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.

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.

Waratah unleashes new H216 head

Waratah Forestry Equipment has unveiled the H216 - a versatile new two-roller head added to its 200 series lineup. Built for hardwood, the H216 is strong enough to handle the toughest tree forms with accuracy and efficiency. Its simple design with excellent feed power, delimbing, and large cut capacity provide productive tree harvesting.

“The H216 is specially designed for hardwood,” said Brent Fisher, product marketing manager for Waratah. “This head not only provides our customers reliable performance in hardwood but is equally capable of handling softwood, debarking and everything in between.”

Weighing in at 1495 kg (3,296 lb.), this 200 Series head features a two-roller design ideal for hardwood harvesting, late or final thinnings. Floating roller arms allow for superior and easy tree horizontal movement and easy log transport through the head. High performance single or multi-speed options keep timber moving quickly.

The H216 features the efficient SuperCut 100S saw unit with improved auto tensioning and easier servicing. With large sawing capacity, this head can cut logs up to 750 mm (29.5 in.) in diameter, while an optional top saw tackles heavy branching. The delimb arms provide excellent delimbing power across all diameter ranges, while drive wheel options offer maximum traction for crooked wood. The H216 harvester head utilizes the TimberRite™ H-16 control system for optimum head performance, productivity and measuring accuracy.

Durable & versatile

The H216 is built to tackle the toughest, crooked timber to the straightest postwood and everything in between. While also naturally capable in softwood, debarking or multi-tree handling, this head is designed for efficiency and agility in thinning and harvesting applications with quick cycle times.

A heavy-duty main chassis saw box, as well as tilt frame and guarding, provide added protection and reliability. Maintenance is simplified through one position daily servicing and easy open/close hinges on the valve cover.

According to Jules Larsen, Waratah General Manager Distribution and Operations, the H216 will be available from the factory in November this year.

Jules says the head will be well suited for African conditions with its flexibility across many different applications.

Waratah heads are distributed and supported in Southern Africa by Mascor, Forestry Plant & Equipment and Afgri Equipmant.

For more info visit: www.waratah.com

NEW PEST ALERT

In Jan 2024 a new pest was discovered to be attacking Acacia mearnsii trees in KZN. It has been identified as a weevil, Melanterius species...

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

Time to build with timber

Sawn timber, a locally grown, sustainable resource, provides the raw material for the construction of timber frame buildings using cutting edge cross-laminated-timber technology to lock in carbon and minimise environmental impacts.

How engineered wood can decarbonise the South African built environment …
by Roy Southey, Executive Director, Sawmilling South Africa

Our planet is faced with both an environmental crisis and housing crisis. There is, however, a sector that is overlooked as a viable, renewable and long-term solution to climate change and urbanisation.

Having recently attended the annual Wood Conference in Cape Town, I was inspired to hear and see how timber is being used successfully in the built environment, not just in the northern hemisphere but also on home soil. From modern homes in an off-the-grid community in Mogale City to a learning centre in the Drakensberg, from a new home in Knysna or a rooftop extension to a Johannesburg home to the Green Point Education dome in Cape Town.

At the mention of wood, your mind’s eye might only be able to conjure an image of a log cabin or “wendy house”, or perhaps a roof truss or timber flooring. It’s unlikely that you imagined a multi-storey building made from cross laminated timber (CLT), a type of engineered wood for mass timber construction.

You’re forgiven, considering that less than 1% of new South African houses use timber as the primary construction material. By comparison, some 90% of new houses in New Zealand are made of timber.

As a sector trying to promote the adoption of mass timber, we are faced with a long-held belief that brick-and-mortar is the only way to build homes, schools and clinics. There are many misconceptions, not least of which being strength, durability, fire safety, and cost. Many people view wood as rudimentary or weak.

Mass timber uses technological advancements to engineer wood to have a stronger strength-to-weight ratio. In the case of CLT, thin layers of timber are laid crossways before being bonded and compressed together.

It’s been said that wood isn’t manufactured, it grows. From a South African perspective, the wood is sourced from sustainably managed tree plantations.

Pine timber grown by AC Whitcher in the Western Cape … it’s time has come.

The forest products sector is the only one to have the trifecta of green solutions when it comes to the carbon sequestration by trees in managed forests, carbon storage in its products and the substitution of carbon-intensive materials with wood-based products.

The construction sector accounts for 35-40% of global energy related CO2 emissions, with a large proportion (embodied emissions) attributable to the extraction, processing and energy-intensive manufacturing of building products. The other main source is operational emissions from heating, cooling and power generation.

Timber boasts a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to traditional building materials like concrete and steel. Timber also maintains a carbon-negative status throughout its lifecycle, from initial production to disposal, and it sequesters more carbon than it emits during processing and installation.

Our colleagues at the Stellenbosch University, Prof Brand Wessels and Dr Philip Crafford have published various pieces of research, highlighting the advantages of increased timber use in South Africa. Basic modelling analyses show that if the market share of wood-based buildings increases to 20% of new constructions, the embodied energy and global warming potential of the residential building sector could decrease by 4.9%.

As our population and economic migration increases, there is an urgent need to change how we build high density and single family housing, quickly, cost-effectively and sustainably.

Human friendly, planet friendly, timber is the ideal building material of the past and the future.

There is a climate, economic and even social case for timber, and a significant opportunity for innovation, localisation and employment creation. Several industry players, architects, construction engineers and producers are focused on making engineered wood more accessible to the local market. With this comes the need for upskilling or reskilling, business growth and employment opportunities.

Wood lends itself well to modern, modular and off-site methods of construction, with improved efficiency and performance. Single and multi-storey buildings are prefabricated off-site, allowing for quicker on-site assembly, less journeys to and from site (and the associated carbon emissions), and minimised disruption, dust and noise.

Biased towards tried-and-tested steel and concrete, the public and private sector is reluctant to drive the use of timber in the built environment through procurement policies.

Through initiatives such as the Forestry Master Plan, partnerships with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and forward-thinking academia, we want to shift the needle in favour of using locally grown and processed timber.

Both the University of Pretoria and Stellenbosch University have a strong wood science focus, and helping to educate a new generation of architects and construction engineers.

Dr Schalk Grobbelaar, senior lecturer and chairperson of the York Timbers Chair in Wood Structural Engineering in University of Pretoria’s Department of Engineering & Technology Management, is a champion for our cause. He believes that a design-led approach is crucial to successful risk management where timber solutions are used, while also exposing people to possibilities that timber brings.

Dr Grobbelaar’s team has been focusing on traditional timber frame construction combined with modern CNC machined plywood/OSB modular construction.

Prof Wessels and Dr Crafford have also developed The Wood App, a platform that offers architects, builders and designers with access to a host of CPD accredited courses on local wood standards, materials and best practice.

The sawmilling sector, while small in comparison to other industrial sectors, supplies sawn timber and other products for various applications, from structural timber to moulded and machined products for decking, flooring and ceilings. Many of these sawmills operate in rural or peri-urban areas, providing much-needed employment to thousands.

The uptake of timber represents a massive opportunity for our country and our planet. It’s time to trust in timber.