Time to build with timber

Sawn timber, a locally grown, sustainable resource, provides the raw material for the construction of timber frame buildings using cutting edge cross-laminated-timber technology to lock in carbon and minimise environmental impacts.

How engineered wood can decarbonise the South African built environment …
by Roy Southey, Executive Director, Sawmilling South Africa

Our planet is faced with both an environmental crisis and housing crisis. There is, however, a sector that is overlooked as a viable, renewable and long-term solution to climate change and urbanisation.

Having recently attended the annual Wood Conference in Cape Town, I was inspired to hear and see how timber is being used successfully in the built environment, not just in the northern hemisphere but also on home soil. From modern homes in an off-the-grid community in Mogale City to a learning centre in the Drakensberg, from a new home in Knysna or a rooftop extension to a Johannesburg home to the Green Point Education dome in Cape Town.

At the mention of wood, your mind’s eye might only be able to conjure an image of a log cabin or “wendy house”, or perhaps a roof truss or timber flooring. It’s unlikely that you imagined a multi-storey building made from cross laminated timber (CLT), a type of engineered wood for mass timber construction.

You’re forgiven, considering that less than 1% of new South African houses use timber as the primary construction material. By comparison, some 90% of new houses in New Zealand are made of timber.

As a sector trying to promote the adoption of mass timber, we are faced with a long-held belief that brick-and-mortar is the only way to build homes, schools and clinics. There are many misconceptions, not least of which being strength, durability, fire safety, and cost. Many people view wood as rudimentary or weak.

Mass timber uses technological advancements to engineer wood to have a stronger strength-to-weight ratio. In the case of CLT, thin layers of timber are laid crossways before being bonded and compressed together.

It’s been said that wood isn’t manufactured, it grows. From a South African perspective, the wood is sourced from sustainably managed tree plantations.

Pine timber grown by AC Whitcher in the Western Cape … it’s time has come.

The forest products sector is the only one to have the trifecta of green solutions when it comes to the carbon sequestration by trees in managed forests, carbon storage in its products and the substitution of carbon-intensive materials with wood-based products.

The construction sector accounts for 35-40% of global energy related CO2 emissions, with a large proportion (embodied emissions) attributable to the extraction, processing and energy-intensive manufacturing of building products. The other main source is operational emissions from heating, cooling and power generation.

Timber boasts a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to traditional building materials like concrete and steel. Timber also maintains a carbon-negative status throughout its lifecycle, from initial production to disposal, and it sequesters more carbon than it emits during processing and installation.

Our colleagues at the Stellenbosch University, Prof Brand Wessels and Dr Philip Crafford have published various pieces of research, highlighting the advantages of increased timber use in South Africa. Basic modelling analyses show that if the market share of wood-based buildings increases to 20% of new constructions, the embodied energy and global warming potential of the residential building sector could decrease by 4.9%.

As our population and economic migration increases, there is an urgent need to change how we build high density and single family housing, quickly, cost-effectively and sustainably.

Human friendly, planet friendly, timber is the ideal building material of the past and the future.

There is a climate, economic and even social case for timber, and a significant opportunity for innovation, localisation and employment creation. Several industry players, architects, construction engineers and producers are focused on making engineered wood more accessible to the local market. With this comes the need for upskilling or reskilling, business growth and employment opportunities.

Wood lends itself well to modern, modular and off-site methods of construction, with improved efficiency and performance. Single and multi-storey buildings are prefabricated off-site, allowing for quicker on-site assembly, less journeys to and from site (and the associated carbon emissions), and minimised disruption, dust and noise.

Biased towards tried-and-tested steel and concrete, the public and private sector is reluctant to drive the use of timber in the built environment through procurement policies.

Through initiatives such as the Forestry Master Plan, partnerships with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and forward-thinking academia, we want to shift the needle in favour of using locally grown and processed timber.

Both the University of Pretoria and Stellenbosch University have a strong wood science focus, and helping to educate a new generation of architects and construction engineers.

Dr Schalk Grobbelaar, senior lecturer and chairperson of the York Timbers Chair in Wood Structural Engineering in University of Pretoria’s Department of Engineering & Technology Management, is a champion for our cause. He believes that a design-led approach is crucial to successful risk management where timber solutions are used, while also exposing people to possibilities that timber brings.

Dr Grobbelaar’s team has been focusing on traditional timber frame construction combined with modern CNC machined plywood/OSB modular construction.

Prof Wessels and Dr Crafford have also developed The Wood App, a platform that offers architects, builders and designers with access to a host of CPD accredited courses on local wood standards, materials and best practice.

The sawmilling sector, while small in comparison to other industrial sectors, supplies sawn timber and other products for various applications, from structural timber to moulded and machined products for decking, flooring and ceilings. Many of these sawmills operate in rural or peri-urban areas, providing much-needed employment to thousands.

The uptake of timber represents a massive opportunity for our country and our planet. It’s time to trust in timber.

FORESTRY JOB OPPORTUNITY

Job opportunity for a young, vibrant Forester who is suitably qualified, experienced and meets the following requirements:

• Physically fit
• At least 5 years of experience in a harvesting operation
• 3-5 years of experience working with mechanical harvesting equipment
• Be able to Plan, Lead, Organise and Control staff
• Work with little to no supervision
• Must be willing to adopt a "hands on" approach
• Must be willing to travel to various rural areas and be willing to work longer than normal hours
• Must be willing to work night shifts when required

Minimum Requirements
• Completed Degree or Diploma in Forestry would be advantageous, but not critical if the candidate has relevant experience
• 3-5 years of experience working with Microsoft Office
• Ability to communicate in isiZulu or isiXhosa
• Unendorsed Driver’s License, Minimum Code 08 / B
• Clear criminal record
• Traceable references

In return, the company offers a competitive package and a company vehicle.

Applicants to email CVs to chris@saforestryonline.co.za.

Navigating the minefield of pesticide use in forestry

Noxolo Ndlovu … her PhD study measures the residue from pesticide applications in forestry on soil, water and sediment. (Photo courtesy FSA).

A ground-breaking study undertaken in the KZN midlands shows that pesticides commonly used in South African plantation forests pose low or minimal risk of impacting negatively on the environment, but there are some red flags worth noting. This is mostly good news for growers who are restricted in terms of the number of pesticides approved for use, and are under increasing pressure from certification bodies, environmentalists and consumers, to minimise usage of chemical pesticides.

The study was undertaken by Nelson Mandela University PhD candidate Noxolo Ndlovu, who is employed as a researcher at NCT Forestry. Noxolo’s presentation was the highlight of the recent webinar hosted by the Timber Industry Pesticide Working Group (TIPWG).

Further good news for foresters is that the research team used the findings to develop a generic decision support tool to guide pesticide use tailored to South African conditions.

The data gleaned from the study is significant as there is a paucity of research on the environmental impacts of pesticide use in forestry in South African conditions.

The study was undertaken over a 26 month period between planting of E. smithii in 2020 and canopy closure in NCT’s Ingwe plantation in the KZN midlands. Ingwe is a fairly typical KZN midlands plantation situated on a steep site with a stream nearby, and therefore represents possibly a worst case scenario in terms of pesticide residue and run-off.

Slash on the site was burnt and previous rotation stumps were killed by chemical application, so there was little material present to absorb the pesticides applied during the study period. These applications included a pre-plant weed, soil-born insect pest management, weed management and foliar insect pest and disease management.

White grubs are beneficial to soil health on the one hand, but they can also damage the root plug of newly planted seedlings and cause plant mortality on the other hand. Chemical pesticides used to control white grubs in soil before planting are under intense scrutiny from certification bodies and environmentalists, and alternative, biological-based management solutions are required.

While the results of the study were encouraging from a forestry perspective, Noxolo was quick to point out that this was a single site, single rotation study and further research is needed to gain a clearer understanding of the impacts of pesticide use in different locations and under different conditions.

Glyphosate, which was used more often and in higher quantities than the other chemical pesticides tested, emerged with the cleanest record and was never detected in any of the soil samples. The concentrations of the other chemicals in the soil declined rapidly through successive sampling with no trace left after the final sampling.

All the pesticides tested showed up in water in a nearby stream after the first rain post application, but the concentrations had decreased significantly at the next sampling.

All of the pesticides tested (except glyphosate) were detected in stream sediment and lasted longer than they did in water, but did decrease over time and were below the detection threshold by the time of the final sampling.

After comparing the pesticide concentrations that they found in the soil, water and sediment at Ingwe against standard lab toxicity studies, the researchers concluded that the toxicity risks posed by the pesticides tested were generally low or moderate, but there were two red flags:-

• Metazachlor posed a ‘high risk’ to drinking water and to aquatic organisms;
• Cypermethrin posed a ‘high risk’ to sediment dwelling organisms.

PESTICIDETOXICITY RISK
SOIL
TOXICITY RISK
WATER
TOXICITY RISK
SEDIMENT
GlyphosateLowLowLow
TriclopyrLowLowUnknown
CypermethrinLow-High
MetazachlorLowHighLow
AzoxystrobinModerateUnknownUnknown

Noxolo concluded by saying that the study is a valuable first step in understanding the impacts of pesticide usage on the environment in SA, and recommended that further research is needed. This should include research into non-chemical methods of pest and disease management in forestry to reduce reliance on pesticides, she suggested..

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the buzzword that describes the current approach in agriculture and forestry to move away from narrow, traditional pesticide solutions to manage pests in a more economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally safe manner. This approach requires foresters to look at other, safer alternatives to manage pests and diseases - like biological-based solutions.

Addressing issues around IPM, Roger Poole, TIPWG’s agro-chemical liaison guru, said that although conventional chemical pesticide solutions for plant protection currently comprise 95% of the global agriculture market and biological solutions just 5%, the balance is shifting. The biological sector of the plant protection market is doubling every four to five years, growth is accelerating and there is a lot of R & D taking place in this space.

“Biological solutions could provide 50% of crop inputs by 2040,” he said.

Roger Poole … highlighted the potential for biological based solutions for pest and disease management and promoting soil health in the forestry context.

He said the TIPWG team is engaging with Andermatt Madumbi, a South African company backed by international expertise that is developing biological solutions to change the future of farming and food.

Driving factors behind this initiative are:-

• The ban on schedule 1A and 1B chemical pesticides, which for example affects the treatment of wattle rust in SA;
• There is a definite decline in soil health;
• Over-extensive farming practices – we are pushing the boundaries;
• Growing consumer concern for residue levels in food;
• Global pressure to improve sustainability;
• Growers seeking improved return on investment.

Wattle rust … foresters are currently heavily reliant on chemical pesticides to manage this destructive pathogen.

Biological products already being used include biofertilizers, biogrowth stimulants and biological pest control products. They are less toxic, effective and leave no residues behind.

Roger said that trials using biological products in commercial forestry in the Dumbe area have shown encouraging early growth results.

“It’s a new technology and confidence is building. However there are no silver bullets, it’s a long term thing,” concluded Roger.

Above and Below: Exceptional growth shown by wattle and grandis seedlings, both planted in November 2023 as part of the Dumbe trial. These photos were taken on 18 January this year. The trees were planted in either water or gel, mixed in with the biological products: 0,1g Eco-T ; 0,1g MycoUp Activ ; 2g V12 Initiate.

TIPWG co-ordinator Jacqui Meyer reported that her team would be evaluating all the products listed on the Approved Pesticides List to eliminate those that are no longer being used in forestry or are no longer available. This process would include a survey that will be circulated among all FSA members, and will result in a streamlined, up-to-date APL at the end of the day

FSC updating national standards

Richard Fergusson, co-ordinator for FSC Southern Africa, provided info on FSC’s National Forest Stewardship Standard for South Africa, which is currently in the process of being updated and revised. He said that the national standard was first implemented in 2017, and it’s time for an update to ensure it remains abreast of current conditions prevailing in the industry.

The national standard includes the FSC principles and criteria and the international generic indicators adapted to the national context to reflect the legal, social
and geographic conditions of forests.

The current standard has been extended until the revised standard is approved, which is expected to happen in early 2026. The process includes extensive stakeholder consultation and field testing.

He said that the revised standard would be slightly simpler than version one, and would include natural forests and non-timber forest products in its scope.

Jacqui Meyer … the TIPWG team is busy updating and streamlining the Approved Pesticides List for forestry in South Africa.

Young Limpopo sawmiller on the move

The LT70 Remote ploughing through a 6 m pine log.

Pieter van der Linde, a young entrepreneur from Polokwane in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, bought his first sawmill at age 18 with the savings his parents had earmarked for him to further his studies. Instead he decided to use the money to start his own business.

“I love the outdoors and timber, which made the decision simple,” Pieter says. He ploughed the cash into his first Wood-Mizer LT15, and Duva Timbers was born.

Duva’s initial focus was sawn pallet components that went to pallet manufacturers, but Pieter soon spotted an opportunity to expand his product line to supply structural timber to the lucrative local construction and roofing market. However this required more equipment - and staff.

A straightforward through-and-through cutting pattern with flitches with wane exiting both LT70s and transferred to the EG800 with minimal manual inputs.
Final-size product exiting the EG800 Edger/Multirip.

A Wood-Mizer EG300 Board Edger and a second Wood-Mizer LT15 came first. Then a Wood-Mizer LT70 Remote that boosted output and improved recovery, followed by a second LT70 Remote in 2019.

A Wood-Mizer EG800 Edger/Multirip came next in 2020 to streamline the production process further.

The remote configuration of the LT70 drew Pieter’s attention. The remote operator station makes it easy to control all the functions needed to process the 6 to 6.6 m logs into boards with wane in an efficient, fast and automated way. Minimal labour is needed to move the board to the EG800 edger where final sizes are cut.

The EG800 is a robust manual edging and multirip solution for small and medium-sized sawmills. When configured as a multirip the single arbor EG800 can process flitches up to 900 mm wide and 110 mm high. The sawmilling process allows for a simple and slick through-and-through cutting pattern that sees flitches with wane exiting both LT70s, and the EG800 processing them into accurately sawn boards.

The uptick in production opened markets for Duva Timbers across Limpopo. Duva sells air-dried structural timber in all popular sizes to hardware stores across the province and to walk-in customers and custom orders delivered to clients by Duva’s own trucks.

Duva Timbers product ready for market.
Duva’s own truck fleet hauls roundlogs to the sawmill and finished product to customers.

An improved recovery process has also seen Duva moving back into the pallet component market.

The next step in creating a truly sustainable business was to purchase a timber farm situated on the slopes of the Wolkberg outside timber-rich Tzaneen.

The timing couldn’t have been better. With ongoing timber shortages being experienced in the region, Pieter is able to supplement his log shortfalls at the sawmill from his own farm. This has enabled Duva Timbers to increase market share, and to have more confidence in the future of the business..

Pieter credits his staff for much of his success.

“Their support is my strength,” he says.

Duva Timbers’ own farm provides crucial raw material security.
Pieter van der Linde, CEO of Duva Timbers.


New generation contractor makes his mark

Sabelo Sithole of New Age Forest Solutions.

At just 30-years-old, Sabelo Sithole is at the forefront of a new generation of forestry contractors servicing Mondi South Africa. Sabelo is the Managing Director of New Age Forest Solutions, a new harvesting business launched in 2021, which has secured a five-year harvesting contract for the Zululand area.

Sabelo’s journey in forestry has been deeply connected to Mondi from the start. During high school, he attended Protec, an extra-curricular maths and science programme that gives academic support to under-resourced rural schools. This programme has long been supported by Mondi, and Sabelo rose to the fore as one of his school’s top academic achievers. He was identified as a candidate for the Mondi Bursary Programme and made a successful application in 2012.

“To be honest I didn’t know anything about forestry,” admits Sabelo with a shy smile as he walks through a shady plantation in Zululand. Sabelo stops at the harvesting operation to check in on one of his Hitachi machines, which is cutting through a Eucalyptus compartment with great speed and precision. Here he continues his story…

“The first thing you do after receiving the bursary is go to a Mondi operation for work experience. This lasts a whole year and it’s really tough!” he remembers. “You do everything from general labour to planting, establishment, tending and harvesting … that’s where I started to know about forestry, to experience every different kind of work.”

From there, Sabelo went to study forestry at Nelson Mandela University’s George campus, where he completed a three-year National Diploma in Forestry. After graduating, he joined SiyaQhubeka Forests, and worked as both a harvesting and silviculture forester. It was harvesting that stole his heart.

“I decided to leave SQF and join a harvesting contractor so that I could specialise,” explains Sabelo. “The machines really fascinated me. I spent four and a half years at the harvesting contractor. Then I started my own business.”

Excavator equipped with a Ponsse head busy harvesting for Mondi in Zululand.

Sabelo was always looking for opportunities to grow, and he kept an eye on the regular contracting opportunities being advertised by Mondi and SQF. He began working on a business plan and registered his company New Age Forest Solutions in 2021.

“Working with a contractor helped me understand the business side of forestry. I started my business as the only employee – I was doing everything myself. When I won the Mondi harvesting contract last year, I had to hit the ground running!”

Sabelo takes a look at a stack of freshly cut timber. He is happy with the neatly stripped and stacked logs. The soft-spoken young forester is brand new to business, but he has 10 years of operational experience, which puts him in a good position to guide the company.

“From the moment I made the successful bid on the contract, Mondi Zimele has assisted me every step of the way,” he goes on. “They believed in me and my vision for the business.”

Mondi Zimele, which is Mondi’s enterprise development unit, provided 60% of the start-up funding in the form of a soft loan and helped Sabelo consolidate his business plan so he could apply for further funding.

It took a few months to put a team together and acquire the assets needed to start the work.

In order to meet the contract of 140 000 tonnes per annum, Sabelo needed two harvesters, a forwarder and a loader. He went for Hitachi excavators fitted with Ponsse H7 harvesting heads, a forwarder with a Matriarch grapple and a Bell loader. Once his forestry equipment was in place and his team was mobilized, he commenced work in May last year. It was a dream come true.

The Bell loader, workhorse of the harvesting operation.

The Mondi perspective
Cindy Mji is the Mondi Zimele Business Development Manager responsible for the Zululand area. She has been engaging with Sabelo from the time he won the contract.

“Supporting Mondi contractors has many benefits,” she explains as she sits on the back of a bakkie with Sabelo, while the harvester hums in the distance. “Developing new contractors is important for job creation and economic development, which helps to build healthy communities in the forestry footprint. But it is also crucial that we empower up-and-coming contractors to ensure the sustainability of the supply chain for Mondi,” she explains.

“This is part of Mondi’s broader strategy to develop new contractors in the forestry space. The strategy prioritizes transformation and succession planning. Being a young black forester, Sabelo was the perfect candidate, and he has a bright future in the business,” she concludes.

Sabelo adds that the business development support encourages continuous improvement, growth and development. Cindy has helped him set out short, medium and long term goals that go beyond the scope of the Mondi contract.

Excavator equipped with a Ponsse head busy harvesting for Mondi in Zululand.

“MZ helps you to be a visionary,” Sabelo says with a smile.

“Although we are just beginning our journey, I am very excited and proud of our achievements. We have 20 employees, and four machines running 24/7. That’s 20 families that are benefitting from this work. We are looking to add more employees and grow the business even further.”

Story and photos by Samora Chapman

Forestry at the heart of Malawi community project

Tafika volunteer, Major, who manages the nursery, has managed grow 9,000 seedlings this year.

Small African Community Based Organisations struggle with creating a sustainable financial base. Here is how Tafika Youth Organisation of Malawi developed an innovative, synergistic, forestry approach to solving this problem while at the same time meeting their community’s needs.

Tafika were new to forestry and took advice from the Malawi Department of Forests, Chinteche based, Ripple Africa and, via their link with Scotland Malawi Partnership, UK based forestry expert Andrew Heald. They planted a 30-acre community forest with fast growing pine trees (Pinus oocapa). These trees take about 12-15 years to grow to maturity and will be harvested two acres at a time generating around $70 000 to $100,000 a year. The trees coppice so the forest is always re-growing.

Pinus oocapa seedlings ready for planting out.

With widespread deforestation and an exploding population (Malawi’s population doubled in the last 20 years) the local community desperately need quality timber for building and roofing houses and they also need firewood as almost all Malawians are still forced to cook with wood. This commercial forest helps fulfil local demand and educates the community on the value of forestry.

Tafika Agricultural Manager Malumbo Muntali stands next to one of the 14,000 2-year-old trees already in the Tafika forest.

To pay for the land Tafika asked investors to lend them $28,000 in return for getting fully grown trees in 12-15 years’ time, the more money the investor gave the more trees they will receive in future. In this way Tafika didn’t need to have its own capital to start the project. Tafika volunteers cleared the land, created a tree nursery next to the Tafika Office and grew and planted the seedlings in order to keep costs down.
Trees need a lot of looking after in the first two years of life and a large forest also needs security to make sure the trees are not stolen or set on fire. Tafika didn’t have the cash to pay for labourers or security guards for 12-15 years while they waited for their trees to grow. To solve this they worked with Mzuzu based agribusiness MTF who provided training and $18,000 of funding for three polytunnel greenhouses. US based water NGO, Formidable Joy, contributed by provided funding for a borehole to be built at the site.

Tafika Director Shupo Kumwenda with one of the greenhouses being erected by MTF.

The greenhouses are owned by Tafika but each greenhouse is managed by a team of five women. Each woman works 2-4 hours a week in the greenhouse growing Grade A tomatoes, with each greenhouse producing two crops a year. MTF signed a distribution deal with Tafika and come to the greenhouses to buy all the tomatoes the women produce, at a fixed rate. Tafika reserve some of the revenue to pay for the guard and to build a fund for maintenance. Each woman involved will make around $4-500 a year from their share of the tomato sales.

A-grade tomatoes ready for market.

In return for being given this opportunity the women agreed to give up 2-3 hours a week to weed and trim trees in the forest. In this way Tafika has created a sustainable, zero cost mechanism to maintain their forest, while at the same time providing 15 women with sustainable livelihoods. One of Tafika’s other project partners (ZMCP) liked the plan so much they provided $3,000 to fund a fourth greenhouse and Tafika successfully applied for a sensitive development loan from NGO Lend with Care to build a fifth greenhouse.

Tafika plan to use surplus income from these five greenhouses to save to buy another, and have worked out they have room for 10 greenhouses on the site. This will eventually provide 50 women with a sustainable income, while at the same time ensuring the Tafika forest is well maintained.

The first group of women to benefit from growing tomatoes in a greenhouse.

Commented Tafika’s Director, Shupo Kumwenda: “We are so happy with our forest project, not only will this be a massive benefit to our community in years to come, but right now our youth volunteers have started to understand the value of trees not only to the local environment but also in terms of what their future value can bring to the community. We want to thank our partners for their efforts, we can see our future right here now.”

Kevin Simpson from MTF, said: "Tafika are showing a great way forward for Community Organisations in Malawi. We are delighted to work with them because they share our vision to see Malawians empowered to earn their own living and secure a sustainable future for themselves. This kind of long-term thinking and careful investment is exactly what Malawi needs."

Tomatoes provide much needed cash flow for the community forestry project.

Formidable Joy, a U.S.-based water NGO drilled a new borehole for the project, complemented by the installation of a solar pump by Malawi Fruits. The NGO has drilled 20 new boreholes and repaired nine pumps in schools, villages, and health centres within Tafika's catchment area.

In 2023, Formidable Joy further contributed by funding a district-wide Cholera educational outreach campaign led by Tafika, which included the distribution of preventative supplies during the deadliest Cholera outbreak in the history of the country.

For more info contact: Mick James zmcpcharity@gmail.com

Local labour carrier on the move.

National Minimum Wage beats inflation - again

A National Minimum Wage of R27.58 per hour – effective from 1st March 2024 - has been announced by the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi.

This represents a CPI + 3% increase in minimum wage, and follows a CPI + 2% increase in 2023.

This minimum wage applies to all workers in South Africa across all economic sectors – including farm/forestry workers as well as domestic workers.

The 2024 Minimum Wage means that workers in South Africa will be paid R 220.64 for a normal eight-hour day, and R 1 103.20 for a 40-hour week.

The only exceptions are:-
• Workers employed on Expanded Public Works programmes for whom the minimum wage for 2024 has been set at R15.16 per hour;
• Workers employed under Learnership agreements in terms of the Skills Development Act.

Predictably, the increase has been met with a chorus of criticism from business who claim that an above CPI wage increase is counter-productive in the current economic climate. The gist of the argument is that it will simply exacerbate unemployment as many small, medium and micro businesses will either cut their staff numbers or find other ways of reducing their wages bills, which will impact negatively on bottom rung employees at the end of the day.

Bigger businesses will in all likelihood continue to mechanise their operations and use technology innovation to reduce staff overheads. The end result will be fewer, skilled people employed at higher rates. Where does this leave unskilled school leavers seeking entry level employment in South Africa?

Many small scale tree farmers operating on communal land will not be able to afford the minimum wage, and so they will remain outside of the formal ‘legal’ economy and will continue to conduct their businesses on the economic fringes.

Commented Gerhard Papenfus of the National Employers’ Association of SA: ‘The National Minimum Wage Commission ignored the input of numerous business institutions and trade unions who warned of the dire consequences of implementing further increases, the calls for the scrapping of the National Minimum Wage, and simply proceeded with recommending the implementation of its own original proposals. The manner in which the NMWC reached its conclusion, once again, illustrates the futility of the public participation process leading up to their eventual recommendation.’

The National Minimum Wage Act does make provision for an employer or employer organisation acting on behalf of its members to apply to the Department of Employment and Labour for exemption from the NMW. This is a loophole that may yield some relief for hard-pressed employers who can demonstrate that their businesses simply can’t afford the current minimum wage, but the admin involved will be daunting.

CMO pioneers FSC certification around the world

CMO International, a diverse forestry company founded in South Africa, is making waves internationally by successfully achieving FSC chain of custody certification for 56 smallholder rubber tree farmers in the Sabah district of Malaysia. This is the first time that smallholder rubber farmers in Malaysia have achieved FSC certification which ensures their products comply with the European Union Deforestation-free regulations as well as other similar policies and market requirements around the world.

The successful outcome of this project was made possible with extensive collaboration between FSC Malaysia’s sustainable natural rubber project, CMO International, Control Union (M) Sdn Bhd and WWF-Malaysia.

“I am happy and grateful to be part of this project and I have learned about the importance and benefits of getting certified. I hope the rubber industry is sustainable for our future generation,” said Sylvester Dani, one of the smallholders from Tuaran in the FSC group scheme.

Sabdil Bin Tanjong, the General Manager of Sabah Rubber Industry Board said: “We are in the process of obtaining FSC COC certification for two of our rubber factories, the Beaufort Latex factory and Tenom Standard Malaysia Rubber (SMR) Factory. Our aim is to produce and export FSC-certified SMR and Latex Concentrate to the international market.”

A scale-up plan is embedded in the project, where progressively more smallholders are onboarded into the FSC group scheme, held by CMO Malaysia Sdn Bhd FSC-C195423. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the FSC group scheme is expected to cover over 7,000 hectares of FSC-certified rubber plantation by the second quarter of 2024.

The CMO International team played an instrumental role in training the smallholder farmers, and ensuring they understand and conform with FSC standards. As the entity holding the FSC certificate for this group scheme, CMO uses its software (‘Empower’) to map each member on the ground, compile the necessary management documents, conduct internal audits and monitor performance of the group members, in line with the requirements of the FSC standards.

Commented Michal Brink, CMO International Managing Director: “CMO is very proud to be able to bring this group of rubber smallholders in Tuaran, Sabah, to FSC certification. The smallholders have been trained and put in a lot of effort to comply with FSC requirements in their daily routine.”

This is the start of a journey to propel Malaysia – the seventh biggest natural rubber producer in the world - as one of the major suppliers of sustainably-produced FSC-certified rubber in the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition to their work in the Asia-Pacific region, CMO has pioneered the certification of charcoal producers in Namibia, as well as medium and small-scale tree farmers in South Africa through their innovative FSC group schemes. They have also certified communities in the Eastern Cape that are clearing alien wattle jungles and using the cleared timber to produce charcoal for local and international markets.

PEFC Group Scheme certification for small growers

Hlengiwe Ndlovu, Divisional Environmental Manager for Sappi Forests, proudly displays the PEFC-endorsed Sappi Group Scheme certificate for small scale growers.

Five small scale timber growers in KwaZulu-Natal have become the first participants in the award-winning Sappi Khulisa programme to achieve forest certification through the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) in the Sappi Group Scheme for small scale growers.

The five timber growers, with a total 8,143 hectares of timber area between them, have been successfully audited and awarded a PEFC Group Scheme certificate. The recipients of this significant milestone, and founding members of the Sappi PEFC Group Scheme, are:-

• iMfume Cluster, consisting of more than 20l individual small growers from the Mfume district near Scottburgh,
• Sobengwe Trading, Ixopo,
• MG Farming, Richmond,
• Mclean M, Underberg,
• Braecroft Timbers (Pty) Ltd, Underberg.

This follows years of intensive efforts by Sappi - working together with other stakeholders in the forestry industry - in addressing the barriers to certification experienced by small-scale growers in South Africa. PEFC is an internationally recognised certification system that provides assurance to end-use consumers of wood products that the raw material is sourced from sustainably managed forests.

Members of the Sobengwe Trading forestry team, Ixopo. Certification provides small-scale growers with access to international markets and assures consumers that wood-based products are responsibly sourced from sustainable forestry operations.

Sappi was the first grower company in South Africa to achieve PEFC certification through the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS) in 2021, after starting with the process in 2015. This involved participation in the development of a Forest Management Standard for South Africa, the development of mechanisms to support certification requirements and, in 2018, the endorsement of the standard and certification procedures. A certification tool was developed by the SAFAS team to assess plantations, based on several factors including environmental, social and economic conditions specific to South Africa.

“After years of collaboration and dedicated commitment to developing a forest certification standard for South Africa, this achievement marks a historical moment in our long journey to support and make forest certification more accessible to the small landowners that participate in our supplier programmes,” commented Duane Roothman, Vice-President of Sappi Forests.

Forest certification is used as a tool to ensure that responsible forest management practices are implemented in the forest, and that wood from certified forests can be identified throughout the supply chain. It enables conscious consumers to choose responsibly sourced wood-based products, and gives consumers the assurance that the woodfibre used to manufacture the products they are buying has been legally harvested in accordance with sound environmental practices, and that social aspects, such as indigenous rights, have been taken into account.

Forest certification and other voluntary codes of conduct are key tools for promoting sustainable consumption and production, and for combating deforestation, forest degradation and illegal logging by providing proof of legality and responsible management, harvesting and manufacturing practices.

For more info on PEFC visit: https://www.pefc.org/
For more info about SAFAS visit: https://www.safas.org.za

Can Safcol save Pietermaritzburg’s plantations?

This is how parts of the Pietermaritzburg city plantation looks like today, where Illegal dumping and timber theft is rife.

The forests that surround Pietermaritzburg should be – could be – one of the city’s finest assets. If well managed they can yield a sustainable annual harvest of some 25 000 tons of timber and bark, provide visitors and residents with endless recreational opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, trail running and bird watching, while providing free ecological services in the form of fresh, clean water from the numerous streams that run through it.

Instead, over the past five years or so under the ‘management’ of the Msunduzi Municipality, the forest has become a major fire risk, a major alien plant infestation, an illegal dumping ground, rife with timber theft, and rapidly becoming a liability that produces little or no revenue for the city coffers. It has also lost its FSC certification, a globally recognised standard for responsible and sustainable forest management.

This scenario has been repeated in other municipal owned plantations in KwaZulu-Natal – such as Richmond – where forest assets have become seriously degraded under the management of municipal officials who appear to have little interest in sustainable forest management.

However after years of indecision, some sanity has at last prevailed and there is hope that the Msunduzi plantation forests may be salvaged. The good news is that the City has signed a three-year plantation management contract with the state-owned forestry company, Safcol, which has considerable experience in plantation management.

Whether the Safcol team has the will, the budget - and the time - to turn this plantation around, remains to be seen. Forestry is a long term business. Eucalyptus trees take eight years to reach maturity after planting, wattle trees take 10 years, and pine trees grown for sawlogs more like 25 years. So there is not a lot anybody can do in three years, unless the aim is just to extract value over the short term by harvesting standing trees.

Harvesting operation on the go back in 2012. The city plantations are located on the hills around the city with deep soils and good annual rainfall, and have the potential to be highly productive.

It would take years of work and significant capital investment to rehabilitate the plantation, fix the roads, put in fire breaks, clear the alien invasive plants encroaching on tree compartments, conservation areas and wetlands, while all the time carefully re-planting every hectare that is harvested with good quality material. This is a job for forestry professionals with a long term interest. Getting the plantation back onto a sustainable management footing would generate significant revenue for the city, boost its image and tourism potential, and create dozens of additional jobs both on-site and downstream.

It is understood that Safcol will have an option to renew the contract at the end of the three years, provided they can demonstrate an acceptable level of service. This is the rationale behind the current short-term contract, which hopefully will become a more realistic, longer term commitment after the three years is up.

According to a Safcol spokesperson, the Msunduzi plantations will be managed by Thabo Ndhlovu and his team from Safcol’s Ngome plantation in KZN.

Commenting at the signing of the service level agreement with Safcol, Msunduzi city manager Lulamile Mapholoba acknowledged the difficulties the city faced in their efforts to manage the plantations, and lauded the agreement with Safcol as a “very significant development in the history of the city”.

FSC surveillance audit on the go back in 2012 … the Pietermaritzburg plantations were part of NCT’s group certification scheme, but have subsequently lost their certification status.

Established in 1910
Pietermaritzburg’s commercial plantations were established way back in 1910 by the municipality, and originally comprised almost exclusively of wattle. Over the years some of the wattle was phased out and replaced by Eucalyptus and pine as the timber markets changed. The trees were removed entirely in some areas, to create the suburbs of Northdale and Woodlands. It currently covers an area of some 2 000 ha, 1 500 ha of which is planted to Eucalyptus, wattle and pine.

The plantation was managed by NCT Tree Farming from 1988 up until 2017. Under NCT’s management the plantation achieved FSC certification, a globally recognised standard for sustainable forest management.

During this period the NCT team, working in conjunction with the city's Parks and Recreation Department, started clearing the riparian areas inside the plantation, and embarked on a programme of planting indigenous trees. A number of local schools participated in the tree planting efforts, and the Wildlands Trust donated over 20 000 trees to the initiative.

Photo taken in 2012: Forester Rajesh Ramsamy and Steve Germishuizen of the SANBI Grasslands Programme (now with SAFAS) view a clean riparian zone between compartments where indigenous trees have been re-introduced by NCT and the City Parks Department. This zone was previously planted up with commercial trees, the stumps of which are still visible.
Photo taken in 2023: This conservation area is overgrown with alien invasive plants, but many of the indigenous trees planted by NCT and the City Parks Department some 12 years ago are still surviving.

This served to create a beautiful, natural environment that attracts a variety of birds and animals, and also creates a canopy that discourages the growth of invasive alien vegetation, thus making future maintenance of these areas easier and cheaper.

Unfortunately these open areas inside the plantation are now choked with weeds after the years of neglect, but the good news is that many of the indigenous trees planted during NCT’s time have survived and are still visible in between the bugweed, lantana and American bramble.

Plantation audit
A report compiled by the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS) team in 2020 following an audit highlighted the poor state of the plantations. The audit yielded 13 major non-conformances with the SAFAS standard. “This represents a drastic failure in plantation management,” stated the Report’s author, Steve Germishuizen.

The audit highlighted irregularities in the contractual arrangements regarding the silviculture operations and timber harvesting that was taking place at the time; dangerously high risk for severe fires due to poor plantation management; roads in very poor condition and getting worse; inadequate control of timber theft and the management of illegal dumping; lack of a programme to control and eradicate listed invasive plant species in conservation corridors, wetlands and buffer zones; and harvested areas not being re-established.

“It is clear from the findings that the Msunduzi plantations are in a severely degraded state and urgent action is required before the costs of restoring them become prohibitive and the plantations become a threat rather than an asset to the city,” concluded the report.

Despite the fact that the city officials had requested the audit by SAFAS in the first place in the hopes of achieving PEFC certification, they failed to respond to the Report and the SAFAS team never heard from them again.

The fact that Safcol is now managing the plantation provides a glimmer of hope that it can be rehabilitated to the point where it can once again become a productive asset and a jewel in the crown that serves the city of Pietermaritzburg and its residents.

Photo taken in 2023: Bugweed flourishing inside the plantations.
Photo taken in 2023: Erosion ravaged plantation road.