Phillip Mpangela – guardian of the KwaMbo forests

Phillip Mpangela (right) and Muzi Sibiya discussing forestry business.

Story and photos: Samora Chapman

Phillip Mpangela has been growing trees in KwaMbonambi, northern KwaZulu-Natal, for 25 years. He started working in the family forests alongside his father in 1997, immediately after finishing high school. Over the years he took over the maintenance of the woodlots and gradually acquired and planted all of the family land belonging to his siblings. Today he manages over 30 hectares of land – all stocked with carefully maintained Eucalyptus trees, which grow tall and strong in the sandy white soil of his ancestors.

“Our lives are tied to the animals and the earth,” says Phillip as he looks out on his timber farm. He is joined by Muzi Sibiya from Khulanathi Forestry and the two foresters take a walk to a newly planted compartment to check on the progress of the young trees. It’s a hot spring afternoon in Zululand – the homestead is surrounded by fields of maize and a noisy flock of goats scatter into a grassland nearby to graze.

The newly planted area is well fenced to protect it from livestock, and the seedlings are growing strong under the watchful eye of Phillip, the guardian of the forests.

Khulanathi Forestry supply both the seedlings and the market access for Phillip’s business, a vital partnership that supports the small grower through all the phases of forestry. The seedlings are sponsored by Mondi Zimele, Khulanathi’s strategic partner in empowering small-scale timber growers in the region. Mondi Zimele supplies 500 000 seedlings to small growers in the region every year.

Phillip Mpangela passes on some insights into forestry to the next generation.

“My father instilled in me a passion for the land,” reflects Phillip. “I wish to do the same for my children. This business will be passed on to them … but my hope is that they will do more skilled work and be able to employ people to manage the day-today running of the plantations.”

Phillip hires up to 20 local people when he is harvesting and 10-15 people when he is doing other work like planting, maintenance and fire break preparation. He recently bought his own labour carrier and three chainsaws.

Muzi Sibiya assists with timber orders as well as procuring timber transport to either the Khulanathi depot in KwaMbonambi, or directly to the Mondi Mill in Richards Bay. “Timber transport is a challenge because of the high cost … but at the same time it is good for others to have jobs,” comments Phillip.

Khulanathi also offers technical skills transfer through field days and ongoing mentorship on the business and operational aspects of forestry.

Muzi Sibiya uses his bike to get around on his weekly visits to the small-scale growers he works with in the region.

“The relationship with Khulanathi has been productive,” says Phillip as he sits on a log-stack in the shade to escape the blazing afternoon sun. “Muzi came to check this site and approve the land … makes sure that I’m not planting too close to the watercourse. All the support goes a long way – the seedlings, the market for the timber, the advice is all very valuable. Forestry is so important to life in KwaMbonambi.”

Phillip explains that he uses his knowledge and experience to support other small growers in the community. “My role is to guide the community, especially with the more technical things like burning firebreaks, spacing out during planting and advising on the right time to harvest. We are planting GU clones with a spacing of 2.4 metres and harvesting on a five-year rotation.”

One of Phillip Mpangele’s well-kept Eucalyptus compartments.

Phillip is in the process of diversifying into livestock (cattle and goats) as well as agriculture. A new development is that of intercropping – the planting of beans and peanuts in-between the Eucalyptus seedlings. This venture promises to create a new income stream and maximise use of the available land.

His future plans are to continue expanding his timber farm and set up a family trust for his children. “I’m not afraid to say that I will be a millionaire in five years,” he says without a shadow of doubt. A bold statement and proof that forestry is going a long way toward sustaining current and future generations in the communities of KwaMbonambi.

Harvested timber ready for market.
Phillip Mpangele’s homestead with trees, maize fields and goats all neatly fenced off into separate camps for maximum productivity.


Rejoice Shozi – Soil is the source of life

Part One in our focus on the small-scale tree farmers of KZN ...

Rejoice Shozi manages six hectares of eucalyptus in Empembeni, northern KwaZulu-Natal, and is chairperson of the Khulanathi Growers Committee.

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.

Thokozani Mfekayi of Khulanathi Forestry is working closely with Rejoice to grow small-scale forestry in the region.

“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.”

Sizwe Mtengu and Zanele Ximba of Mondi Zimele enjoy a visit to one of Rejoice Shozi's thriving woodlots.

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.”

Find out more at mondizimele.co.za and read part two here: Once a chainsaw operator – now a grower.

Putting certification within reach of small-scale growers

Small-scale growers harvesting wattle in Matimatolo, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. (Photo courtesy of SAFAS)

Free certification for small-scale growers operating on communal land – this is the goal of the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS), a non-profit company on a mission to promote sustainable forest management and ensure that all timber growers in South Africa have fair access to certification.

SAFAS intends to make this achievable through the establishment of a Landscape Certification Programme - that functions like a co-op and focuses on relevant risks - to make certification accessible and affordable to all timber growers, including small-scale growers on communal land.

This is just one of several innovative initiatives that the SAFAS team has introduced in the past few years to promote sustainable forest management in Africa. Key among these is the Value Based Platform (VBP), a web-based platform that integrates data from a wide range of sources. This helps to provide integrated, locally relevant solutions to the broader challenges facing sustainable development, such as habitat degradation, inequality, poverty, poor governance, and accelerated climate change. This enables forest managers to identify and prioritise the key risks in their operations in the context of the landscape within which they operate.

Another innovative SAFAS initiative is the Community Label. This is based on the concept of forestry businesses being a part of the wider community with a responsibility to play a positive role in their development for mutual benefit through timber procurement, providing market access and promoting sustainable management practices on the road to achieving certification. The Community Label promotes the forging of mutually beneficial partnerships between larger forestry organisations and community forestry enterprises.

These initiatives are not just sugar-coated wish lists as they are beginning to gain traction on the ground through practical implementation.

In 2020 Sappi utilised the Value Based Platform to complete individual assessments on all 25 of their forestry plantations in South Africa, covering some 370 000 ha, becoming an essential internal auditing tool to enable the Sappi forestry team to prepare for the formal certification process. Sappi’s South African plantations are certified by both FSC and PEFC.

Earlier this year Sappi used the VBP to assess a group of private timber suppliers in southern KwaZulu-Natal against the requirements of the SAFAS standard. The assessment included 12 private commercial timber growers, two land reform timber farms and 100 small scale growers grouped into two clusters.

According to SAFAS General Manager Steve Germishuizen, the assessments produced some surprising results:-
• The small-scale grower groups were the least risky in terms of overall sustainability.
• The most consistent risks across all suppliers were related to health and safety, training and management of contractors.

Steve said that the VBP allowed the growers to engage with the certification process in a positive way that helped them to see it as a potential benefit and not just an administrative burden.

NCT Forestry is also using the VBP to assess their growers’ sustainability risks and to prepare them for certification under their PEFC group scheme.

Mechanised Eucalyptus harvesting operation, Mpumalanga. It is efficient and highly productive, but this system does not maximise job creation.

About SAFAS
The SAFAS certification system has been developed in South Africa by local stakeholders and is endorsed by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), a globally recognised forest certification system.

It is the culmination of years of work behind the scenes by local stakeholders including Forestry South Africa, SAPPI, NCT, TWK and the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. The motivation behind the SAFAS initiative stems from the realisation that most small-scale and family-owned forestry operations typically have moderate or low environmental impacts while providing significant social benefits directly at the local community level, yet they have been largely unable to achieve certification. Large commercial forestry operations on the other hand, which have a greater environmental impact and limited local community employment footprint, are almost all certified.

This anomaly means that small-scale growers located in under-resourced rural areas in Africa may be denied access to premium fibre and wood product markets by virtue of their inability to get certified.

Now forestry operations joining the SAFAS Landscape Certification Programme (LCP) have an easier pathway to being certified. The overhead costs associated with certification will be shared amongst members of the programme according to the scale of the operations.

The ultimate goal, according to Steve, is for small-scale timber growers on communal land to have free certification. Revenue generated by the LCP will be used to promote sustainable forest management or reduce the annual costs of certification for the members. It is essentially a cooperative system and members will have a say in how their money is spent.

At the heart of the LCP is the Value Based Platform which helps forest managers to identify and prioritise the key risks in their operations, in the context of their landscape. The platform links the risks up to the relevant indicators in the certification standard. By eliminating irrelevant and low risk indicators, the platform vastly simplifies certification.

Upon joining the LCP, a timber grower undergoes a risk assessment that provides a prioritised list of risks, along with supporting information and the documentation required to mitigate those risks. The grower then knows exactly what is needed to achieve or maintain sustainable forest management standards and certification.

SAFAS also provides the training, support and resources required to tackle any technical and managerial challenges associated with achieving sustainable forest management certification through PEFC.

Labour intensive Eucalyptus harvesting operation on a community-owned timber farm, Eastern Cape.

What sets this system apart is that the risks to sustainable forest management of each grower member are determined according to the landscape within which the operation is located. This simplifies the certification process which focuses on the actual risks that the forestry operation faces.

This system works because site and socio-economic factors define, to a large extent, the risks and opportunities that forestry operations face. These factors characterise the forestry landscape and shape the nature of forestry businesses.

It is unsurprising that in areas of similar topography, climatic and socio-economic conditions forestry takes on a very similar structure and appearance. This realisation is critical when measuring forestry against a national or global standard. What is good or normal practice in one landscape would be unacceptable in another. Understanding the landscape context is the best away to understand these differences. For example, it is much harder to control alien plants in a steep, high rainfall area, with a subtropical climate, dominated by woody vegetation, than in a flat high altitude grassland area that is prone to fires and frosts. It is therefore necessary to understand that context when making an assessment of the effectiveness of an alien plant control programme.

Below are examples of two very different forestry landscapes and some of the risks and opportunities the forestry operations in those landscapes face:-
• High production on flat land: High national economic importance, high productivity, high efficiency, global competitiveness, high impact, limited biodiversity, low ecosystem services, limited local employment
• Communal multifunctional: Multiple benefits for local communities, high potential for ecosystem services, low impact operations, moderate biodiversity, low national economic importance

Joining the LCP allows timber growers of all scales to get certified as part of the landscape they operate in. The LCP provides all the documentation, supporting information and SAFAS works with the growers to maintain compliance.

SAFAS GM Steve Germishuizen surveying the biodiversity that is still thriving at Ozwatini, KZN midlands, where small scale tree farmers grow wattle and Eucalyptus and practice mixed farming with vegetables, crops, cattle and goats.

Five steps to certification with the LCP
• Complete a Risk Survey on the Value Based Platform after which you will have access to your risk assessment detailing the key risks faced by the operation in context of the landscape.
• You receive a report detailing what is required to comply with the SAFAS standard.
• You will be guided through the LCP management system, which contains all the documents and supporting information necessary for certification.
• Once compliant with the SAFAS requirements you will be included in the programme to be certified in the 3rd Party audit by the Certification Body.
• Once the 3rd Party audit is completed you will be certified under the PEFC.

“What makes PEFC-endorsed national forest certification systems so relevant and valuable is that they are locally developed and owned,” commented Ben Gunneberg, former CEO and Secretary General of PEFC International. “They respect the country’s operational and cultural conditions and are accessible to forest owners of all sizes, with a particular emphasis on smallholders.”

Sustainable small-scale tree farming

Small-scale wattle growers in the Matimatolo area near Greytown in the KZN Midlands have developed their own unique ways of growing and harvesting their trees that is largely sustainable with minimal impacts on the environment. But the irony is that up until now they have been unable to get their small tree plantations certified by the global certification organisations because they have been unable to fulfil the complex administrative requirements and couldn’t afford it anyway.

With international markets increasingly demanding that the products they sell are derived from responsibly managed plantations that have been certified by recognised certification bodies, the market access of these small scale tree farmers is no longer assured. They are also missing out on the premium prices paid for certified timber products.

NTE, a local manufacturer of tannin products that are derived from the bark of wattle trees (Acacia mearnsii), has been working with the local wattle growers to help them improve their yields and to get certified through the newly established SAFAS system. SAFAS is geared specifically to South African conditions and is endorsed by PEFC, one of the globally recognised certification organisations.

This could turn out to be a game-changer for the small scale growers located in remote rural areas like Matimatolo where there is little infrastructure and very few job opportunities.

Watch the video here …