Emerging forestry contractors in South Africa are in urgent need of support in order for them to make a go of their businesses. This theme became the centre of lively discussion at the SA Forestry Contractors’ Association AGM that was held at the Hilton Hotel in the KZN midlands recently.
Most of the members who attended the AGM were of the opinion that forestry contracting is an extremely tough business that requires a seasoned and experienced hand at the tiller in order to be successful. With the increasing mechanisation of forestry operations, contractors are more often than not required to borrow heavily from financial institutions in order to purchase the equipment required to fulfil their contractual obligations. This leaves them with little room for trial and error, and in the forestry environment there are so many variables at play that errors are going to be made.
Compounding the challenges that contractors face, many of the foresters appointed to ‘manage’ the contractors are themselves short on experience, and as a consequence they are unable to contribute to the solving of problems and are prone to make unreasonable demands on contractors at times.
By way of example – a contractor provides the costing for a weeding operation, based on a low level of weed infestation in a compartment. But the managing forester only gives the contractor the green light to commence the weeding operation several weeks or months later by which time the weeds are above waist high, and the original costing model is no longer adequate.
“Contractors are being set up to fail,” was a frequently heard refrain during the discussions at the AGM.
SAFCA’s new incoming CEO, Roger Johnston, himself an experienced forestry contractor, urged experienced contractors to reach out and provide emerging contractors with help, advice and support at every opportunity.
Contractor mentorship programme
A presentation at the AGM by Brad Shuttleworth of Forestry Solutions which focused on a contractor mentorship and support programme offered by his company, sparked the discussions that ensued.
“As part of the South African forestry companies’ Enterprise and Supplier Development programmes, their objective is to enhance supplier and beneficiary productivity and efficiencies in their operations. In many instances the companies identify and appoint contractors based on their own selection criteria,” said Brad.
“Once appointed the forestry contractors are expected to hit the ground running and frequently do not receive the support from the company foresters as, firstly, they are seen as independent contractors, or the company foresters do not have the time or in many instances the knowledge and expertise to mentor and assist their contractors in managing or developing their businesses.”
Brad said that experienced forestry consultants and contractors need to be mobilised as technical service providers to conduct business assessments and to provide management and operational mentorship to the identified forestry contractors.
Forestry Solutions offers a comprehensive and practical three-phase approach that covers a broad range of issues including general and legal compliance, safety, costing, risk assessments and operational planning, financial management, supervisor training, operational best practices, market linkages and expansion, continuous improvement and sustainability.
There followed some discussion among SAFCA members as to the best way to approach these challenges, and it was concluded that the association should engage with Forestry South Africa in an effort to get the forestry growers behind a contractor mentorship and support initiative.
Digitalisation of forestry operations
Muedanyi Ramantswana of Nelson Mandela University provided an overview of the forestry programmes offered at the university’s George campus. He also gave a presentation on the ‘digitilisation’ taking place in the forestry space, and demonstrated a software programme currently under development, called ForestTabs, that provides a digital platform for managing, monitoring and measuring silviculture operations.
Finally, a presentation by Rikus Smith of Forestry & General Insurance Brokers provided useful insights into the nuts and bolts of ‘public liability’ and ‘spread of fire’ insurance required by forestry contractors.
FOCUS ON FORESTRY 2023
New forestry equipment, strategies & insights
The big international forestry brands plus local equipment manufacturers and service providers as well as mulchers, chippers and grinders made their presence felt at the Focus on Forestry 2023 event held in the picturesque KZN midlands in early November. Against the backdrop of the magnificent Karkloof mountains and surrounded by Sappi’s well kept gum and pine plantations, forestry stakeholders gathered from far and wide to see the latest equipment up close and gain some keen insights from dozens of presentations that covered just about every aspect of the forestry business.
There was also a lot of networking, socialising and catching up with old friends on the fringes of the conference, as there has been a long gap since the last Focus event that was held before COVID hit.
The overall message from the conference was that forestry businesses have and will continue to encounter hard times in the form of international trade disruptions, weak economic cycles, logistics bottlenecks, rising input costs, fires and extreme weather events, but at the end of the day forestry is part of the solution for many of the world’s biggest challenges and is on an upwards trajectory.
In his keynote address, Dr Ole Sand, Managing Partner of Criterion Africa Partners (CAP), which has invested millions of dollars in forestry businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, says forestry assets have been and are still undervalued. But the positive impacts forestry makes on the global climate balance, the protection of biodiversity, employment and infrastructure are in the early stages of being recognised, valued and monetized.
He said plantations constitute just 3% of global forest area, but account for 47% of global industrial roundwood supply, while natural forestry is already beyond capacity. The demand for industrial roundwood is expected to increase by 600 – 900 million m3 per year by 2050.
Africa is a continent where forestry plays a massive role in providing people with goods and services, but there is a critical need for more efficient and more sustainable management practices.
Population growth in Africa is driving wood demand and unsustainable forest use. The continent accounts for 20% of total global wood consumption and 36% of global fuelwood consumption. However much of Africa’s fuelwood production is unsustainable, said Dr Sand.
He said subsistence agriculture is the biggest driver of global deforestation. In Africa natural forests are harvested beyond capacity, and as a result deforestation and degradation is continuing.
“Fuelwood consumption with charcoal the driver will continue, while new plantation development that is taking place is insignificant.”
In this regard, he says that the private sector is doing a better job managing plantations than the state.
Dr Sand said that the CAP team believes there are only two solutions: scale up smallholder plantation development, and improve efficiencies in charcoal production.
He says the scarce resource in African forestry is knowhow and management capacity – not capital.
“When given the market opportunity, smallholders will respond,” he concluded.
Wood replacing fossil fuels
“Everything made from fossil fuels today can be made from a tree tomorrow,” said Brazilian forest engineer Marcos Wichert of Stora Enso.
Intensification of forest management is happening, producing more from less is the objective, while making forests more resilient by:-
• Reducing use of agro-chemicals • Improving soil health • Reducing CO2 emissions.
Forestry operations are developing fast with GPS devices on planting tubes and even spades to map each tree, AI thinning selectors on harvesters, remote machine operation and unmanned autonomous timber trucks.
And the new frontier, he suggests, is about gaining a better understanding of the role of beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil. At the end of the day growing anything - including trees – is all about soil health.
Michal Brink of CMO endorsed Dr Sand’s opinion on the role of smallholder tree farmers.
“Future forestry expansion will be driven by smallholders, because the land belongs to communities,” said Michal.
The role of corporates is to serve as anchors to support and empower smallholders.
He says CMO is providing simple, affordable and scaleable solutions to enable smallholders to get their operations certified.
“Empowered smallholders are the vehicle to expansion of sustainable plantation forestry into the future,” he concluded.
Independent forester Michael Henson talked about resilient forestry and the fact that reducing the risk of failure is much more than just about site and climate.
He said clones are “impressive when they work, and equally impressive when they fail”, and are a “roll of the dice” as they have a very restricted genetic base and carry a higher biosecurity risk than seeds which are genetically more diverse.
Nelly Ndlovu of Mondi Zimele spoke of the need to do more research into agro-forestry to help small-scale growers to improve their cashflow.
Bongiwe Mafuya of Emabhaceni Development and Nature Solutions described how clearing of alien vegetation in the Eastern Cape has created jobs and improved rangelands and agricultural fields. Further good news for the community is that since the alien plant removal, the local river is flowing freely again.
FPA’s on the edge
Addressing the perennial topic of fires in forestry, Ian Henderson lamented the lack of support for FPAs from the Forestry Department and the fact that only 46% of state owned landholders are members of FPAs, while private sector membership is keeping many FPAs afloat. He suggested small FPAs should join forces to establish bigger, more viable FPAs.
Gideon van Lill of Amathole Forestry explained how they reduced fire damage in their Eastern Cape plantations from 5 894 ha burnt between 1999 to 2004 while it was under Safcol management– to 340 ha burnt between 2005 to 2023 while under Amathole Forests management. The key, he said, was meticulous, detailed risk assessment and a very focused and structured approach to risk reduction. Also improved, co-ordinated involvement of external role players.
The sudden termination of the highly successful PBS truck pilot project by the Department of Transport in September 2023 - without giving any reasons - has put forestry logistics at the crossroads. The benefits of the PBS timber trucks to growers, to the economy, to the environment and to the safety of road users has been plain to see.
“With freight rail in South Africa failing us, the PBS trucks have saved our lives,” said Francois Oberholzer of Forestry South Africa.
He acknowledged that the ‘Pilot Project’ status of the PBS trucks had to end at some point, and is hopeful that the programme’s termination signalled that the PBS trucks would be absorbed into the legislation so that they can continue to improve the efficiency of road transport.
Francois said that 56% of conventional trucks currently operating on SA’s roads would not pass the PBS safety tests.
David Taylor of Tailor Rail company expressed his optimism that private sector participation in freight rail in South Africa is coming, but that the stakeholders need to move forward with extreme caution as there are multiple infrastructure and operational challenges.
By the way, 170 metres of cable theft takes place in SA every hour of every day. That is just one of the challenges that freight rail operators will face. Will we see the return of the green uniforms of the Railway Police?
Andrew Cooper of Mondi explained their journey to single-pass harvesting. This has largely been achieved with extensive trial and error and working closely with the manufacturers of harvesting heads.
The aim is to reduce stem processing time, wear and tear on equipment, and stem damage. He reckons that two to four tons of fibre per hectare is lost from excessive stem damage during multiple-pass processing.
The trick is variable pressure control on the rollers which need to be finely tuned to the tree characteristics and conditions at the time of harvesting, coupled with fewer rollers and more knives.
The heads endorsed for one-pass harvesting are:- • SP 661E • Waratah H225E • Log Max E6 • Ponsse H7 Euca
Andrew said that the system balance is critical, and edge trees are a problem for one-pass harvesting.
“The journey to one-pass harvesting is very complicated and difficult to manage, but very worth it in the end,” he said.
Major learning: one size DOES NOT fit all.
Willem van der Merwe of Africa Biomass Company is a pioneer of chipping, mulching, grinding, shredding and billeting everything from post-harvest forestry slash to prunings, bush clearing and alien vegetation reduction in forestry and agriculture.
He says three hectares of cleared alien vegetation gains enough water savings to irrigate one ha of farmland.
Furthermore, 1.7 tons of good quality woodchips has the same energy value as one ton of coal, and reduces the carbon footprint by 95%.
He says markets for processed biomass material need to be found close by, on farms, in factories and in local small towns where more and more opportunities are opening up.
Community-focused carbon project
Candice Taylor of the New Forests Company provided insights into a community-focused carbon project in Uganda which will provide small-scale growers with additional income from carbon credits earned in their operations. One of the objectives of the project is to encourage the small growers not to harvest their trees too early before they reach maturity, which is what they tend to do in an effort to boost their cashflow.
She said the project has taken three years to monetize, and will take five years to break even.
“Carbon shouldn’t be your side business – it should be a part of your core business,” she said.
And finally a word of advice: beware of the ‘carbon cowboys’ … so-called expert consultants who charge a fortune when you can do it yourself with a bit of effort. It’s complex, but it’s not rocket science.
SA made Wuhlf mulcher put through its paces
The Wuhlf team put their big Wuhlf 960-2 wheeled mulcher through its paces at York’s Jessievale plantation in Mpumalanga in late October under close scrutiny from York’s forestry team as well as Brad Shuttleworth of Forestry Solutions, who was there to do a detailed productivity study to gauge its performance.
The Wuhlf 960-2 wheeled mulcher is a 276kW machine designed and manufactured by Pretoria-based Wuhlf Equipment. According to the Wuhlf team it compares favourably with any of the imported mulchers in terms of durability, reliability and productivity, with an additional advantage: It is designed and manufactured in SA specifically to suit conditions in Africa, so the purchase price is significantly cheaper than comparative imported machines while the spares, maintenance and technical skills required to keep it working productively are available on our doorstep. Electronics on the mulcher are kept to a minimum and there is no high-tech computer gadgetry requiring specialised skills to maintain. The machine can be repaired and serviced by any qualified hydraulic and diesel mechanics.
The Jessievale trials saw the mulcher clean up the stumps and slash left behind four months after clearfelling 20-25 year old Pinus patula grown for sawlogs. The slash conditions were ranked in three classes for purposes of the trial: Light slash; Medium; and Difficult (with big branches, stumps & high slash piles):-
Above is a quick snapshot of the time trial results. Note that the shorter the pass length the more time it takes to mulch a hectare due to the increased number of turns that the machine has to make. Also note that Brad said that the mulcher operator used in the trial was relatively inexperienced, and he would expect that a more experienced operator would improve productivity by 10-15%.
The aim of the mulching operation is to reduce the slash and stumps to a mulch blanket which covers the soil and protects it from erosion and moisture loss, while providing easy access for the pitting and planting operations to follow. Mulching also eliminates the need for a controlled burn of the slash which carries a fire risk and can damage the soil.
According to Wuhlf Sales Executive Grant Moodley, the 960-2 performed well at Jessievale and the York team were suitably impressed. It was trialled on compartments with light, medium and heavy slash to properly gauge its performance under different conditions.
Wuhlf started designing and building mulchers in 2013 and have a number of different machines in production including a T90 tracked mulcher for use in under-canopy mulching, a 930 (129 kW) medium size wheeled mulcher and the big 960-2 wheeled machine.
The mulcher heads, canopies, hydraulic pipes and brackets etc are manufactured in-house, the Danfoss hydraulic pumps are sourced from a local manufacturer, while the chassis, wheels, gearbox, diffs and engine are imported. The machines are assembled in the Wuhlf manufacturing facility in Pretoria. The mulchers come with a 12 month/1 000 hours warranty, with more extended warranty options available.
The Wuhlf mulchers will be on show at the Focus on Forestry Conference taking place in Karkloof in the KZN midlands from 7-9 November, so go along to meet the team and see the mulchers in the flesh.
ABC pioneering processors of biomass
Africa Biomass Company (ABC) has been a pioneer in the development of biomass processing such as wood chips, biofuel, and mulch in both the agriculture and forestry industries in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa over the past two decades.
In 2004 Willem van der Merwe, founder, and CEO of Africa Biomass Company, bought a small, specialised tree felling company and used wood chippers to enhance productivity. Over time these services and equipment were used in agriculture, river rehabilitation projects, and lately also forestry, with a focus on biomass to energy and under canopy mulching.
ABC has grown to meet increasing demand for these services and now has nine production teams using the latest biomass processing equipment and techniques to process plantation residue, alien invasive trees, and encroacher bushes.
ABC specialises in providing contracting services in the following core operations: -
Land Preparation Serrat mulchers have demonstrated their effectiveness as a comprehensive solution for land preparation before replanting. Plantation managers see this as the future of single-step preparation, replacing the previously used herbicides, burning, and manual labour, which were both labour-intensive and had a detrimental impact on the soil conditions.
Under Canopy Mulching and Fire Management In South Africa, the practice of under canopy mulching is gaining traction as part of an integrated fire management strategy to reduce fuel loads, such as prunings. ABC is excited about the results obtained through multiple trials in various regions using the rugged Serrat mulchers to process fuel load in an efficient, cost-effective, and ecologically beneficial way to the environment. The Serrat forestry mulchers, available as part of ABC’s contracting fleet or to purchase, come in several widths and can process several diameters of material according to the client’s need.
Biomass to Energy Correctly sourced biomass is environmentally friendly, renewable, abundantly available, and cost-effective fuel that can be combusted as a source of fuel to generate heat for a variety of applications. Typical sustainable sources of biomass are offcuts from sustainably managed commercial plantations, recycled orchard and vineyard residues, and most importantly invasive alien vegetation that is cleared as part of river rehabilitation projects. Harvesting unwanted alien vegetation increases water runoff, decreases the risk of bush fires, and contributes to the restoration of natural vegetation.
ABC is an authorised dealer for Bandit wood chippers, Serrat mulchers, Badger biomass equipment and Dezzi equipment. They are based in Worcester in the Western Cape and have branches in George (W. Cape), Kirkwood (Eastern Cape), Upington (Northern Cape), Parys (Free State), Tzaneen (Limpopo) and Nelspruit (Mpumalanga).
ABC places a high value on customer well-being and after-sales support, and each customer's operations are treated as unique, with custom-tailored solutions.
ABC are Gold Sponsors at this year’s Focus on Forestry Conference taking place at Karkloof in the KZN midlands from 7-9 November, and conference delegates are invited to visit their stand. ABC CEO Willem van der Merwe will address the following topic on Wednesday, 8th November at 11:55: “The latest biomass processing equipment and techniques available to process plantation residue, alien invasive trees, and encroacher bush.”
For a full list of new and used equipment for sale, send an email to: email@example.com
SA Forestry 2024 Desktop Calendar NOW AVAILABLE
To order your copy of the iconic SA Forestry 2024 desktop calendar, send a request by email to:- firstname.lastname@example.org
Please state your name, contact number and delivery details.
We can arrange for delivery by door-to-door courier, PostNet to PostNet, or SA Post Office – please indicate your preference.
COST: R 75 PLUS cost of delivery
The calendar includes:-
• 12 months: January – December 2024 • Stats about forestry in South Africa • Fire Danger Index • FPA contact details • Forestry Directory • Useful forestry info, including:- Conversion tables Moisture loss calculator Slope & gradient Planting spacement Thinning regimes
Forest Sector making progress in meeting transformation targets
The good news is that the Forest Sector has improved its overall B-BBEE rating from Level 4 to Level 3, demonstrating progress towards achieving transformation targets. Furthermore, there has been an encouraging improvement in the number of enterprises that submitted their B-BBEE Reports to the Forest Sector Charter Council – from 113 in 2021/22 to 192 during the 2022/23 financial year.
While these trends reflect the progress that the forest sector is making towards achieving transformation targets, it must be said that the number of enterprises submitting their B-BBEE Reports is still fairly low relative to the number of enterprises that are active in the sector.
This is the case despite the fact that annual reporting of transformation performance for all large, medium, small and even micro-enterprises is required in terms of the amended B-BBEE Act.
The Forest Sector Charter Council (FSCC), which is charged with monitoring and reporting on the sector’s progress in achieving the B-BBEE targets, has been one of the most consistent and diligent charter councils in the country when it comes to annual reporting of the state of transformation in the sector. The FSCC team has also engaged with business associations and business owners in an effort to encourage them to submit their B-BBEE reports.
In any event it is pleasing to note that the biggest companies in the sector that are engaged in forestry and processing of wood and/or fibre are reporting regularly. These companies together represent a large chunk of the sector’s turnover, so their participation is crucial to the sector’s contribution to transformation.
It is safe to say that in general, it appears that the most transformed enterprises make up the bulk of enterprises submitting their reports as they are able to demonstrate good progress towards achieving the B-BBEE targets. This observation is borne out by the fact that the majority of Qualifying Small Enterprises (QSEs) and Exempted Micro-Enterprises (EMEs) submitting Reports were ‘Enhanced’, meaning that they have between 50% and 100% black ownership and thus automatically achieve Level 1 or Level 2 B-BBEE rating.
A number of commentators have pointed out that many enterprises in the sector are currently in ‘survival’ mode due to the impacts of Covid-19, load-shedding and a generally depressed economy, and so resources are stretched. As a consequence transformation efforts may be taking a back seat to more pressing issues. This is true of many other sectors in South Africa as well.
A negative attitude towards BEE among some business owners may also be a factor in low reporting levels. The poor performance of government in terms of service delivery and the decline of state owned enterprises adds fuel to this viewpoint.
The number of enterprises that submitted valid B-BBEE reports to the FSCC by forestry sub-sector in the 2022/3 financial year was as follows:-
B-BBEE REPORTS SUBMITTED
Forestry contractors are the most diligent sub-sector when it comes to transformation, with 132 enterprises reporting.
The very low number of growers reporting is disappointing. There are around 1 300 medium size growers active in SA and one would expect more to be reporting their transformation status. In mitigation many of these growers are also involved in agriculture and may be reporting under the Agri Charter.
The 10 fibre processors that submitted their reports probably constitute most of the enterprises active in this sub-sector in SA.
The number of charcoal and pole producers that reported is also disappointing.
Forest Sector Highlights
Here are some highlights from the latest Annual Status of Transformation in the Forest Sector Report worth noting:-
• Medium and Large Enterprises (MLEs) recorded ‘remarkable’ scores in Socio-Economic Development, Enterprise & Supplier Development, Ownership and Skills Development. • MLEs achieved an average score of 50% of target in the Management Control element for the first time. • QSE Reports were received from only four of the six sub-sectors: Contractors - 58, Sawmillers – 6, Pole producers – 2, Fibre producers – 1; and zero from Growers and Charcoal producers. Nevertheless QSE’s performed well maintaining a Level 2 B-BBEE rating. • The state-owned forestry company Safcol recorded a big B-BBEE rating improvement, jumping from Level 4 last year to Level 2. • EMEs are exempted from compliance with the scorecard (they are only required to submit affidavits and/or their CIPC certificates). EME’s achieve an automatic level 4 if unenhanced (below 50% black ownership), while enhanced EMEs with 50-100% black ownership achieve Level 1 or Level 2. It’s no surprise that most of the EMEs that reported are Enhanced.
Commented Makhosazana Mavimbela, Executive Director of the Forest Sector Charter Council: "We are extremely thrilled to have achieved a level 3 B-BBEE rating with improvement also in the number of reporting entities. This performance should no doubt be an escalator for continuous improvements, reliable reporting and impactful B-BBEE implementation in the Forest Sector.
“As a sector, our new approach - besides celebrating this milestone - should be to have all reporting entities in the forest sector reporting annually and gradually elevating our reporting to a point where we are able to fully demonstrate the sector's performance and commitment to the principles and objectives of B-BBEE.”
Commented Forestry South Africa’s Ronald Heath: “We are delighted that the industry has achieved Level 3 status for the first time since the B-BBEE Act was introduced. This demonstrates objectively the progress that has been made in the transformation of the Sector. The achievement is all the more encouraging given the very challenging years which the Sector and the country have endured. It is positive to note the number of reporting entities has grown more than five times over the last three years.”
SA Inc. transformation scorecard
How does the Forest Sector stack up against the rest of South Africa when it comes to transformation?
According to Sanlam’s Transformation Gauge Report released in July this year, South Africa Inc. achieved a combined B-BBEE score of Level 3, showing an improvement in all the scorecard elements over previous years. This matches the Forest Sector’s overall Level 3.
“But there is still a long way to go,” cautions the Gauge Report.
It cites the Ownership element by way of example: SA has achieved 80.8% of the target, which is 25% voting rights in a company for black people. “Is this a good achievement after 30 years of democracy?”
The Gauge Report notes that the worst performing scorecard element in all sectors remains Management Control, achieving 69% of target, up from 56% last year.
The Report notes further that government is pushing through a raft of legislation aimed at forcing compliance with its transformation objectives, particularly from companies that want to do business with government entities. Examples of this are the Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2020 and the Draft Public Procurement Bill. While closer to home the Department of Water Affairs & Sanitation has gazetted draft regulations stipulating that water use licences will only be granted to companies with at least 75% black equity ownership.
The Report notes that government appears to be busy “re-calibrating the balance between incentives and penalties to drive compliance with B-BBEE.”
Unlocking economic development
The rationale behind government’s transformation objectives is to accelerate the entry and development of previously disadvantaged people into the mainstream economy (women and people with disabilities are included in these empowerment imperatives.). This is necessary due to the fact that under previous regimes people of colour were denied opportunities and deliberately excluded from participation in the mainstream economy. Since the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994, government has moved to reverse the negative impacts of apartheid through its B-BBEE policies.
The thrust is broad-based black empowerment – it is not just about ownership, but includes skills development, supplier development, socio-economic development and management control. This approach is designed to broaden the impacts of empowerment, to reward empowerment efforts of enterprises across a broad front, and to accommodate a diversity of business ownership structures in the transformation journey.
If implemented effectively, it will serve as a boost for the whole South African economy by unlocking the skills and talents of all of its people, and is also critical to the creation of a stable, productive and harmonious society that has been historically skewed by apartheid.
The Forest Sector also stands to gain much from effective transformation, and all enterprises engaged in forest sector business are encouraged to participate. Submitting B-BBEE reports to the Forest Sector Charter Council is not only a legal imperative, it is also a good place to start on the transformation journey.
Reporting is not difficult. It does require a bit of admin, but any business owner who has a good handle on his or her own business should have little trouble reporting against the five scorecard elements. Exempted micro-enterprises with a turnover less than R10 million a year only need to submit affidavits and/or their CIPC certificates to the FSCC to comply.
Effective transformation is therefore central to the South African Forest Sector’s sustainability, and it needs to make a positive impact in the boardroom and on the ground!
For more detailed info on the Forest Sector’s transformation journey, see the following reports:
Plantation owners in South Africa with more than 100 ha of trees in the ground are required to report their carbon emissions on an annual basis, in terms of Greenhouse Gas regulations gazetted in 2017.
This requirement is likely to send a shiver down the spines of tree farmers, who are already burdened with dozens of laws and regulations requiring their attention and compliance. More red tape, more admin … and calculating carbon balance is a daunting prospect as it is not something they learned in forestry school. This is why only a few big plantation owners in South Africa are currently reporting their carbon emissions, while the majority of growers have not yet complied with the GHG reporting regulations.
And don’t for a moment think that you can bury your head in the sand and wait for the carbon reporting thing to go away. It won’t! It is going to become a bigger issue going forward all around the world as greenhouse gas emitters come under increasing pressure. They will be taxed, punished and eventually shut out of international markets.
But fear not! The Sustainable African Forestry Assurance Scheme (SAFAS), in collaboration with the Paper Manufacturers’ Association of South Africa (PAMSA) and the Department of Forestry Fisheries & Environment (DFFE), has unpicked the knot and developed a protocol to make carbon reporting for plantation owners do-able, effective and relatively simple.
“But forestry is sustainable, renewable, it sequesters carbon out of the atmosphere and stores it in the wood, and so why do we now have to jump through these carbon reporting hoops?” I hear you cry.
Exactly! Forestry is located on the positive side of the carbon equation and this is going to become a massive advantage for this sector going forward. But first we have to monitor our emissions, calculate our carbon balance, so that we can access those advantages and reap the full benefits of growing trees. This process is going to become a way of life for foresters.
Dave Everard, chair of the SAFAS Council and former Group Environmental Manager at Sappi Forests, has been involved in the development of the SAFAS carbon reporting protocol. He gave a very succinct presentation at the recent SA Institute of Forestry AGM on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of carbon reporting.
Some background: PAMSA approached the SAFAS team a few years back with a request to develop a carbon reporting protocol for forest owners that is accurate and verifiable. PAMSA’s motivation is to enable wood processors (pulp mills, sawmills etc) who are required by law to pay a carbon tax, to offset the carbon stored in the timber they use as raw material. Currently processors can only offset the carbon sequestered in their own timber that they grow themselves on their own farms. As it stands now, mills cannot offset the sequestered carbon contained in third party timber that they buy in, and over which they do not have operational control.
Why? Because there are concerns around the chain-of-custody and how to verify the carbon claims of third party growers. This is a big problem for the processors who must procure timber from outside of their own business to keep their mills running. It’s going to get costly.
It’s also a big problem from the point of view of plantation owners who may experience declining demand for their timber as a consequence.
The SAFAS carbon reporting protocol is therefore designed to not only facilitate accurate, do-able carbon reporting for timber growers, it must also be verifiable so that it can be endorsed by the tax authorities. The first part has been achieved – the protocol is up and running and the system has been tested (and verified) on 20 farms in a pilot study.
According to Dave the SAFAS protocol is currently being presented to Treasury and is awaiting their approval to allow third party timber to be included in the carbon tax calculations of processing mills. The protocol has been developed in close collaboration with DFFE, so Dave is confident that this endorsement will be forthcoming.
Dave described a simple five-step process that growers can follow to achieve carbon reporting compliance.
Step 1 The grower registers on the SAFAS Value-Based Platform (VBP), provides some simple data on their tree growing operations including info about tree species, MAIs, stems per hectare, age distribution and utilisable standing timber. The Carbon reporting tool on the VBP provides estimates of the volume of leaves and branches, litter layer, root volume and harvest residues required for the stock calculations. The grower must also indicate whether they burned their residues, used fertiliser or had any wildfires so that emissions can be calculated.
Step 2 The Platform calculates the carbon stored in the plantation based on the info provided, utilising global carbon ratios (Tier 1), South Africa generic ratios (Tier 2) or compartment specific data if this is available (Tier 3). This calculation determines the carbon stock of the plantation for that year. Note that the carbon stored in harvested timber sold to the mill is not included in the total carbon stock. Carbon stocks less emissions gives you the carbon balance. The carbon balance from the current year less the carbon balance from the previous year indicates whether the plantation has sequestered carbon (carbon positive) or has maintained the stored carbon (carbon neutral) or has lost some carbon (carbon negative).
Step 3 Verification of the carbon stocks and emissions on the plantation during the protocol will be done by SAFAS. Note that DFFE may require some of the submissions to be independently verified by an accredited verifier, but this is post reporting and outside of the protocol. The protocol makes this verification process a simple procedure for the grower.
Step 4 The grower receives a report and signs off if he/she is happy with the calculation.
Step 5 The SAFAS VBP transfers the carbon data to the official carbon reporting platform, SAGERS, and the carbon reporting process is completed.
This process needs to be done annually. Most of the information required for Step 1 is the kind of info that a forestry manager would have recoded in the normal course of business, said Dave. It is required for FSC or PEFC certification purposes anyway.
This process not only enables the forest owner to comply with current carbon reporting regulations, it also serves as a useful management tool for the responsible farmer who wants to reduce GHG emissions going forward.
Once Treasury has endorsed the protocol and the carbon sequestered in third party timber can be verified and offset against mill owners’ carbon tax, the grower’s timber becomes more valuable as a feedstock.
Dave concluded his presentation with the following points:-
• Carbon reporting will become a requirement for forest certification, both FSC and PEFC. • The forestry sector’s role in the carbon issue should be seen as an advantage. • Forestry has a legal and socio-economic obligation to report and manage GHG emissions. • Carbon reporting is likely to become a pre-requisite for accessing many markets, both local and international. • The SAFAS protocol has been piloted with 20 farms supplying Sappi, Mondi and NCT, and the system works! • The SAFAS Value Based Platform offers many other benefits to growers, including risk assessments that address sustainability issues as well as a pathway to certification.
NCT’s small scale tree farmer of the year
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.
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 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.
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.
Showcasing women in forestry
In celebration of Women’s Day in South Africa, She Is Forestry SA has launched the first four videos in a series aimed at inspiring the next generation of girls to stay in school and consider forestry and the myriad of career avenues it offers.
She Is Forestry SA, a non-profit forestry organisation promoting and uplifting women across the forest and forest product sector, launched the videos at their annual Women in Forestry webinar on 3 August. Their aim is to produce a series of videos showcasing all the potential careers found within forestry and related industries, from growing trees in a nursery to ensuring they reach maturity in a plantation while safeguarding the environment on which forestry relies.
Commenting on the initiative, Jane Molony, executive director of the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA) adds, “As our sector looks to build its talent pipeline, initiatives like this one expose youngsters to a world of opportunities using a green, renewable resource – farmed trees – to support the economy, deliver goods to society and build communities.”
“People still have a 1970s view of forestry, that it is a male-only career path. This simply is not true,” explains Makhosazana Mavimbela, executive director of the Forest Sector Charter Council. “We have women working in every single conceivable role within the sector, from operating heavy machinery to conducting world class research. Women populate our HR, communication, finance and marketing positions, they manage plantations and nurseries, mills and lumber yards. Women own forestry businesses, contractor operations and small forestry-related enterprises. In short, there is a wealth of forestry opportunities just waiting to be explored.”
Each video follows a single woman as she discusses her role and the career path she followed. The women also explain some of the challenges they have faced along the way and how they have circumvented them.
“The beauty of the videos is that high school learners watching them will be able to relate to the women they see on the screen. They are women who have come from rural communities and had to work hard and overcome obstacles to get where they are today. They are testament to what belief, determination and discipline can deliver, making them powerful role models for future generations to aspire to,” explains Forestry South Africa’s communication consultant, Katy Johnson, who was involved in the commissioning and production of the videos.
The videos came from a request made by several of the principals from the schools that She Is Forestry SA supports, who were experiencing high dropout rates among female scholars. They felt careers advice about the potential avenues open to women and positive role models already living these careers might help the girls to see the array of potential paths open to them, and help to decrease the numbers dropping out.
While a career day at each school was an option, it would not have been sustainable and would therefore have a limited reach. Thus, it was decided to commission videos that will be hosted on She Is Forestry SA’s YouTube channel SheIsForestrySA, and made publicly available. That way, any school, organisation, individual or group could access them and be inspired by the exceptional women and abundant career avenues found within the forestry sector.
“While these first four videos focus on quite obvious forestry careers – forester, nursery manager, forestry researcher and forestry contractor – we plan on commissioning many more videos to cover all the potential forestry career avenues, from environmental auditing to accounts, pulp processing to wood science and beyond,” says Katy.
“While this is a forestry initiative, She Is Forestry SA directors include government officials who will be taking this to their colleagues in education and suggesting this could be an initiative rolled out across other sectors. We believe forestry should be a trailblazer for something bigger, a multi-sector initiative to promote science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects to women and girls across the country by using real and relatable female role models,” she adds.
Winter and early spring are the perfect time for felling trees because all those bare branches make it easier to see what you're doing. But whether you are a seasoned professional or a homeowner, tree felling is a dangerous business that requires proper planning and the right working techniques to make sure it is done safely and effectively.
Charles Henderson, Husqvarna's Tree Professional Business Development Manager, knows a thing or two about this. “Winter is the tree-felling sweet spot. The lack of leaves makes it a breeze for arborists and loggers to assess a tree's health, spot any potential issues and pick the right ones to cut down,” he says. “Homeowners should also take advantage of this opportune time if they need to cut down any trees in their gardens.”
Remember though that the most important part of tree felling is safety first! Whether you're a pro or a first-time tree-feller, Henderson recommends following these six steps to complete the task with confidence.
Start with a Plan Before commencing any tree-felling project, it's crucial to plan. Take a close look at the tree's surroundings and identify any potential obstacles that may interfere with the felling process. Consider factors such as the tree's size, shape and proximity to structures or power lines. This assessment will guide you in selecting the right tools and safety equipment needed for the job. For bigger trees, a chainsaw will always be the most efficient and effective tool and it makes post-felling work a lot easier too.
Identify the Felling Direction Carefully study the tree and assess the direction in which it naturally leans. Additionally, take note of the wind direction, as this should align with the tree's natural lean to ensure a controlled fall. Clear the area around the tree and in the direction of the intended fall to create a safe working zone.
Trim the Trunk Before making the felling cut, it's essential to prune the tree's trunk by removing any branches and twigs up to shoulder height. This will ensure that you have a clean and unobstructed cutting path to enhance the safety and precision of the tree's fall.
Determine the Cutting Technique If you are using a chainsaw, the appropriate cutting technique depends on various factors, including the tree's size, slope and the size of your chainsaw bar. There are different cutting methods such as the notch and back cut technique or the plunge cut technique, each suited for specific scenarios. If you're unsure about the best approach, don’t chance it. Get advice from a professional.
Inspect for Rot or Disease Inspect the tree's timber and lower part of the trunk for any signs of rot or disease. A weakened or decaying tree can behave unpredictably during felling, posing significant risks. If you detect any structural issues, reconsider felling the tree and consult an arborist for expert advice.
Establish an Escape Route Before starting the final cut, make sure you have a clear and safe path of retreat. This path should be at a 45-degree angle away from the direction of the tree's fall. Having a designated escape route is crucial for maintaining your safety during the felling process. Henderson reiterates prioritising safety above everything else: “Even with careful planning and preparation, tree removal can be hazardous. If you feel uncertain or uncomfortable with the process, hire a professional with the necessary expertise and equipment.” He also emphasizes the need to plant one or two new trees for every tree felled. “This practice is essential for maintaining a balanced and thriving ecosystem. By planting new trees, we can offset the environmental impact of tree removal and ensure a sustainable future, keeping the cycle of tree planting and cutting in harmony.”