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.
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.
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.
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.
Wattle growers share experiences
Foresters from NTE and NCT hosted a field day for an enthusiastic group of small-scale wattle growers at NCT’s Ahrens depot near Greytown in the KZN midlands recently.
During the workshop a number of growers who are participating in Project Wattle Regen shared the knowledge and experiences that they have gained over the past few years through their participation in the programme. These talks were followed by a field visit to two of the growers’ wattle plantations in the nearby Matimatolo tribal area.
Project Wattle Regen is a joint venture initiative between NTE and NCT that was launched in 2018 in the Greytown area. It is focused on the growing of wattle which is a popular tree crop with local people as it has many uses around their smallholder farms and two established nearby markets in the form of NCT, which purchases the timber for pulp, and NTE which purchases fresh wattle bark for processing at their Hermannsburg bark factory
The primary aim of the initiative is to promote sustainable forestry in co-operation with small-scale wattle timber growers, to increase managed hectares of wattle plantations and thereby facilitate the development of small growers to optimize their business potential and management.
According to Cliff Walton of NCT and Eza Mapipa of NTE, who are working closely together to drive the project, there has been growing interest among their members to plant wattle in a sustainable fashion and to increase the productivity of their woodlots. The Project Wattle Regen participants, who currently number 21, receive technical advice and support, free, improved wattle seedlings and herbicide and insecticide for planting, as well as market access for the timber and bark that they produce.
Participation in Project Wattle Regen is open to growers who meet the following requirements:- • Ownership and permission to occupy and plant the land endorsed by the representative Tribal Authority in writing. • The area has to have been previously planted to trees. • A fence of kinds has to be erected to protect the planted seedlings from cattle, goats etc. • The owner of the land has to be a full member of both NTE and NCT and have a supply history. • All labour costs are carried by the landowner
Assistance provided to the participating growers includes: - • Technical support • Chemicals to do a pre-plant spray (weedicide and insecticide) • Wattle seedlings
In the spring of 2018, the first plantings began in the Ntembsweni Tribal area and these efforts have since expanded to Matimatolo and beyond. Roughly 6 – 8 ha has been established yearly and there are 21 individual participants, some of whom have established more than one wattle woodlot.
Planting has ideally taken place at the optimum time from November through to January when the rain is generally good. All planting is done with one litre of water into manually prepared pits with a dimension of 25cm x 25cm and 25cm deep.
The idea of the workshop and field days was to encourage participants to work closer together and share their experiences with each other, thus paving the way for building a more sustainable base of wattle growers in these tribal areas. This in turn translates into a more stable bark and timber resource for NTE and NCT.
Transport was highlighted several times as a major problem experienced by the growers. One of the growers, Mrs Z Bhengu, said she now had her own truck and was already talking to some of the other participants about how she could assist them to get their bark and timber to market.
Mr Gwala also spoke about the poor condition of the district roads in their area and the problem with road drainage. He appealed to the participants to make sure their roads on their property were well constructed and drained properly. He mentioned that he had created a drain parallel to his property to drain off excess runoff from the district road so that it did not cut through his property, and this was working well.
Mrs T Masikane, a wattle grower and former board member of NTE, pointed out a number of advantages that the local growers enjoy regarding the supply of wattle bark to NTE. She said that the Hermannsburg bark factory is situated just 20 kms from Matimatolo, so the close proximity of the market is an advantage. Also, she said that the NTE factory is flexible to accommodate small-scale wattle growers who come in late during the season to request bark allocation. The bark season traditionally runs from September through to the end of May.
The growers have also been taken on a factory tour so now they know more about the manufacturing process and the products that their bark is used to produce, and they understand how the quality of the bark they deliver impacts on the final product.
A number of the participants said that the indoor workshop session was of great value as they were able to share ideas and experiences, and there was a general call to have more frequent workshops in future.