-scale farmers located in tribal areas.

Like any crop, growing trees use water, but they use it efficiently in the production of wood fibre, a key natural resource that is renewable, sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and – unlike a material like plastic - leaves behind zero waste. Commercial forestry plantations in South Africa account for some 3% of total water use, according to an Overview of the SA Water Sector, published by the Department of Water & Sanitation. Plantations are not irrigated – they only intercept rainfall, which reduces runoff into rivers and streams. By way of comparison, agriculture/irrigation utilises 60% of total water resources in South Africa.

View of the Karkloof valley from the top of the mountains showing patches of indigenous forest, farm land and plantations.

Moreover the forest sector uses very little chemical weedicides and pesticides, the use of which are also heavily regulated by certification bodies.

So how much biodiversity can thrive in this typical patchwork plantation environment?

During 10 birding events held on Sappi plantation land in the KZN midlands between 1997 and 2007, a total of 455 bird species were recorded. A camera trap survey during the same period yielded 30 mammal species. These included jackal, caracal, civet, genet, serval, porcupine, mongoose, aardwolf, badger, otter, samango monkey, baboon, warthog, bushpig, reedbuck, bushbuck and duiker. Several sightings of leopard have also been recorded in plantations around KZN and Mpumalanga.

These sightings indicate that timber plantations – when properly managed – can play an important role in protecting and enhancing biodiversity.

A trickle of water threads through Shafton plantation at the picnic spot above the Karkloof Falls.

Last word

“Given that plantations are effectively green corridors that facilitate movement throughout the region, it is entirely possible that a land-sparing approach combining large patches of grassland in a mosaic with intensively used plantation patches provides the best compromise to produce the required volumes of wood while preserving meaningful biodiversity outside of formally protected areas.” This summation was provided by Michelle Pretorius and Justin O’Riain of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town, and Kirsten Wimberger of the Wild Bird Trust, in an article titled ‘Preserving large tracts of natural grassland promotes mammal species richness and occurrence in afforested areas’, published in the Forest Ecology & Management journal.

*Images & video by Samora Chapman

FORESTRY JOB OPPORTUNITY

Job opportunity for a young, vibrant Forester who is suitably qualified, experienced and meets the following requirements:

• Physically fit
• At least 5 years of experience in a harvesting operation
• 3-5 years of experience working with mechanical harvesting equipment
• Be able to Plan, Lead, Organise and Control staff
• Work with little to no supervision
• Must be willing to adopt a "hands on" approach
• Must be willing to travel to various rural areas and be willing to work longer than normal hours
• Must be willing to work night shifts when required

Minimum Requirements
• Completed Degree or Diploma in Forestry would be advantageous, but not critical if the candidate has relevant experience
• 3-5 years of experience working with Microsoft Office
• Ability to communicate in isiZulu or isiXhosa
• Unendorsed Driver’s License, Minimum Code 08 / B
• Clear criminal record
• Traceable references

In return, the company offers a competitive package and a company vehicle.

Applicants to email CVs to chris@saforestryonline.co.za.

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.

Young Limpopo sawmiller on the move

The LT70 Remote ploughing through a 6 m pine log.

Pieter van der Linde, a young entrepreneur from Polokwane in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, bought his first sawmill at age 18 with the savings his parents had earmarked for him to further his studies. Instead he decided to use the money to start his own business.

“I love the outdoors and timber, which made the decision simple,” Pieter says. He ploughed the cash into his first Wood-Mizer LT15, and Duva Timbers was born.

Duva’s initial focus was sawn pallet components that went to pallet manufacturers, but Pieter soon spotted an opportunity to expand his product line to supply structural timber to the lucrative local construction and roofing market. However this required more equipment - and staff.

A straightforward through-and-through cutting pattern with flitches with wane exiting both LT70s and transferred to the EG800 with minimal manual inputs.
Final-size product exiting the EG800 Edger/Multirip.

A Wood-Mizer EG300 Board Edger and a second Wood-Mizer LT15 came first. Then a Wood-Mizer LT70 Remote that boosted output and improved recovery, followed by a second LT70 Remote in 2019.

A Wood-Mizer EG800 Edger/Multirip came next in 2020 to streamline the production process further.

The remote configuration of the LT70 drew Pieter’s attention. The remote operator station makes it easy to control all the functions needed to process the 6 to 6.6 m logs into boards with wane in an efficient, fast and automated way. Minimal labour is needed to move the board to the EG800 edger where final sizes are cut.

The EG800 is a robust manual edging and multirip solution for small and medium-sized sawmills. When configured as a multirip the single arbor EG800 can process flitches up to 900 mm wide and 110 mm high. The sawmilling process allows for a simple and slick through-and-through cutting pattern that sees flitches with wane exiting both LT70s, and the EG800 processing them into accurately sawn boards.

The uptick in production opened markets for Duva Timbers across Limpopo. Duva sells air-dried structural timber in all popular sizes to hardware stores across the province and to walk-in customers and custom orders delivered to clients by Duva’s own trucks.

Duva Timbers product ready for market.
Duva’s own truck fleet hauls roundlogs to the sawmill and finished product to customers.

An improved recovery process has also seen Duva moving back into the pallet component market.

The next step in creating a truly sustainable business was to purchase a timber farm situated on the slopes of the Wolkberg outside timber-rich Tzaneen.

The timing couldn’t have been better. With ongoing timber shortages being experienced in the region, Pieter is able to supplement his log shortfalls at the sawmill from his own farm. This has enabled Duva Timbers to increase market share, and to have more confidence in the future of the business..

Pieter credits his staff for much of his success.

“Their support is my strength,” he says.

Duva Timbers’ own farm provides crucial raw material security.
Pieter van der Linde, CEO of Duva Timbers.


New generation contractor makes his mark

Sabelo Sithole of New Age Forest Solutions.

At just 30-years-old, Sabelo Sithole is at the forefront of a new generation of forestry contractors servicing Mondi South Africa. Sabelo is the Managing Director of New Age Forest Solutions, a new harvesting business launched in 2021, which has secured a five-year harvesting contract for the Zululand area.

Sabelo’s journey in forestry has been deeply connected to Mondi from the start. During high school, he attended Protec, an extra-curricular maths and science programme that gives academic support to under-resourced rural schools. This programme has long been supported by Mondi, and Sabelo rose to the fore as one of his school’s top academic achievers. He was identified as a candidate for the Mondi Bursary Programme and made a successful application in 2012.

“To be honest I didn’t know anything about forestry,” admits Sabelo with a shy smile as he walks through a shady plantation in Zululand. Sabelo stops at the harvesting operation to check in on one of his Hitachi machines, which is cutting through a Eucalyptus compartment with great speed and precision. Here he continues his story…

“The first thing you do after receiving the bursary is go to a Mondi operation for work experience. This lasts a whole year and it’s really tough!” he remembers. “You do everything from general labour to planting, establishment, tending and harvesting … that’s where I started to know about forestry, to experience every different kind of work.”

From there, Sabelo went to study forestry at Nelson Mandela University’s George campus, where he completed a three-year National Diploma in Forestry. After graduating, he joined SiyaQhubeka Forests, and worked as both a harvesting and silviculture forester. It was harvesting that stole his heart.

“I decided to leave SQF and join a harvesting contractor so that I could specialise,” explains Sabelo. “The machines really fascinated me. I spent four and a half years at the harvesting contractor. Then I started my own business.”

Excavator equipped with a Ponsse head busy harvesting for Mondi in Zululand.

Sabelo was always looking for opportunities to grow, and he kept an eye on the regular contracting opportunities being advertised by Mondi and SQF. He began working on a business plan and registered his company New Age Forest Solutions in 2021.

“Working with a contractor helped me understand the business side of forestry. I started my business as the only employee – I was doing everything myself. When I won the Mondi harvesting contract last year, I had to hit the ground running!”

Sabelo takes a look at a stack of freshly cut timber. He is happy with the neatly stripped and stacked logs. The soft-spoken young forester is brand new to business, but he has 10 years of operational experience, which puts him in a good position to guide the company.

“From the moment I made the successful bid on the contract, Mondi Zimele has assisted me every step of the way,” he goes on. “They believed in me and my vision for the business.”

Mondi Zimele, which is Mondi’s enterprise development unit, provided 60% of the start-up funding in the form of a soft loan and helped Sabelo consolidate his business plan so he could apply for further funding.

It took a few months to put a team together and acquire the assets needed to start the work.

In order to meet the contract of 140 000 tonnes per annum, Sabelo needed two harvesters, a forwarder and a loader. He went for Hitachi excavators fitted with Ponsse H7 harvesting heads, a forwarder with a Matriarch grapple and a Bell loader. Once his forestry equipment was in place and his team was mobilized, he commenced work in May last year. It was a dream come true.

The Bell loader, workhorse of the harvesting operation.

The Mondi perspective
Cindy Mji is the Mondi Zimele Business Development Manager responsible for the Zululand area. She has been engaging with Sabelo from the time he won the contract.

“Supporting Mondi contractors has many benefits,” she explains as she sits on the back of a bakkie with Sabelo, while the harvester hums in the distance. “Developing new contractors is important for job creation and economic development, which helps to build healthy communities in the forestry footprint. But it is also crucial that we empower up-and-coming contractors to ensure the sustainability of the supply chain for Mondi,” she explains.

“This is part of Mondi’s broader strategy to develop new contractors in the forestry space. The strategy prioritizes transformation and succession planning. Being a young black forester, Sabelo was the perfect candidate, and he has a bright future in the business,” she concludes.

Sabelo adds that the business development support encourages continuous improvement, growth and development. Cindy has helped him set out short, medium and long term goals that go beyond the scope of the Mondi contract.

Excavator equipped with a Ponsse head busy harvesting for Mondi in Zululand.

“MZ helps you to be a visionary,” Sabelo says with a smile.

“Although we are just beginning our journey, I am very excited and proud of our achievements. We have 20 employees, and four machines running 24/7. That’s 20 families that are benefitting from this work. We are looking to add more employees and grow the business even further.”

Story and photos by Samora Chapman

National Minimum Wage beats inflation - again

A National Minimum Wage of R27.58 per hour – effective from 1st March 2024 - has been announced by the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi.

This represents a CPI + 3% increase in minimum wage, and follows a CPI + 2% increase in 2023.

This minimum wage applies to all workers in South Africa across all economic sectors – including farm/forestry workers as well as domestic workers.

The 2024 Minimum Wage means that workers in South Africa will be paid R 220.64 for a normal eight-hour day, and R 1 103.20 for a 40-hour week.

The only exceptions are:-
• Workers employed on Expanded Public Works programmes for whom the minimum wage for 2024 has been set at R15.16 per hour;
• Workers employed under Learnership agreements in terms of the Skills Development Act.

Predictably, the increase has been met with a chorus of criticism from business who claim that an above CPI wage increase is counter-productive in the current economic climate. The gist of the argument is that it will simply exacerbate unemployment as many small, medium and micro businesses will either cut their staff numbers or find other ways of reducing their wages bills, which will impact negatively on bottom rung employees at the end of the day.

Bigger businesses will in all likelihood continue to mechanise their operations and use technology innovation to reduce staff overheads. The end result will be fewer, skilled people employed at higher rates. Where does this leave unskilled school leavers seeking entry level employment in South Africa?

Many small scale tree farmers operating on communal land will not be able to afford the minimum wage, and so they will remain outside of the formal ‘legal’ economy and will continue to conduct their businesses on the economic fringes.

Commented Gerhard Papenfus of the National Employers’ Association of SA: ‘The National Minimum Wage Commission ignored the input of numerous business institutions and trade unions who warned of the dire consequences of implementing further increases, the calls for the scrapping of the National Minimum Wage, and simply proceeded with recommending the implementation of its own original proposals. The manner in which the NMWC reached its conclusion, once again, illustrates the futility of the public participation process leading up to their eventual recommendation.’

The National Minimum Wage Act does make provision for an employer or employer organisation acting on behalf of its members to apply to the Department of Employment and Labour for exemption from the NMW. This is a loophole that may yield some relief for hard-pressed employers who can demonstrate that their businesses simply can’t afford the current minimum wage, but the admin involved will be daunting.

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