Communities taking over management of state plantations

DFFE Minister Barbara Creecy (centre) and Deputy Minister Makhotso Sotyu (left) hand over the signed Community Forestry Agreement to Inkosi Silinga.

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, and Deputy Minister Makhotso Sotyu, handed over the management of three plantations to Eastern Cape communities at a function held at Butterworth in April.

The plantations – Mission (79 ha Eucalyptus), Nqamakwe (160 ha Eucalyptus, 35 ha wattle) and Mgomanzi (105 ha Eucalyptus) – were handed over to the Tobotshane, Amahlubi and Amazizi traditional councils following the signing of Community Forestry Agreements with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE).

In the past three years, the department has facilitated the transfer of 27 plantations, totalling 6 210 hectares, in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, as part of the implementation of the Forest Sector Masterplan.

“This is a milestone that requires commitment not only by government, but by industry and the communities taking over these plantations,” said Deputy Minister Sotyu at the handover function.

Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries & the Environment Makhotso Sotyu addresses the gathering at the plantation handover function.

“Government, through the DFFE is expected to provide post settlement support to the communities, ranging from technical to financial support where possible. The industry is expected to support these communities through investments that will ensure that the plantations are managed sustainably.

“The communities on the other hand are expected to ensure that they protect these plantations and manage them for the benefit of all, which is why we have the Traditional Councils taking centre stage in the process,” she said.

The Deputy Minister encouraged the communities to take responsibility for managing these plantations seriously as they represent “a legacy for them and their generations to come”.

Inkosi Nyhila signs the CFA for the Mission and Toboshane plantations.

Role of traditional leaders
In her address Minister Creecy thanked the Traditional Councils for their support in facilitating the handover of the plantations, and outlined the broader strategy for transforming the forest sector.

“I would like to begin by thanking the traditional leaders present here today for their support and collaboration during this process. Inkosi Bikitsha, Inkosi Nhyila and Inkosi Silinga and their respective traditional councils were a key part of the establishment and finalisation of the community forestry agreements. Numerous engagements and consultation sessions were held with the traditional councils to tailor agreements best suited to the conditions of the relevant communities, which will maximise benefits and ensure the sustainability and continued prosperity of the plantations.”

She said that the support given by the royal houses demonstrates the vital role traditional leadership plays in facilitating government initiatives, making collaboration and project success more attainable.

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries & the Environment, Barbara Creecy, delivered the keynote address at the handover.

“DFFE has been actively pursuing community forestry agreements with various communities nationwide. These legally binding agreements are designed to ensure the sustainable management of community forests for the economic, social and environmental benefit of the communities involved.”

Minister Creecy said that the Forestry Sector Masterplan is also focussed on investment in the sector, with a target of R24,9 billion to be invested, of which R8.4 billion had already been invested at the time of finalising the masterplan.

With regards to employment, the masterplan has set a target of 100,549 additional jobs in the forestry sector, the bulk of which will come from new afforestation schemes.

To ensure that previously disadvantaged communities are included in the forestry value chain, the Masterplan aims to increase share of SME procurement in the sector.

“The Masterplan will also attract investment through issuing a call for proposals for the industry to support owner-growers, and encourage commercial players to partner with communities by providing opportunities throughout the value chain,” she said.

Inkosi Mkhatshane signs the CFA for the Ngqamakwe plantation.

Minister Creecy noted a number of requirements that communities entering into Community Forestry Agreements need to adhere to in order to ensure that the forestry resources are sustainably managed, and communities can reap the benefits:
• Traditional councils, on behalf of the communities are expected to manage the community forests sustainably so that they can yield economic, social and environmental benefits.
• An operating company owned by the community must be established to manage and operate the plantations. This will enable transparent procurement processes for strategic partners, adherence to land use regulations and the development of comprehensive management plans.
• The revenue from the plantations should be adequately invested and surplus be distributed equitably for the benefit of the community.
• Changes of land use are not permitted unless approved by the minister responsible for forestry.
Minister Creecy said that more CFAs are set to be concluded in the current financial year, with ongoing assessments of investment proposals from potential partners.

Inkosi Silinga signs the CFA for the Mngomanzi plantation.

Forestry at the heart of Malawi community project

Tafika volunteer, Major, who manages the nursery, has managed grow 9,000 seedlings this year.

Small African Community Based Organisations struggle with creating a sustainable financial base. Here is how Tafika Youth Organisation of Malawi developed an innovative, synergistic, forestry approach to solving this problem while at the same time meeting their community’s needs.

Tafika were new to forestry and took advice from the Malawi Department of Forests, Chinteche based, Ripple Africa and, via their link with Scotland Malawi Partnership, UK based forestry expert Andrew Heald. They planted a 30-acre community forest with fast growing pine trees (Pinus oocapa). These trees take about 12-15 years to grow to maturity and will be harvested two acres at a time generating around $70 000 to $100,000 a year. The trees coppice so the forest is always re-growing.

Pinus oocapa seedlings ready for planting out.

With widespread deforestation and an exploding population (Malawi’s population doubled in the last 20 years) the local community desperately need quality timber for building and roofing houses and they also need firewood as almost all Malawians are still forced to cook with wood. This commercial forest helps fulfil local demand and educates the community on the value of forestry.

Tafika Agricultural Manager Malumbo Muntali stands next to one of the 14,000 2-year-old trees already in the Tafika forest.

To pay for the land Tafika asked investors to lend them $28,000 in return for getting fully grown trees in 12-15 years’ time, the more money the investor gave the more trees they will receive in future. In this way Tafika didn’t need to have its own capital to start the project. Tafika volunteers cleared the land, created a tree nursery next to the Tafika Office and grew and planted the seedlings in order to keep costs down.
Trees need a lot of looking after in the first two years of life and a large forest also needs security to make sure the trees are not stolen or set on fire. Tafika didn’t have the cash to pay for labourers or security guards for 12-15 years while they waited for their trees to grow. To solve this they worked with Mzuzu based agribusiness MTF who provided training and $18,000 of funding for three polytunnel greenhouses. US based water NGO, Formidable Joy, contributed by provided funding for a borehole to be built at the site.

Tafika Director Shupo Kumwenda with one of the greenhouses being erected by MTF.

The greenhouses are owned by Tafika but each greenhouse is managed by a team of five women. Each woman works 2-4 hours a week in the greenhouse growing Grade A tomatoes, with each greenhouse producing two crops a year. MTF signed a distribution deal with Tafika and come to the greenhouses to buy all the tomatoes the women produce, at a fixed rate. Tafika reserve some of the revenue to pay for the guard and to build a fund for maintenance. Each woman involved will make around $4-500 a year from their share of the tomato sales.

A-grade tomatoes ready for market.

In return for being given this opportunity the women agreed to give up 2-3 hours a week to weed and trim trees in the forest. In this way Tafika has created a sustainable, zero cost mechanism to maintain their forest, while at the same time providing 15 women with sustainable livelihoods. One of Tafika’s other project partners (ZMCP) liked the plan so much they provided $3,000 to fund a fourth greenhouse and Tafika successfully applied for a sensitive development loan from NGO Lend with Care to build a fifth greenhouse.

Tafika plan to use surplus income from these five greenhouses to save to buy another, and have worked out they have room for 10 greenhouses on the site. This will eventually provide 50 women with a sustainable income, while at the same time ensuring the Tafika forest is well maintained.

The first group of women to benefit from growing tomatoes in a greenhouse.

Commented Tafika’s Director, Shupo Kumwenda: “We are so happy with our forest project, not only will this be a massive benefit to our community in years to come, but right now our youth volunteers have started to understand the value of trees not only to the local environment but also in terms of what their future value can bring to the community. We want to thank our partners for their efforts, we can see our future right here now.”

Kevin Simpson from MTF, said: "Tafika are showing a great way forward for Community Organisations in Malawi. We are delighted to work with them because they share our vision to see Malawians empowered to earn their own living and secure a sustainable future for themselves. This kind of long-term thinking and careful investment is exactly what Malawi needs."

Tomatoes provide much needed cash flow for the community forestry project.

Formidable Joy, a U.S.-based water NGO drilled a new borehole for the project, complemented by the installation of a solar pump by Malawi Fruits. The NGO has drilled 20 new boreholes and repaired nine pumps in schools, villages, and health centres within Tafika's catchment area.

In 2023, Formidable Joy further contributed by funding a district-wide Cholera educational outreach campaign led by Tafika, which included the distribution of preventative supplies during the deadliest Cholera outbreak in the history of the country.

For more info contact: Mick James

Local labour carrier on the move.

Charcoal team clears alien wattle invasion

Charcoal is sold under the Morumotsho brand.

During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, a young entrepreneur from a remote village in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa launched an innovative business turning invasive black wattle into charcoal - a classic win-win for local people and the environment.

Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii) was introduced into South Africa from Australia around 1880 for livestock shelter and for firewood, and is still grown commercially today for pulp and the tannin extract industry. The problem is that black wattle produces prolific amounts of seed which has invaded many parts of the country not suitable for commercial timber, including the grasslands around Matatiele in the Eastern Cape, consuming groundwater and reducing grazing range for cattle.

Atang Justice Ramabele (29) was inspired to find a solution to the problem of invasive wattle that would also serve to alleviate some of the challenges faced by the local rural community, namely dwindling access to grazing range and widespread unemployment.

The idea for Morumotsho Charcoal Production came about during Ramabele’s year-long internship with Fetola, an NGO that focuses on finding environmental and rural solutions. The business name translates to “a black forest” in Sesotho, referring to a hillside near eNkasele village where he lives which is overridden with invasive black wattle.

Atang employs seven local people to cut down the rapidly spreading wattle trees of all sizes with chainsaws and to saw it up into 15 cm chunks. It is left to air dry for six weeks before being loaded into the kilns where it is set alight under low oxygen conditions. After a six-hour burn the wood chunks turn into high quality charcoal.

Going, going, gone … Morumotsho Charcoal worker fells a good size wattle tree, providing the raw material to feed the kilns.

Once they have cut the trees down, the Morumotsho team treats the stumps with a chemical herbicide which ensures that they do not grow back. Thus they are gradually removing the alien wattle from the hillside, and the grass is coming back, much to the delight of the local livestock owners.

This approach seems to be counter-intuitive: what happens to the business when all the alien wattle has been removed from the hillside?

There’s no chance of that, says Atang. He reckons that there is enough wattle growing around the village to keep his kilns stocked for between seven to 10 years. Then he’ll just move somewhere else – there is plenty of alien black wattle growing all over the Eastern Cape.

He has five metal kilns and produces 120 to 150 kgs of charcoal per kiln with each burn. The charcoal produced is sold in three grades: Gold, Silver and First Grade.

Kilns turning invasive alien black wattle into charcoal, Eastern Cape.

Atang and his team package the charcoal under their own brand name, Morumotsho Charcoal, which they sell locally to street vendors, caterers and shebeens. They also sell bulk charcoal to a neighbouring landowner who on-sells it, as well as to E&C Charcoal, a big, established business that manufactures and exports charcoal. Atang has also recently secured a market for Morumotsho Charcoal in nearby Lesotho.

The biggest challenge facing the business now is to increase production to meet the growing demand for the product. The poor state of the local roads makes logistics an on-going challenge, and deliveries are often made by donkey cart or tractor.

“Seeing the change and impact in our society because of my vision makes me proud,” says Atang. “Now people can farm and feed themselves again because the land has been restored, and their animals have better grazing land.”

Removing the alien wattle invasion provides livestock owners with more grazing range.

He says that local cattle owners have been receiving better prices for their animals at the auction thanks to the improved access to good grazing land.

Atang is already thinking ahead to expand his product range with other charcoal-based products like briquettes and bio-char.

“I’ve had opportunities come my way, and I’ve been able to network, learn new things and have experiences that make this a joyful journey,” he concluded.

About Fetola
Fetola is a provider of entrepreneurial support programmes that deliver lasting social, environmental and economic impact. Their goal is to grow the economy, create inclusive wealth and generate jobs by helping people build businesses that last. This is achieved by providing proven business strategy, systems and support, while unlocking the personal leadership power of entrepreneurs like Atang.

Fetola means “change” in Sesotho. The Fetola team is inspired by UN Global goal 17 to generate change at a global scale and foster partnerships that are a force for good. For more info visit

Morumotsho Charcoal entrepreneur and founder Atang Justice Ramabele.
Removing the invasive wattle is allowing the groundwater to come back to health.
Another load of fresh charcoal headed for market.
Another bakkie load of branded charcoal off to market.

Mondi Zimele's emerging timber grower programme

Phillip Mpangela (right) has been growing trees in KwaMbonambi for 25 years. He is joined by Muzi Sibiya of Khulanathi Forestry, who assists him with timber orders as well as procuring timber transport to the Mondi Mill in Richards Bay.

Mondi Zimele's Forestry Partners Programme is a project that offers multi-faceted support to emerging timber growers in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The project hinges on the distribution of high-quality eucalyptus seedlings, the provision of technical support and guidance on the ground and connecting small growers to the market once their timber is harvested.

Through its agents on the ground - Khulanathi and Awethu Forestry - Mondi Zimele distributes an impressive 500 000 plants a year and engages with 3 600 emerging growers. The implementing agents coordinate the transport and delivery of between 10 and 20 000 tonnes of timber from these small growers to the Mondi Richards Bay Mill every month, proving to be an important source of available fibre for the mill. The project has generated R803 million in revenue and is a key pillar of economic development in a region where jobs and opportunities are scarce.

This film features some of the small growers involved, shining a light on their unique stories and experiences, which are intrinsically connected to the land, the trees and the passing seasons that characterize life in Zululand, in the north-eastern corner of South Africa.

Story pics and video by Samora Chapman / Green Forest Films.

Check out the full version of the film here: Mondi Zimele - emerging timber grower programme (long version)

Read the latest feature story in our small-grower series: Once a chainsaw operator – now a grower

Agroforestry the sustainable way at Chevy Chase

An agroforestry approach is providing a rural Eastern Cape community with a chance to develop and farm their land more productively, creating jobs, skills and opportunities along the way …

Chevy Chase is the unlikely name for a rural Eastern Cape community located between Mount Fletcher and Maclear (now Nqanqa Rhu). Like many rural communities in South Africa the people of Chevy Chase have access to ancestral land but very few job opportunities as they are far from markets and have little or no infrastructure. As a result the local economy is based on subsistence agriculture. However over-grazing has reduced the potential of the land to support livestock, while rampant alien plant invasion is further eroding agricultural potential and using up precious water resources.

In 2010 the Chevy Chase community got involved in a European Union funded rural development project known as ‘Thina Sinako’, which is when they started working with a dedicated group of rural development practitioners who went on to establish Umsonti Community Forestry NPC.

Through the help of Umsonti, the Chevy Chase community, under the Leadership of Chief Montoeli Lehana of the Batlokoa Traditional Council, approached the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) for funding from their LandCare Program for a forestry project.

The area identified for the forestry project was fenced to control livestock, and work commenced to clear the wattle jungle and plant grasses for grazing pending the completion of an EIA and the granting of a Water Use License for the establishment of the correct commercial tree species for the site.

The nitrogen left in the soil from the wattle and the successful exclusion of livestock meant the grass sown by the Landcare staff under the supervision of the DRDAR grew well and thanks to the summer rains, by winter the community was able to provide good grazing for their livestock.

In 2019, on the back of this initiative, the DRDAR approached Umsonti with an ambitious plan to start a conservation agriculture project with the community on adjacent agricultural lands which had been standing idle for over 10 years. A community Trust was formed with the six villages that make up Chevy Chase in 2020.

With agricultural equipment purchased by Government (initially a no till planter and a spray rig) and borrowed from local farmers, 100 ha of land was fenced off and 27 ha was successfully established to yellow maize by early December 2020. This yielded around 20 tons of maize (which was sold to the community, given to members in lieu of work, and 9.6 tons sold to BKB) and stubble for community cattle to graze at the end of winter / early spring when insufficient grass is available before the first rains. A cattle auction was also organized with the help of Umsonti and Meat Naturally in May 2020 which resulted in the sale of 282 head of cattle, bringing in R 2.27 million to the community. This also assisted with reducing the pressure on the veld from overstocking, meaning survival rates of the remaining animals increased.

Clearing wattle jungle
In the initial phase of removing the wattle jungle the cleared wattle is separated into usable poles, firewood and pulp logs for sale. The money generated from these activities is ploughed back into the project allowing clearing work to continue.

In 2012, with funds from Thina Sinako, a soil survey was conducted on the land earmarked by the community for the forestry project. Due to the amount of seed in the soil, the wattle has kept on coming back on the ‘cleared’ areas. Considering the high cost of spraying the small trees or cutting them out, the work teams adopted a different approach and it was decided to line out the wattle jungle already growing there using the ‘boere metode’ to give the trees space to grow and produce more poles, firewood and pulp in the years to come. This serves to generate some cash and get the wattle jungle under control, pending the granting of a Planting Permit for the establishment of a proper plantation. Wattle coming back in riparian and other sensitive areas are permanently removed and grass seed sown in these areas to allow for establishment of additional grazing areas of good grass for livestock, and the roots to bind the soil to reduce erosion.

“The sale of firewood and pulpwood is absolutely necessary, as the income from these activities has helped with diesel (Government doesn’t supply diesel) and equipment maintenance,” said James Ballantyne, one of the directors of Umsonti, who has been working closely with the community for a number of years. “If it wasn’t for the wattle clearing and the income from this, there would have been no maize production, as a lot of money is spent on diesel for ripping, lime spreading, ploughing, spraying and planting.”

The community is budgeted to be clearing roughly one hectare of wattle per week, translating into around 48 ha per year. There are three teams doing the initial wattle clearing. Each team comprises a chainsaw operator and three people stripping bark and stacking branches and bark in brushlines while utilizable timber (poles, pulp and firewood) is left in the middle of the ‘indimas’.

The pulp timber is kept separate from the large logs of firewood timber which get sold to the local community. Depending on distance from the project, the 1.5 ton loads of firewood are sold for between R500 and R1 200. The income (around R 10 000 per month) is used to purchase diesel for the tractors to transport staff from the community to the forestry project.

“The philosophy of paying for a product is being entrenched in the community,” said James. “The ‘everything for free’ (EFF) model does not work.”

Wattle pulpwood logs are sold to either NCT Durban Woodchips (when tickets are available) or PG Bison. The Chevy Chase LandCare project has the potential to generate between one to two truckloads (30 tons) of pulpwood per month.

The funds generated from pulpwood sales have been used to assist with purchasing diesel for the ripping, liming, ploughing, planting, fertilizing and spraying of maize, as Government pays for all the inputs (equipment, fencing, seed, lime, fertilizer and chemicals), but not for diesel or equipment maintenance. The people working on the maize are paid as part of the LandcCare project.

Environmental considerations
Roads have been planned using natural or existing routes such as cattle tracks and wattle extraction routes that have been used for decades by the community. Bridges across streams have been made from rocks or wooden poles so tractors and bakkies can cross safely and without causing any disturbance to the rivers.

“Ultimately, concrete pipes and culverts will be constructed, but with the shortage of funds, we have had to make a plan to minimise the impact on the environment,” said James.

The key to sustainable rural development at Chevy Chase is the agroforestry approach i.e. integrating agricultural activities with forestry, maintains James. This has allowed cash generated from pulpwood and firewood sales to be ploughed into clearing of alien invasive plants and crop production which has provided winter food for livestock – all of which has provided an opportunity to improve management of the land. In addition these activities have created a vehicle – in the form of a community trust - to mobilise community resources and efforts which has the potential to create further opportunities going forward.

“The formalisation of structures and the investment by Government provides an opportunity for sustainable development, which creates jobs and benefits for the community both formally and informally,” says James.

Developing rural communities through forestry and associated businesses
Tel: 074 154 4430 / 074 173 5583 James Ballantyne: 079 516 1261 Email: