By Justin Nyakudanga
The Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) Hon Ms. Makhotso Sotyu (MP) handed over three category C plantations - namely Lehana, Fort Usher, and Makhoba - to the Batlokoa and the Makhoba Traditional Councils. The handing over of these plantations took place at a ceremony held in Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape recently, and is in line with the provisions of the National Forests Act, 1998 (Act No.84 of 1998).
The plantation handover follows the signing of an MoU between DFFE and the Dept of Public works and Infrastructure that states that all State land with expired leases should be recommissioned back for forestry commercial plantations, with the aim of entering into a Community Forestry Agreement with communities that are currently occupying the land.
The plantations have a combined hectarage of 362 ha and were established between 1978 - 1984 for purposes of job creation and to provide fuel wood for locals. The current tree species growing on the plantations include hardwoods such as Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Eucalyptus tereticornis, Eucalyptus badjensis, and Acacia mearnsii (black wattle). Located at an elevation of 1 441 meters above sea level, Mount Fletcher has an average yearly temperature of 18.18 degrees C, (-3% lower than South Africa’s average) and receives about 575 mm annual rainfall. The Mean Annual Increment for hardwoods in the district is estimated to be between 10-12 tons per hectare per annum.
It is understood that the plantations will need to be clear-felled and re-planted in order to bring them back into production. Chief Montoeli Lehana, the traditional leader of the Batlokoa Traditional Council, bemoaned the neglect of the plantations by government foresters from the year 1998. The Chief said that the plantations were well managed up until the early 1990s, but since then they have been neglected and degraded by fire and rampant timber theft.
The Deputy Minister acknowledged that the forestry sector in the rural areas had been neglected for quite a long time. However she said her Department is busy working on turning the situation around. She hinted that her department had crafted a Master Development Plan involving many stakeholders including local rural communities, Working on Fire, local police, traditional authorities, local municipalities, and forestry and community development specialists.
When asked for comment with regards to the plantation rehabilitation plan, the local DFFE officials indicated that they were considering planting short-term rotation (6-8 years) species such as cold-tolerant Eucalyptus hybrids for pulp and wood chips markets on the better sites, and pine species on the poorer sites where a long term view is required. The plantations have the potential to create 30 permanent jobs and an extra 20 seasonal jobs. The closest timber markets include PG Bison’s board plant in Ugie, local sawmills, and the Sappi Saiccor pulp mill in Umkomaas.
The communities that have been entrusted with these plantations will have to establish some sort of business structures to operate them and secure the funding and support that they will need to get them up and running.
The Mayor of Matatiele Cllr Sonwabile Mngenele thanked the minister for stepping in to assist with this project and assured her that the district would work hard to get things going and make the project a success.