Berry bright fu­ture

Forestry is suf­fer­ing from ig­no­rance as a means for eco­nomic growth, yet it is teem­ing with op­por­tu­ni­ties

CityPress - - Business - VUKILE DLWATI busi­ness@city­press.co.za

The gov­ern­ment’s forestry com­pany was eye­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties and had done a pre­lim­i­nary re­view of pro­duc­ing berries, the re­sults of which have in­di­cated the po­ten­tial for mak­ing more money than forestry it­self, Lungile Mabece, SA Forestry Com­pany Lim­ited (Saf­col) chair­per­son, said this week.

“One of Saf­col’s in­ter­ven­tions is us­ing our forests for berry farm­ing. Berries like acidic soil and the leaves of pine trees pro­duce acid. When the leaves of a pine tree fall, they serve as com­post to make the soil acidic.

“We keep our trees for a pe­riod of 20 to 30 years be­fore felling takes place. Berries take about three years to ma­ture; there­after they re­pro­duce an­nu­ally with­out the need to re­plant,” he said. “The in­ter­na­tional mar­ket for berries is very good, but they are ex­pen­sive in South Africa due to im­port­ing.”

Speak­ing at the Forestry In­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion Con­fer­ence 2017 this week, Deputy Min­is­ter of Pub­lic En­ter­prises Ben Martins in­di­cated that the na­tional pro­file of forestry in South Africa was hid­den by gen­eral ig­no­rance around the value, con­tri­bu­tion, op­por­tu­ni­ties and ben­e­fits in the in­dus­try, as well as the prod­ucts that can be de­rived from wood.

Forestry in South Africa is suf­fer­ing from ig­no­rance as a means for eco­nomic growth yet it is an in­dus­try that is teem­ing with op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“De­spite the steadily grow­ing con­tri­bu­tion of forestry in the na­tional agri­cul­tural GDP in­creas­ing from 4.5% in 1980 to 11.1% in 2015, and the pro­vi­sion of more than 158 400 di­rect and in­di­rect jobs, the forestry in­dus­try re­mains poorly mar­keted and this needs to change ur­gently,” Martins said.

“Forestry has the po­ten­tial to con­trib­ute more sig­nif­i­cantly to the econ­omy of South Africa to al­le­vi­ate poverty and to cre­ate more jobs, in­clud­ing trans­form­ing the economies of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties by a greater mar­gin.”

Martins said it was im­por­tant for or­di­nary cit­i­zens to know that the forestry value chain in­cluded more down­stream op­por­tu­ni­ties, like fur­ther prod­ucts, which could be pro­duced and man­u­fac­tured from pri­mary and sec­ondary tim­ber pro­cess­ing, such as fur­ni­ture man­u­fac­tur­ing and tim­ber con­struc­tion.

“Tim­ber frame struc­tures, such as bridges, houses, schools and clin­ics, have ben­e­fits that in­clude short­ened con­struc­tion time and bet­ter earth­quake re­sis­tance, among other things.”

Agro­forestry is an­other phe­nom­e­non with the po­ten­tial to en­sure food se­cu­rity and prof­itabil­ity, how­ever, it is not pro­moted ad­e­quately.

It in­volves us­ing the same piece of for­est land to cul­ti­vate other pro­duce while await­ing the har­vest of ma­ture trees for tim­ber.

Deputy Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries Bheki Cele said he sup­ported the pro­mo­tion of agro­forestry as a means of food se­cu­rity and eco­nomic ben­e­fit.

“Forestry is es­sen­tial for food se­cu­rity, and agro­forestry is a means to en­sure it. There is a gap be­tween the youth and forestry and it must be closed through ed­u­ca­tion in agri­cul­tural and forestry stud­ies.”

He said it took about 10 years for trees to ma­ture, which meant agro­forestry must be pro­moted.

In KwaZulu-Natal, he saw com­mu­nity foresters herd­ing their cat­tle within their forests; the very forests are used for the graz­ing of live­stock.

“In South Africa, 13.7 mil­lion peo­ple go to bed on an empty stom­ach. The hun­gri­est prov­ince is KwaZulu-Natal and least hun­gry one is Lim­popo. In Lim­popo, ev­ery house­hold has a fruit tree which pro­vides food se­cu­rity,” Cele said.

Com­mu­ni­ties and youth around forests should reap re­wards from their nat­u­ral sur­round­ings, he added.

“We can’t be a coun­try that tol­er­ates an un­em­ploy­ment fig­ure of 9 mil­lion peo­ple of which 60% com­prises the youth.”

An­other chal­lenge Cele noted was the hos­tile re­la­tion­ships be­tween the forestry in­dus­try and the com­mu­ni­ties around forests, which he be­lieves should be im­proved for health­ier eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Mean­while, Mabece feels that “when peo­ple don’t un­der­stand some­thing, they be­come gen­er­ally neg­a­tive. In this coun­try, par­tic­u­larly gov­ern­ment, there’s a lack of knowl­edge about things that should add value to this coun­try, and forestry is one of them.”

Mabece said the “big­gest threat to forestry” was the land is­sue.

“Land claims are the big­gest threat to forestry be­cause cur­rently there are de­lays in the land re­form process. The depart­ment of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form has been seen as a cul­prit by com­mu­ni­ties. In fact, we as Saf­col end up be­ing the vic­tims.

“Last year, just be­fore the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, there were for­est oc­cu­pa­tions dur­ing which peo­ple tried to pre­vent us [Saf­col] from op­er­at­ing. This was their way of putting pres­sure on gov­ern­ment, which is not con­clud­ing the land claims, and I fore­see this sit­u­a­tion play­ing out in 2019.

“It should be easy for gov­ern­ment to deal with the land is­sue be­cause the land we are op­er­at­ing from is not owned by Saf­col; it’s the state’s land.”

Saf­col has a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with com­mu­ni­ties around its forests and they have done a lot as a com­pany, in­clud­ing the build­ing of schools and clin­ics us­ing tim­ber, as well as mak­ing wa­ter pro­vi­sions for them.

“Some of the com­mu­ni­ties treat us like their lo­cal gov­ern­ment,” said Mabece.

SA is los­ing the global in­vest­ment race IN­DEX 1 MONTH 6 MONTHS 1 YEAR 3 YEARS

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