Linking small-scale wattle growers to market

Stihl technical training officer Phawu Silosini explains the benefits of the BT230 Earth Augur to the small growers at the NCT field day at Glenside.

The NCT forestry team hosted two field days for small-scale growers in the KZN midlands at their Glenside and Ahrens depots in March.

These depots play a crucial role in the timber business of the small-scale growers as they are located close to the growing areas thus requiring a relatively short haul from field to depot. The NCT team weighs the in-coming timber, schedules the payment to the grower and arranges the long haul transport from the depot to the NCT chipping facility at Richards Bay.

The purpose of these field days is to familiarise the growers with the timber specs required, to provide the latest info about different aspects of planting, tending and harvesting, and to encourage the growers to network among themselves and interact with the NCT team.

Fisokuhle Ngcobo explains the benefits of correct spacing in this wattle compartment at his homestead in Matimatolo. Fisokuhle and his wife Nomthandazo Hlombe were NCT’s Small-Scale Tree Farmers of the Year in 2021. They manage six ha of wattle and supply NCT’s Ahrens depot.

NCT forester Eric Msomi explained the most common timber defects that the depot will not accept. These include:-
• Undersized (less than 50 mm diameter) and oversized (more than 500 mm diameter) timber
• Wrong length - the depot requires 2.4 metre lengths
• Crooked and bent timber
• Timber that has been poorly de-branched or de-barked
• Burnt timber and timber that has started decomposing
• Timber that is contaminated with stones, rubble, metal or other debris
• Timber too fresh – ideally timber should be delivered to depot from around three weeks after harvesting.

One grower raised the issue of timber theft and wondered why he can’t deliver his harvested timber to the depot immediately after harvesting, as the longer it lies around in the plantation the greater is the risk of it being stolen. Eric explained that freshly cut timber is too wet to handle, and also because NCT sells its wood chips as bone dry tons and so it must be weighed at least three weeks after harvesting when the moisture content is sufficiently reduced.

It was suggested that growers could mark their timber with a green dye after harvesting so that it can be identified as belonging to an NCT member, which may discourage the timber thieves.

Timber loading at NCT’s Glenside depot, KZN midlands.

Another issue that came up for discussion at the Ahrens depot field day was the challenges that growers face of getting their timber to the depot. It seems that there is a shortage of reliable transport available for the small-scale growers in these tribal areas to haul their timber from field to depot. This has been an on-going problem as the loads are often quite small and the growers don’t have suitable transport of their own, so they are reliant upon informal, local transporters when available.

Eric also explained to the growers the importance of accurate record keeping in order to verify the origin of all timber delivered to the depot. He explained that the timber is sold as ‘Controlled Wood’ and so the ‘Chain of Custody’ – the timber’s journey from plantation to market - has to be tracked and verified as legal and proper.

The STIHL SA team were on hand to demonstrate the use of their range of equipment designed to improve the productivity of small-scale timber growers and farmers. These included the following:-
• WP230 water pump – easy to move around by hand, ideal for pumping water into an irrigation ditch or water tank, moves up to 250 litres per minute.
• BT230 Earth Auger – drills perfect holes in the ground for building or fence poles and is ideal for creating uniform pits for planting.
• SG230 Sprayer – delivers powerful spray capacity ideal for plantations or small farms.
• MS260 Chainsaw … this little baby is designed for felling, de-branching and cross-cutting small timber. It’s light, powerful and reliable.

All of this equipment is available at STIHL dealerships around the country.

A Stihl team member demonstrates the correct method of sharpening the saw chain using a proper Stihl chain sharpening kit. It’s quick and easy once you know how and should be done every time you stop working to fill the machine with petrol. That way the saw is always sharp, more fuel-efficient and easier to handle.

The Eradispray team, based in Pietermaritzburg, demonstrated the use of their Faka-Plenty hand-operated tree seedling tube planter as well as various tools for doing chemical sprays before and after planting to eliminate weeds. These sprayers are attached to special backpacks that are designed for comfort and meet Mondi’s health and safety requirements for contractors working on their plantations.

The tree farmers supplying both if these depots are primarily growing wattle timber which is in big demand among NCT customers around the world. Wattle timber is also used extensively by the local people as building poles and for fences etc. The farmers in this region are also fortunate in that they can sell fresh wattle bark to the bark factories operating close by, which provides them with additional revenue at harvest time.

Callum McKenzie of Eradispray demonstrates the Faka-Plenty manual planting tube which enables the planter to plant effectively without having to stoop down and get his or her hands in the soil – and a sore back.

Wattle growers share experiences


Foresters from NTE and NCT hosted a field day for an enthusiastic group of small-scale wattle growers at NCT’s Ahrens depot near Greytown in the KZN midlands recently.

During the workshop a number of growers who are participating in Project Wattle Regen shared the knowledge and experiences that they have gained over the past few years through their participation in the programme. These talks were followed by a field visit to two of the growers’ wattle plantations in the nearby Matimatolo tribal area.

Project Wattle Regen is a joint venture initiative between NTE and NCT that was launched in 2018 in the Greytown area. It is focused on the growing of wattle which is a popular tree crop with local people as it has many uses around their smallholder farms and two established nearby markets in the form of NCT, which purchases the timber for pulp, and NTE which purchases fresh wattle bark for processing at their Hermannsburg bark factory

The primary aim of the initiative is to promote sustainable forestry in co-operation with small-scale wattle timber growers, to increase managed hectares of wattle plantations and thereby facilitate the development of small growers to optimize their business potential and management.

According to Cliff Walton of NCT and Eza Mapipa of NTE, who are working closely together to drive the project, there has been growing interest among their members to plant wattle in a sustainable fashion and to increase the productivity of their woodlots. The Project Wattle Regen participants, who currently number 21, receive technical advice and support, free, improved wattle seedlings and herbicide and insecticide for planting, as well as market access for the timber and bark that they produce.

Participation in Project Wattle Regen is open to growers who meet the following requirements:-
• Ownership and permission to occupy and plant the land endorsed by the representative Tribal Authority in writing.
• The area has to have been previously planted to trees.
• A fence of kinds has to be erected to protect the planted seedlings from cattle, goats etc.
• The owner of the land has to be a full member of both NTE and NCT and have a supply history.
• All labour costs are carried by the landowner

Assistance provided to the participating growers includes: -
• Technical support
• Chemicals to do a pre-plant spray (weedicide and insecticide)
• Wattle seedlings

In the spring of 2018, the first plantings began in the Ntembsweni Tribal area and these efforts have since expanded to Matimatolo and beyond. Roughly 6 – 8 ha has been established yearly and there are 21 individual participants, some of whom have established more than one wattle woodlot.

Planting has ideally taken place at the optimum time from November through to January when the rain is generally good. All planting is done with one litre of water into manually prepared pits with a dimension of 25cm x 25cm and 25cm deep.

The idea of the workshop and field days was to encourage participants to work closer together and share their experiences with each other, thus paving the way for building a more sustainable base of wattle growers in these tribal areas. This in turn translates into a more stable bark and timber resource for NTE and NCT.

Transport was highlighted several times as a major problem experienced by the growers. One of the growers, Mrs Z Bhengu, said she now had her own truck and was already talking to some of the other participants about how she could assist them to get their bark and timber to market.

Mr Gwala also spoke about the poor condition of the district roads in their area and the problem with road drainage. He appealed to the participants to make sure their roads on their property were well constructed and drained properly. He mentioned that he had created a drain parallel to his property to drain off excess runoff from the district road so that it did not cut through his property, and this was working well. 

Mrs T Masikane, a wattle grower and former board member of NTE, pointed out a number of advantages that the local growers enjoy regarding the supply of wattle bark to NTE. She said that the Hermannsburg bark factory is situated just 20 kms from Matimatolo, so the close proximity of the market is an advantage. Also, she said that the NTE factory is flexible to accommodate small-scale wattle growers who come in late during the season to request bark allocation. The bark season traditionally runs from September through to the end of May.

The growers have also been taken on a factory tour so now they know more about the manufacturing process and the products that their bark is used to produce, and they understand how the quality of the bark they deliver impacts on the final product. 

A number of the participants said that the indoor workshop session was of great value as they were able to share ideas and experiences, and there was a general call to have more frequent workshops in future.

Wonderful wattle in Matimatolo

NCT’s Small-Scale Tree Farmer of the Year for 2021 demonstrates how to establish and build a sustainable tree farming operation in faraway Matimatolo, near Kranskop in the KZN midlands …

By Samora Chapman

Matimatolo is a small tribal area in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, which lies on an escarpment 850 metres above sea level. It’s a remote rural area, where job opportunities are scarce and infrastructure is limited. However the rainfall is good and the land is fertile and abundant. In this area, and many others like it, small-scale forestry and farming can sustain families and communities - if it is done right.

Introducing husband and wife team Nomthandazo Hlombe and Fisokuhle Ngcobo, who together run an efficient 6ha wattle farm that supports the family, provides jobs and inspires others to make better use of their land.

Nomthandazo is the recipient of the NCT Small Grower of the Year Award for 2021, a proud achievement for her and her husband, who have worked side-by-side to improve and grow their business from humble beginnings to the sustainable enterprise that it is today.

Mr Ngcobo has been growing trees for 27 years, learning the practice from his neighbour, who was the first person in the area to establish a sustainable timber farm. In 2000 he married Nomthandazo Hlombe and introduced her to the business of growing trees. She learned fast and took over many responsibilities – land preparation, accounts, marketing and planning, allowing Mr Ngcobo to focus on planting, labour, maintenance and harvesting.

Together they grew their operation from 1ha to 6ha, which is spread out in the form of small plots within a kilometre of their homestead. The wattle stands are fenced, meticulously maintained and planted in neat rows - in stark contrast to the neighbouring wattle and bramble jungle!

“Unemployment is the biggest challenge here, but the youth do not see value in farming,” says Mrs Hlombe as she sits under a shady avo tree with her husband. She is nursing a beautiful baby girl, while chickens walk about the yard chasing anything that moves. It’s a typical scene of rural life in KwaZulu-Natal. A few wattle poles are stacked alongside the homestead, readily available for neighbours to pop in and buy on an informal basis.

“We lead by example, showing our community that you can make a good living growing trees,” she goes on. “We encourage youth to get an education first, but it’s good for them to know that if you work hard you can run a successful tree farm. The land is full of opportunity.”

Vusi Dladla, NCT’s Development Services Manager commented on Mrs Hlombe’s journey to becoming one of the top small-scale tree farmers in the area: “Her claim to fame was the use of naturally regenerated wattle seedlings to plant up new areas,” he explained. “This was a learning curve since she was planting non genetically improved material. But with limited financial resources, she managed to expand her timber area from a small field to the six hectares under timber production today. When NCT and NTE introduced a wattle replanting programme she grabbed the opportunity and made a success of it.”

Wonderful Wattle
Mr Ngcobo discusses the many wonders of the wattle tree. “Wattle is a very profitable crop – it has many benefits,” he says in his quiet way. “We sell the timber to NCT and the bark to NTE. Thinnings can be used for fencing and firewood. We also grow cabbage, potatoes, spinach, madumbis and chilli, which we sell at the local market and use to feed our family.”

Winning the NCT Small Grower of the Year came with a brand new STIHL chainsaw. “I’m so proud and happy that we won this award,” says Mr Ngcobo, beaming. “Although I have been using a chainsaw for over 20 years, this is the first time having our very own machine. We usually hire machines, they are expensive and in bad condition!”

Mr Ngcobo says that the support and guidance of Eza Mapipa (NTE’s Forestry Development Officer) and Cliff Walton (NCT’s Greytown District Manager) has helped their business immensely. “The partnership helps steer us in the right direction,” he explains. “We communicate all the time, so we can see where we are going. We have direct access to the market, which means we get paid the correct rate for our timber and bark.”

Project Regen
Mr Ngcobo and Mrs Hlombe are part of a small-grower development initiative called Project Regen, which was first established in Zululand in 2012, and launched in the Matimatolo area in 2018. NCT supplies member small-growers with seedlings and NTE supplies chemicals for land prep, as well as offering technical advice on how to improve production, manage diseases and burn firebreaks.

Seedlings are sourced from CPS and delivered directly to small growers to minimize stress on the plants. “The eMatimatolo area is particularly well suited to black wattle,” says Cliff Walton. “We choose cool days for planting, which happens in spring when there is plenty of rain in this area. We don’t plant with any gels, only water and we leave fertilizing up to our small growers, although we advise where needed. We require that all growers fence their plots to ensure protection from goats, cattle (and even rabbits) which roam the area.”

It made perfect sense for NCT and NTE to collaborate on supporting small growers in the area, to help secure a consistent and quality supply of timber and bark in the region.

“Project Regen is all about getting these small growers to be more sustainable,” explains Cliff. “What’s amazing about Mrs Hlombe and Mr Ncobo is that they always take initiative, they ask questions when they have problems and they take pride in their work. Mrs Hlombe makes sure their GST is signed annually and their requests are placed at our office. She is certainly very organised!

“They concentrate all their energy into building their own areas, whether it is wattle or other forms of agriculture and are certainly pure farmers from that point of view,” continues Cliff. “Many other small-scale farmers in the area are non-sustainable and harvest their small patch of wattle or gum and then have to buy and sell from other people around them whilst they wait for their plantation to come back into maturity. Mrs Hlombe and Mr Ncobo have slowly increased their average yield per ha and we expect their yields to increase in the future. Their wattle plantations reflect all their hard work. As a unique team they manage to achieve superior results and are a shining example of what can be achieved. Whenever we visit, they are busy adding value to their forestry/farm operations and always appear happy and humble.”

“From the outset it’s been a wonderful partnership,” adds Eza Mapipa of NTE, who has a close working relationship with Cliff and the husband and wife team. “NTE offers extension services – which includes everything from advice on fire protection, planting and harvesting. We aim to use the resources we have to empower local farmers with knowledge and skills to improve their businesses and make them self-sustainable.”

Mr Ngcobo and Mrs Hlombe deliver their bark to the NTE Hermannsburg factory where it is processed for use primarily in the tanning industry. It’s crucial that the bark is stripped and delivered as soon as possible after harvesting to make the best quality product out of fresh bark. Ideally it should be delivered on the same day that it is harvested, or at least within 48 hours.

Their timber is delivered to the NCT Ahrens depot. From there it is transported to the NCT chipping mill in Richards Bay and exported, primarily to markets in the East.

Transport is a major challenge for small growers in Matimatolo. Local transporters are unreliable and charge a hefty price for services – R500 for a bakkie load of bark and R1 000 for a small truckload of timber, which must be paid in cash.

“One day we hope to buy our own bakkie so that we can be totally self-sufficient,” comments Mrs Hlombe. “We would also like to work towards certification, so that we can get better prices for our timber.”

Eza explains that efforts are continuing to get sustainable small-scale growers like the Ngcobos certified under SAFAS, which has developed a certification system that is relevant to the African context and has been endorsed by PEFC. Although there are a number of challenges with certifying the small growers, SAFAS takes into consideration the low environmental impact of small-scale farming across the landscape and the numerous benefits of forestry to the local economy and people.

In terms of fire protection – firebreaks are hoed and all excess brush is burned to keep fuel loads down. Mr Ngcobo says that the community are quick to support one another in the case of a wildfire.

The champion tree farmers hope to buy more land in the future, with the goal of expanding their planted area to 20ha. With more small-scale growers emerging and improving their tree farms in Matimatolo, the mix of forestry and agriculture has the potential to improve the standard of living and benefit many generations to come.

*First published in SA Forestry Annual, 2021

CMO to market certified forest products via global trading platform

The South African-based CMO Group has secured investment from venture capital fund E4E Africa to grow its forest-based operations and establish a global trading platform for certified forest products.

“The funding will be used to further enhance the company’s existing software, as well as to build a trading platform to provide market access for responsibly produced forest products in the mainstream global market, especially in the northern hemisphere,” says Michal Brink, CEO and founder of the CMO Group.
 
Michal says that the main driver of the development is to create and guarantee supply chain security all along the value chain. To achieve this goal the CMO model hinges on three pillars:
• The establishment of Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified Group Schemes using its in-house developed PerForm software – enabling digital management and auditing of forest operators, with the emphasis on small to medium growers who have been largely excluded from the certification process, as a result of complexity and cost.
• Providing technical support services such as training and consulting to FSC certified Group Schemes and forestry companies and using this expertise to beef up technical compliance of CMO Group Schemes.
• The development of an online, worldwide trading portal for FSC certified forest products, named IcePik.
 
Michal said that the CMO team has been innovating and researching in this field for many years. He said the funding from E4E Africa presents a great opportunity to secure critical market access for sustainably produced forest products, and a means to introduce small forest producers to international markets.
 
“CMO has the full support of the FSC International Center GmbH in Bonn, as well as other key stakeholders including the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries (ANRPC) and the Namibian Charcoal Association (NCA).”
 
The trading platform will be launched in Namibia and South Africa in the last quarter of this year, focussing initially on sales of FSC certified charcoal. Michal said that commodities traded across IcePik would expand to include a wide range of forest products derived from sustainably managed forests, including roundlogs, lumber, treated poles, chips for pulp as well as non-forest products.”
 

According to Bas Hochstenbach, co-founder and partner at E4E Africa, the partnership hinges on the fact that CMO is a South African company with real intellectual property that is operating in a huge global industry. E4E Africa has taken a 10% stake in CMO.

Bas added that the group scheme certification methodology and trading platform create access to global markets for sustainable forestry products for parties like smallholder farmers and smaller processors – parties that traditionally had difficulty fulfilling the administrative requirements of FSC certification, disqualifying them to trade on the more lucrative markets where certification is required.

“CMO touches many aspects: significant environmental impact due to sustainable production processes and social impact through job creation, better worker conditions and a higher price for the small producer through direct access to international markets.

“CMO is a great example of the type of businesses that we seek to invest in: entrepreneurial teams leveraging technology to address real societal challenges at scale, combining a highly scalable business model with a high impact,” he said.

CMO has positioned itself to set up group certification schemes in 44 countries over the next five years, whilst selling the FSC certified products through IcePik across the globe. CMO’s FSC group scheme has certified around 35 forestry operations in South Africa, the majority of which are small-scale tree farmers operating on communal land.