Part One in our focus on the small-scale tree farmers of KZN ...
Rejoice Shozi, small-scale timber grower and local leader, explains how forestry is providing livelihoods in rural KwaZulu-Natal…
Rejoice Shozi comes from a family that has always had a deep connection with the land. For as long as she can remember, her mother grew vegetables and trees and her father grew sugar cane on the small plot of land the family owns in Empembeni, 30 kms south of Richards Bay, northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
When her father passed away in 2015, Rejoice inherited three hectares of land and took the opportunity to revive and expand her mother’s small Eucalyptus plot. She soon saw the benefit of timber and began reaching out to her neighbours who had plots of land that were not being utilized. In this way she established three more hectares of Eucalyptus, which she plants, maintains and harvests while paying the land-owners a rental fee.
“From a young age I learned that soil is a source of life,” says Rejoice as she walks through one of her thriving Eucalyptus plantations. Her big smile, uplifting energy and leadership qualities have helped her become a guiding force for small growers in the area, where she is the chairperson of the Khulanathi Growers Committee. When she’s not busy managing her own woodlots, she assists other growers in the area with coordinating transport, harvesting and general advice about forestry best practices.
Rejoice employs six people when she is planting or harvesting timber and she has bought her own chainsaw, offering harvesting services to other growers in the area. She receives her seedlings free of charge from Khulanathi Forestry, which is the implementing agent of Mondi Zimele’s Forestry Partners Programme, an initiative that seeks to support small growers in the region.
‘Ma Shozi’ (as she is better known) harvests her timber on a six-year rotation and delivers it to the Khulanathi depot at Esikhawini. Khulanathi coordinates transport for the long haul to the Mondi Mill in Richards Bay.
“We use local labour and local transport contractors,” says Rejoice as she inspects the two-hectare plot, which is neatly maintained, free from weeds and stocked with neat rows of trees ready for harvest.
“Transport is my biggest challenge because it is my biggest cost,” she adds. “I hope to one day own my own truck.”
Khulanathi – bridging the gap
“Rejoice is one of the hardest working people in the area. She makes it easier for us to work with the small growers here,” says Thokozani Mfekayi, Operations Manager of Khulanathi Forestry. “She assists us in communicating with the other growers for meetings and field days.”
Rejoice and Thokozani do the rounds and agree that the plot should be harvested soon.
“I’m happy with the trees around me but there are some open spaces,” observes Thokozani. “Once we have harvested, Rejoice will re-plant to full stocking. We give her advice on how best to establish, maintain and harvest her woodlot. We also assist in negotiation for rates with transport contractors. When she is ready to re-plant we will deliver high quality Eucalyptus seedlings to her. We distribute Mondi seedlings to all of our small growers.”
Thokozani explains that GU clones are the best trees for the dry and sandy conditions in Zululand. GC clones were also used in the past but they were prone to pests and diseases.
The Mondi Zimele connection
Sizwe Mtengu of Mondi Zimele points out that many people in rural KZN have access to land, but lack the resources and skills to utilize it profitably. This is where Mondi Zimele and Khulanathi are filling the gap – supplying high quality seedlings to small growers, offering technical skills and guidance on the ground and providing the market for the timber once it is harvested.
“Rejoice is something of a spokesperson for the small growers in this area,” says Sizwe. “She is an entrepreneur and I can see her managing more small plots of land and growing her business in the future.”
Rejoice recently attended a harvesting training field day arranged by Khulanathi and Mondi Zimele, as part of their initiative to certify small growers.
The certification programme is assisting 10 small growers in the area toward getting FSC certified, through CMO and the guidance of Michal Brink. Three growers have already been certified.
Certification will give the small-growers a better rate for their timber, along with the stamp of approval for the sustainability of their operations. “We are doing everything we can to create an enabling environment for small growers to be able to sell certified timber,” comments Sizwe.
“All the small-growers work together and support one another,” says Rejoice in closing. “There are many women being empowered through this way of life,” she adds. “Forestry has helped me raise four children and it has helped me grow in self-confidence. We must teach our children how to grow trees and understand the value of the land.”