Wattle field day in Eswatini

Wattle growers at the field day networking and watching demo’s of forestry tools.

A successful wattle field day jointly organised by Eswatini-based Montigny Investments and South African-based NTE was held at Mhlambanyatsi in Eswatini recently, attended by around 60 enthusiastic tree farmers and stakeholders.

The aim of the field day was to promote co-operation and networking between stakeholders involved in forestry business across the border, and to share ideas about how to grow and market wattle timber and bark effectively.

Eza Mapipa of NTE said that Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) has good growing conditions for wattle, and that co-operation and collaboration between wattle growers, processors and marketers across the border was important in order to expand the resource into the future. Montigny has vast areas planted to wattle in Eswatini, and there are many small scale wattle growers active there as well, said Eza.

Presentations from invited guests from forestry businesses were followed by a field visit to a Montigny wattle plantation with live demonstrations of latest equipment and methods.

NCT Forestry’s Craig Norris discussed the importance of good land preparation for planting wattle with quality pits and good planting techniques. He also touched on the need for effective after-care and weed control to ensure productive, uniform stands.

Erich Jacobs of Sunshine Seedlings shared info about sourcing good quality planting stock and how to look after the seedlings on their journey from nursery to field. It is crucial to transport them carefully so that seedlings are not damaged in transit. He said they should be kept in a shaded area and watered regularly so they don’t dry out before they are planted.

The Stihl hand-operated earth auger makes good quality, uniform pits for planting trees.

The Stihl team demonstrated the use of a Stihl earth auger for creating uniform pits for planting, and also the effectiveness of the Stihl MS 260 chainsaw that is light but powerful and well suited to forestry work.

Callum McKenzie of Pietermaritzburg-based Silvix Forestry demonstrated the use of various forestry tools including the Faka-Plenty hand-operated planting tube that enables a field worker to put a seedling in the ground and add gel to the pit without having to stoop down, as well as some highly effective spraying tools for effective weed control.

Callum McKenzie of Silvix Forestry demonstrates a hand-held sprayer connected to a specially designed backpack for effective weed control.

Cliff Walton of NCT shared info about Project Wattle Regen, a joint NCT and NTE programme that provides support to small-scale wattle growers in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. These growers supply their timber to NCT and the wattle bark to the NTE factory at Hermannsburg.

William Aherin, Industrial Manager at NTE, provided some info on the wattle bark market, while Eza Mapipa shared insights on corrective pruning of young wattle trees to maximise growth and tree form. He also demonstrated the correct way to bundle wattle bark for transporting to the NTE bark factory at Iswepe just outside Piet Retief in South Africa.

Eza Mapipa of NTE demonstrates the correct way to bundle wattle bark for transporting to the bark factory.

Eza explained that the bark should be delivered as fresh as possible, preferably within 24 hours of harvesting. The bark should also be securely bundled with the white inner bark facing inwards so it is protected from exposure to the sun and weather. This will ensure top quality fresh bark that fetches a premium price.

NCT’s small scale tree farmer of the year

Vikesh from Pmb Power Products presents Sydney with a brand new STIHL chainsaw.

Sydney Qedumona Hlanguza from the Umvoti tribal area has been nominated by the NCT Forestry team as their Small Scale Tree Farmer of the Year for 2023.

This is a prestigious award presented annually to tree farmers who display excellence in the management of their plantations grown on tribal land.

After spending 20 years working in the formal sector, first as a teacher and then with Old Mutual’s sales division, Sydney returned to his traditional home in Ntembisweni in the Umvoto tribal area where he bought a plot situated adjacent to his family’s ancestral land.

Evidence of Sydney’s excellent forestry operations with effective weeding around newly planted tree seedlings.

Initially he managed a small rural trading store but was eventually persuaded to try his hand at forestry, initially planting wattle on his land from seed acquired from NTE.

By the time those first trees reached maturity, Sydney had made contact with NCT’s Greytown District Manager, Cliff Walton, who helped him find a market for the timber.

This was the start of a long-standing relationship between Sydney and NCT, with Sydney becoming a member of the co-op in 2010.

Sydney continued to plant wattle on his land, and now also manages the wattle plantations on the adjoining land owned by his two brothers. He has a total of three hectares of wattle under his management.

Sydney’s three hectares planted with wattle.

Sydney has been instrumental in assisting the foresters from NCT and NTE to roll out Project Wattle Regen in the Umvoti tribal areas, which aims to support the small-scale growers to improve their productivity, and expand the areas planted to wattle.

Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii) is an ideal tree crop well suited to local conditions, and with ready markets nearby.

Most of the wattle timber grown in this area is marketed through NCT which has chipping and export facilities at the nearby port of Richards Bay. The wattle bark is marketed through NTE which has a factory near Greytown that turns freshly harvested wattle bark into tannin and adhesives, destined mainly for the export market. Wattle timber not marketed through NCT is also widely used by locals in many applications such as fencing posts and building material.

Young wattle seedlings are planted in a fenced enclosure to protect them from being trampled by cattle.

Sydney shared some of the many challenges he faces daily. Goats, cattle, and duiker breaking through his fences and seedlings being removed shortly after planting. Fire also is a constant threat and part of his management plan is making sure that he has good firebreaks during the winter months. He deals with challenges faced proactively and responds tactfully. He allows neighbours to collect firewood on his property in a controlled manner, this way he gains allies rather than enemies.

In addition to his forestry business, Sydney also runs a small side-business selling gas refills, lectures in Theology at a local Bible college, and is a speed-walking champion for good measure.

Sydney is a proud father of seven children. His older children are all in successful careers while he is still responsible for his last two who are both training to be teachers. Sydney’s wife works for the University of KwaZulu-Natal as an admin clerk.

He is a humble person who is always open to learning and improving. He considers himself a “student of life” and is always ready to take advice from people who know more about something than himself.

Sydney’s fire breaks – fire is a constant threat, especially in the dry winter months.

Conserving soil health for future generations

Terry Wolhuter receiving his prize – a brand new chainsaw – from Hayden Hutton of Stihl.


Terry and Belinda Wolhuter of 92 Farming (Pty) Ltd are NCT’s Commercial Tree Farmers of the Year for 2023.

Terry is the sixth generation of the Wolhuter family farming on Eiland Spruit Farm in New Hanover in the KZN midlands. The farm was established in 1851 by Mathys Wolhuter, and was historically utilised for raising cattle while crops were cultivated in the flatter areas.

It was Terry’s father, Peter Wolhuter, who started growing wattle on the steeper areas of the farm with sugar planted on the flatter areas.

The farm is 500ha in size and is currently planted with 250ha of sugar cane, 110ha of Acacia and 40ha of Eucalyptus. The remaining hectares are managed as open areas, valleys and waterways which are well maintained with seasonal work being done to ensure alien invasives are eradicated.

All timber compartments are being re-established along the contours to prevent soil erosion.

Terry is very aware of his responsibility as the custodian of the land and the importance of ensuring the viability of the farming operation for the next generation, so conservation of the natural resources - especially the soil - is of fundamental importance to his operational planning. Hence the move to ‘regenerative agriculture’. All timber compartments that are harvested are being re-established along the contours; cool burns are practiced to reduce the harvesting residues. This is only done when the weather conditions are conducive to a cool burn, and after the local community has removed firewood from the harvest sites.

Pesticide usage is kept to a minimum and weed control is done by means of line hoeing followed by a modified slasher that uses chains instead of blades. This creates a mulch in the inter-row that conserves moisture, reduces weed germination and protects the soil from sun, wind and heavy rain storm events.
Terry uses his Nguni cattle to graze under the canopy thus reducing the fuel load for fire protection, and promoting weed control.

The farm’s neighbours are corporate timber growers and NCT commercial timber growers.

Regenerative agriculture in the sugar cane blocks is done by planting the fields due for re-establishment with a cover crop seed mix that includes Japanese Radish, Stooling Rye, Fescue grass and Oats. The resultant crop is used for grazing by the Ngunis – the manure they leave behind is a bonus for the soil. After this operation, maize is planted that is either sold or used for feed.

Terry is discovering the benefits of leaving a two-year fallow period between sugar cane crops which he says increases the microbial activity in the soil and results in improved growth when the sugar cane is replanted. Due to the current situation with more sugar cane being carried over than usual, Terry is feeding this to the Ngunis so these blocks are receiving an addition bonus of manure before the sugar cane ratoons or is planted with the cover crop.

Green wattle (Acacia decurrens) stand sown with the specially designed seeder.

Terry’s passion for his farm doesn’t stop at his adoption of regenerative agricultural operations. Innovation is what has assisted Terry in the timber operation, with the creation of a unique wattle seeder as well as a modified ripper with a duck’s foot that has improved stand survival and uniformity.

The wattle seeder, built by Terry’s mechanic Tewis, has reduced the quantity of seed used per hectare and created a uniform dense hedge of young wattle seedlings that are thinned 12 to 18 months after sowing to 2 500 SPHA and then down to 1 800 SPHA at 24 months. Where site conditions allow, conventional Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle) seedlings are planted. This is where Terry’s ripper and duck’s foot combination comes to the fore. This piece of equipment creates a rip line, and the seedlings are planted into it after is has been marked to the correct espacement. The addition of the duck’s foot behind the ripper’s tine shatters the soil underneath the surface, while the suspended weight automatically closes up the rip line ensuring that soil moisture is not lost due to drying out. This replaces the conventional pit planting system.

Being a sugar cane grower and owning an earth moving business specialising in cane contouring and water way construction, Terry knows the importance of a well-maintained road infrastructure. All the main access roads throughout the farm are gravelled. Contour roads and water ways are all grassed to prevent erosion. Stream crossings are constructed with pipes and concrete so vehicles can cross easily and silting up of the streams is prevented.

A composting operation on the farm reduces the need to purchase synthetic fertilizers to boost growth of the sugar cane crops. Compost is made from a mixture of cane tops, Mila sourced from the local cane mill and chicken litter. The ingredients are mixed and left to break down into a healthy compost that enriches the soil and boosts growth.

The composting operation reduces the need to use synthetic fertiliser, and is central to the regenerative agriculture approach.

Social responsibilities are as important as any other operation on the farm, and apart from assisting with firewood, Terry has loaned TLBs to the community and sponsored a local soccer team.

Terry he attributes the success of the farm to everyone working together, and he says it wouldn’t be the success that it is without the assistance of his wife, Belinda, especially when it comes to all the admin work.

Responsible pesticide use is essential … all pesticides are locked safely away when not in use.

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.

Mega-fires, politics and the force of nature

Ghostly post mega-fire landscape, Southern Cape.

The number and severity of out-of-control wildfires are increasing around the world, causing untold damage to the environment, to infrastructure and the local economies, not to mention the loss of life and suffering of fire victims – both human and animal.

We all know why this is happening … climate change, prolonged dry spells followed by high winds, uncontrolled development on the urban-wildland interface, the proliferation of invasive alien plants leading to high fuel loads, changing land use patterns, poor land management, criminality, negligence and arson.

Yet we live in an environment here in southern Africa that is described as ‘fire-prone’. The natural landscapes around us actually need fire to maintain their ecological integrity. Surely we should have learned to manage these dynamics by now?

The fact of the matter is that fire is a primal force of nature that is not easily controlled, and in some instances is uncontrollable. Therefore human efforts to manage fire are always going to be caught short. Once a big fire is rampaging through a dry landscape with high fuel loads and strong winds behind it, there is no stopping it.

Our best option is to try and manage the conditions that fuel the development of uncontrollable wildfires in the first place, and to get our disaster teams organised to deal with the consequences when they do happen. This is easier said than done, requiring a level of cooperation between land owners, land managers, fire protection associations, fire authorities at all levels of government - and the weather gods – that has thus far escaped us.

Nelson Mandela University has made a huge contribution to efforts to understand and manage the dynamics that surround fire management through the development of a comprehensive Fire Management study programme and the hosting of annual Fire Management symposiums that bring together fire experts from around the country and the world.

Many of these fire experts attended the most recent 13th Fire Management Symposium held at NMU’s George Campus in November last year, thrashing out the issues, comparing notes and networking furiously. Useful, but unlikely to stop the next mega-fire. As one experienced delegate pointed out, we talk and talk but get no closer to achieving the level of collaboration required by all the fire stakeholders to actually make a difference.

Well controlled prescribed burn in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is designed to reduce fuel loads in an effort to prevent unwanted wildfires.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the absence at these symposiums of key government figures who could influence policy and resource allocation at national, provincial and local levels that would enable fire management stakeholders to ramp up their capacity to manage fire.

Forestry companies find themselves in the trenches at the fire-line, spending their own money to protect their plantations and processing facilities from wildfires, many of which are started outside of their boundaries. They prop up local fire protection associations, run fire awareness campaigns and put out fires they didn’t start.

This is where the rubber hits the tar.

One of the highlights of the recent Symposium was the presentation by Montigny Investments’ Risk Manager, Arno Pienaar. The Montigny team operates 80 000 ha of forest land in neighbouring Eswatini, and have implemented an old school ‘military style’ approach to keep fires out of their plantations, with considerable success. These are the same plantations that burnt to the ground in 2008, resulting in the closure of the Usutu pulp mill and the loss of hundreds of jobs. Montigny Investments is now the biggest single employer in Eswatini, and they simply cannot afford to allow another mega-fire to destroy it all again. So they have made their own plans, unconventional but effective (see full story here).

One of the keys to Montigny’s success, and this came up again and again during the symposium, was the need to get local communities on your side to prevent wildfires from happening. Properly on your side. Cut out arson fires started by angry, bored, poor, disgruntled neighbours, and half your battle is won.

This is way easier said than done, and involves a complete overhaul of the socio-economic conditions that prevail in much of southern Africa. It’s complicated, and goes way beyond the scope of the fire management fraternity.

Lessons from a mega-fire

Perhaps it would be useful to re-look at the learnings that Paul Gerber, Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Cape FPA, took from the 2017 mega-fire that turned large swaths of the Southern Cape region between George and PE to a cinder in 2017.

The Southern Cape Fire Protection Association has its hands full keeping wildfires out of this region.

• Overall there is a greater need for integrated fire management.

• Greater focus needs to be directed at awareness of the general public as well as different authorities, concerning the fire hazards that exist in the natural as well as built environment.

• Lack of financial resources: Plans for fire fighting are good but must be implementable by providing ample resources. The emphasis needs to be on being pro-active rather than reactive. A good example here is that helicopters are not deployed early enough while fires are still small and conditions are favourable, because of the high operating costs involved. They are only released when fires have assumed disastrous proportions, by which time conditions are often no longer safe for flying.

• Because of a general shortage of fire-fighting capacity and resources, more emphasis should be placed on pro-active fire prevention measures, especially controlled burns. In the well-known fire triangle, the fuel load, particularly the fine fuel component, is the only factor that can be managed and controlled. This is the factor on which all involved in fire prevention should concentrate.

• The use of media in informing and warning people was not effective. In the recent fire there was a lack of communication with the public/residents, as well as among fire fighting crews during the operations. The need for an independent, dedicated two-way radio communication system during disasters was identified, as communications via existing radio and cell-phone networks proved to be ineffective at times.

• Tactical and operational planning for the combatting of wildfires of this size should rely heavily on local experience and knowledge. With the introduction of authorities from elsewhere to take command, it was found that advice from local fire experts was disregarded.

• All spheres of government involved in fire disasters need to be trained in the incident command system.

• Divisional supervisors (‘fire bosses’) need to be well trained. At the Knysna fire there were not enough qualified fire bosses. Such supervisors need to undergo organised training courses. In the recent fire five FPA managers had to be made available to act as divisional supervisors.

• The need for fire fighting personnel experienced in veld fires who know how to make back-burns, was identified. The holiday resort of Buffalo Bay and the Fairview forest village were saved from being destroyed by judicious back-burns by foresters. It must be noted that some authorities would not give permission for such operations to be conducted.

• In the urban-rural interface, many houses built amongst natural vegetation burnt down. This practice must be reviewed and buildings need defendable space around them in the case of wildfires.

Here are some take-outs from the 13th Fire Management Symposium:-

A common thread of wildfires around the world … droughts followed by heat waves with temps above 40 degrees C and strong winds - Greg Forsyth, CSIR

Symposium presenters fielding questions from the floor (left to right) Ian Pienaar (Montigny), Trevor Abrahams (WoF), Paul Gerber (Southern Cape FPA) and Pam Booth (Knysna Municipality).

10 000 ha burnt in five hours. Final size of the fire: 189 000 ha. Flame lengths: 300 metres - Rodeo-Chediski fire, Arizona, 2002.

When it rains a lot in dry parts of South Africa, beware the following year the risk of wildfires increases - Greg Forsyth, CSIR

Building regulations should take fire risk into account – Greg Forsyth.

More accurate, balanced and informed reporting on fire is needed in SA – Lee Raath Brownie, Fire & Rescue International.

Fires are a people problem – Arno Pienaar, Montigny.

We need 17 000 wildland fire fighters in SA. We have 5 300 – Trevor Abrahams, Working on Fire.

One of the successes of the WoF programme are the many people who come through the programme and move into positions of employment. 60% of WoF managers are former WoF firefighters – Trevor Abrahams.

Working on Fire is a government job creation initiative that trains and deploys young fire fighters who assist landowners in times of need.

We talk and don’t implement. We are still doing it – Paul Gerber, Southern Cape FPA.

The Knysna fire was reported two months before it turned into a big fire. It was left to smoulder – Paul Gerber.

Fire is part of the African landscape. If you exclude it, it will lead to higher fuel loads and ultimately bigger fires – Piet van der Merwe, WoF.

Fires grow exponentially after ignition. The quicker you can get to it, the smaller is the fire and the easier it is to put out. – Piet van der Merwe.

We need to figure out how to capacitate FPAs … almost all of them are dependent on private sector funding – Val Charlton, Land Works.

Integrated fire prevention is a leadership problem more than a funding problem … there is an absence of political leadership and support – Etienne du Toit, Western Cape Government

Fuel load influences all the pillars of your fire management strategy – Deon Greyling, Mondi.

Big fires change the ecology of a landscape – Dr Rachel Loehman, US Geological Survey.

Pine and fynbos are highly flammable and fire prone – Dr Annelise Schutte-Vlok, Cape Nature.

Fire frequency is lower in small and medium grower plantations – Jeffrey le Roux, Sappi.

Everything that happens on the surface of the earth affects the groundwater, which provides 30% of the world’s fresh water. All pollution percolates down into the groundwater. So wildfires and groundwater are intimately linked – Dr Jo Barnes.

The ‘bakkie sakkie’ is the basic equipment that helps foresters keep wildfires out of their plantations.
Rehabilitation work on the go to prevent soil erosion near Knysna after the 2017 inferno.
Stihl knapsacks, blowers and chainsaws on display at the symposium.
Timber salvaged by PG Bison after the 2017 Knysna fires is stacked in a massive wet deck that at its height was 3 km long, 24 metres wide and 4.5 metres high. (Photo courtesy Roger Parsons and Ritchie Morris)
Fighting fires is dangerous work … you need the right gear.
Tiaan Pool, Head of the Forestry, Wood Technology and Veldfire Management Department at Nelson Mandela University, is the driving force behind the Fire Symposiums held at the NMU George campus.


*Check out the related feature: Military approach to fire prevention at Montigny

STIHL SA celebrates 25 years

The evening was enjoyed by staff from STIHL South Africa, the global STIHL Group and STIHL dealers. From left to right: Norbert Pick (STIHL Group Executive Board member), Anil Hoolasi (Supply Chain Manager for STIHL SA), Ammerentia and Gert Venter from GP Lawnmowers, Rudi Kruger (National Sales Manager for STIHL SA) and Johannes Wetzel (STIHL Regional Sales Manager for Africa and Asia).

Representatives from STIHL SA and the global STIHL Group recently celebrated over 25 years of the brand’s presence in South Africa. STIHL SA was the group’s first sales and marketing subsidiary on the African continent, opened in November 1996 by Mr Hans Peter Stihl, a direct descendent of the group’s founder Andreas Stihl.

The 25th anniversary event was held at Birchwood Hotel in Johannesburg and was attended by STIHL SA staff, STIHL dealers, as well as STIHL international representatives, Norbert Pick (Executive Board Member for Sales and Marketing of the STIHL Group) and Johannes Wetzel (Regional Sales Manager for Africa and Asia). The 25th anniversary should have been held in 2021, but the July unrest and COVID restrictions necessitated the delay in celebrations.

STIHL develops, manufactures, and distributes outdoor power equipment for many industries including forestry, agriculture, landscaping and construction. Internationally, the STIHL Group's sales network consists of 42 sales and marketing companies, approximately 120 importers and more than 55,000 independent, authorised dealers in over 160 countries. STIHL has been the world's best-selling chainsaw brand since 1971.

Gateway into Africa
Commented Norbert Pick in his address at the 25th anniversary event: “South Africa is said to be the gateway into Africa and for STIHL this has been true. What we have learned in South Africa, we have been able to apply to other African markets. Just this week we officially opened our second STIHL sales subsidiary on the African continent, in Nairobi, Kenya. We have also recently opened a marketing office in Côte d'Ivoire. So, STIHL is on the move in Africa and looking forward to growing with our network of dealers throughout the continent,” he said.

STIHL Group Executive Board member Norbert Pick, Gaby Dunkley and Dave Hutton, former Managing director of STIHL South Africa

“Our subsidiary in South Africa is solidifying its position in Southern Africa. We will continue to invest in Africa and in the Southern African region. We came here to stay and to grow, no matter the challenges, which we have mastered and will continue to master in the future as well,” said Norbert.

History of STIHL in South Africa
STIHL’s presence in the South African market began with an importer, Dowson & Dobson in 1956. Then, in 1962 a representative from the STIHL factory in Germany came to South Africa to establish an official importer here. One of his calls was to Motor & General Supplies, where it was his unenviable task to try to persuade a conservative management team to take on the role of official STIHL importer in South Africa. On his return to Germany, he had to tell Andreas Stihl that a large South African company had ordered a grand total of five chainsaws!

These first five chainsaws were duly shipped to South Africa for Motor & General to introduce STIHL to the local market. Despite this slow entry, these models were soon to become household names in the South African timber industry and subsequently Motor & General began importing Stihl chainsaws by the container-load, some 620 units at a time.

In 1982, David Hutton took over the management of the STIHL division of Motor & General. On his retirement in 2011, his son, Hayden Hutton, took over the reins as managing director of STIHL SA.

One of the first STIHL chainsaws to be imported into South Africa.
Modern chainsaws are powerful, efficient and safe when handled the correct way.

A century of business
STIHL’s origins go all the way back to 1926 when Andreas Stihl founded an engineering office in Stuttgart. From there, in a quest to ease the demanding heavy labour of forestry work, he began the development of his first chainsaw. In 1927, Stihl launched this chainsaw, the electric trimming chainsaw with a 2.2kW electric motor weighing in at a hefty 48kg. He followed this with his first petrol chainsaw, the STIHL type A tree-felling machine in 1929. Andreas Stihl applied the principal of only supplying his products through specialist dealers who could provide expertise, guidance and excellent after-sales service, a corporate policy that exists to this day.

Back in the day it took two or three men to handle a chainsaw.

“STIHL is a multigenerational business, and many third-generation family members are active in the business today, including Dr Nikolas Stihl, chair of the advisory board and the supervisory board, positions which he took over from his father, Hans Peter Stihl, son of the founder, Andreas Stihl. We have a generational story at the South African subsidiary as well, because I was fortunate enough to take over the management of the subsidiary upon the retirement of my father,” said current STIHL SA MD Hayden Hutton.

“Whilst our 25th anniversary maybe the excuse to celebrate, it is not the only thing that we celebrate. It has taken tremendous effort from all of us to create what we all currently enjoy as part of the STIHL South African family. To all our dealers and to my staff, I would like to personally thank you for the contributions that you have made to the success of STIHL in South Africa. I am extremely excited about what the future holds. During the unrest last July, when our premises were destroyed and our stock looted, we stood together as a family. We relied on our strong relationships to maintain good cooperation internally and with you, our dealers. And from across the seas, the STIHL family, executive board, and staff in the headquarters and factories, all stood ready to lend a hand and to support us.”

STIHL South Africa Managing Director Hayden Hutton with STIHL Group Executive Board member Norbert Pick.
From left to right; STIHL Dealers Mirko and Loraine Gregorini (Lawnmowers and Turf Trading), Sonica and Ettienne Spamers (Homegrown Contractors) and Lucille and Bruce Mason (Berry’s Garden Machinery).

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

STIHL bounces back

It’s a month since the unrest that saw the STIHL SA head office and its warehouse in Pietermaritzburg being totally destroyed, with the loss of 100% of the stock. Dealers in Durban, Greytown, Empangeni, Pinetown and Howick were also looted. However, plans were almost immediately set in place to get stock back into the country as quickly as possible, and the affected dealers ‘made a plan’ to get back up and running again. It’s been a tough few weeks but the good news is that STIHL has received delivery of over 90 tons of stock via airfreight, with more to come through within the next few days. STIHL had to integrate its systems with those of the new third party logistics partner, which required extensive testing. The first test orders were received by dealers last week and the company is gradually ramping up the dispatch of orders to its dealers.

This is positive news, after the stories of loss and destruction that some dealers have to tell…

John Bulteel of Modern Mowers in Springfield Park, Durban, a particularly hard-hit area, says the fact that they deal in larger, less portable products such as tractors, lawnmowers and golf cars in addition to more portable items meant that they didn’t lose everything in the violence and looting. He is also relieved that the premises were not burned. “They came through the main gate and roller shutter doors and we believe that they were busy for an extended period of time. We lost the portable stock and also two vehicles that were driven straight through the roller doors.”

The shop was closed for the entire week of the unrest but cleaning up began the following Monday and the shop was operational the next day. It took time to replace the smashed glass, the rammed access gates, roller doors and damaged computers, as well as restocking, so Monday 2 August was the first truly ‘back-to-normal’ day.

Craig Bishop of National Power & Plant in Pinetown, a STIHL exclusive dealer, had put almost 80% of his stock out on the floor on the Friday before the unrest broke out to shoot a promotional video. “We lost 45 STIHL machines: backpack blowers, brush cutters, chainsaws,” he says. “Luckily they were not able to get into the storage area - they were probably disturbed.”

Craig and his team were back at work the Monday after the unrest, and despite the devastating losses and damage, they were kept busy rebuilding second-hand machines from scrapped stock. “Our workshop was busier than ever, especially after I posted a video on Facebook, and luckily we could still do servicing. We also still had items such as oils etc to sell, and had stock of STIHL FS 160 and FS 280 models, which are our bread and butter lines.”

Craig is upbeat despite the situation. “We have been dedicated STIHL exclusive dealers since 1996 and remain firm STIHL supporters. I’m extremely impressed at how quickly STIHL has been able to put a solution together and it has given us the confidence to remain exclusive dealers and not panic and look for alternative brands.”

Chris Odell of Midlands Power Equipment in Howick, a small town badly hit by the unrest, was also spared a 100% loss of stock as the looters did not gain access to his storeroom.

There was a similar situation at Haig’s Mower and Chainsaw Centre in Empangeni, where Len Liversage says he feels fortunate that the looters were not able - despite two attempts - to get to where most of the stock was kept. “They took everything that was displayed - it was terrible to watch women and young girls acting like crazed animals. Our chap from armed response stopped them eventually after they’d gained access by ripping out a window and its frame (the burglar bars were riveted inside) and smashed the exterior security camera. He calmed them down and asked them to leave, saying there was nothing left to steal. They did try again later, breaking into another section of the dealership, but again did not manage to get to the storeroom. They also left the office and the computers alone.” The store has been open for 50 years, Len has been there for 48, and the building will need extensive repairs. But Len is determined to bounce back.

Umgeni Lawnmowers in Springfield Park was not so lucky. According to owner Dirk Illing, “There was not a room they didn’t get into. What they didn’t take they destroyed. Even the lever arch files were stamped on and broken.”

On Monday 12 July, Dirk was contacted by Marshall Security to inform him that the business was being looted. Despite being advised to stay away from a ‘dangerously volatile’ situation, he drove first to the security company headquarters and then to the Durban North police station before heading home. He was finally able to visit his dealership on the afternoon of 14 July.

“The Massey Fergusson tractor parked outside our front roller door had been tampered with but clearly the looters were not able to start it. The roller shutter door had been prised open and was raised by 500mm. I crawled under it and was confronted with mayhem,” he says. “The entire stock of power products was gone. There was not a single unit left. No Stihl brush cutters, no Stihl chainsaws, no lawnmowers, no generators, no water pumps, no Stihl mist-blowers - nothing in the form of a power product. The lower workshop was also mayhem, with a few jobs in transit still there. All our tools were missing including the workshop compressor, drill press, stand-by generator, bench grinder, ride-on hoist.” It looked as if a forklift fork had been used to remove the extremely stout workshop window burglar bars.
The work computers were all gone, along with the till and printer. The office safe had been opened and R16 000 was missing. Dirk estimates that about 50 % of the spares stock and all the power tools were taken from the main storeroom. The room adjacent to this is where special tools are kept - “nothing was left except leg guards”. In the brush cutter repair workshop, almost all of the customer units were missing, as well as all the work spanners and power tools. Even machines in for repairs were taken.

The looters had also stripped the kitchen area, taking everything, even the tap and mixer! The gents’ toilet was pulled away from the wall and smashed; the lower workshop was used as a toilet and left in a filthy state.

Despite the devastation, Dirk refuses to throw in the towel. “We’re not running from this. We are reasonably well insured and we will forge ahead. I have been buoyed up by my customers, who have come in to the shop to personally give us promises of support.”

Hayden Hutton, managing director of Andreas STIHL (Pty) Ltd says, “Whilst poor South Africans remain the biggest victims of the recent unrest, STIHL and its dealers also suffered significant losses. The STIHL warehouse in Pietermaritzburg was looted and then burnt to the ground, resulting in an interrupted supply of our products that support customers in the forestry, landscaping, and municipal markets, which include many emerging contractors and businesses. But it’s the individual stories of loss and of staff being afraid of losing their jobs that were so distressing. These are people who are as passionate about our brand as we are, and we could not let them down.”

With support from STIHL head office in Germany, the company quickly put into effect an emergency plan to get spares and products to the country from STIHL factories around the world. STIHL head office staff members moved to new premises and STIHL secured a short term warehousing and distribution solution in anticipation of receiving the tons of airfreight as well as containers via sea.

Don’t buy stolen goods
STIHL is appealing to those who see STIHL products advertised online, especially at suspiciously low prices, to be careful of buying stolen property and to check the product serial number at www.stihl-stolen.com to see if products are stolen or are legitimately owned. Always ask for proof of ownership such as a receipt or warranty before buying second-hand goods is the advice.

“The devastation during the unrest is really heartbreaking,” said Hayden. “It is clear that South Africa needs a social compact, to ensure that this never happens again. This means not only ensuring economic opportunity for the poor, but it’s also apparent that we need a moral regeneration, especially when considering the instances of ‘wealthy’ South Africans who took part in the looting. It is heartening to see that many culprits were ‘named and shamed’ via social media, some have already appeared in court, and in some places, stolen goods have been handed in to the police by the community. The country’s commercial sector can rebuild these businesses, but they can only survive and thrive if the government and society work together.”

STIHL pledges support for subsidiary in South Africa

Safety of staff is the company’s top priority as STIHL pledges to rebuild buildings damaged by looters during the recent unrest in South Africa, retain staff and support dealers ...

“For us as a family-owned company, the protection and safety of our employees is our top priority” says Dr Nikolas Stihl, Chairman of the STIHL Advisory Board and Supervisory Board. “We are shocked and appalled by the images coming out of South Africa. Parts of the country have been affected by severe rioting, violence and looting. The region in and around Durban has also been affected – as has our South African subsidiary ANDREAS STIHL Ltd. in Pietermaritzburg. We are pleased that all of the employees and their families are unharmed.”

The STIHL SA warehouse in Pietermaritzburg has been completely destroyed and its office building severely damaged as a result of the unrest and looting. STIHL headquarters in Germany has set up a crisis team to organise measures for the protection and well-being of the subsidiary’s roughly 40 employees in cooperation with Hayden Hutton, the Managing Director of STIHL South Africa.

Commitment to South Africa reaffirmed: STIHL guarantees jobs and supports dealers
“Our subsidiary in South Africa will continue to exist going forward. No employees will lose their jobs due to this unusual situation. On the contrary, we will rebuild STIHL South Africa. To do so, we need the expertise and dedication of our staff. We will make sure that our customers can continue to buy and use STIHL products in the future,” said Dr Stihl.

The STIHL subsidiary in South Africa supplies local dealers with products. The company has also pledged to help dealers. Right now, it is working on ways to supply dealers with its products in the short to medium term. Containers are being shipped to the country, with plans in place to also send equipment to South Africa by air.

The STIHL Group develops, manufactures, and distributes outdoor power equipment for forestry, agriculture, landscaping and construction sectors.