Timber projects tackle unemployment

Poverty and unemployment, especially in rural areas, are some of SA’s main challenges.

Timber projects tackle unemployment
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Although the forestry sector is a key economic driver, with the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) 2013/2014 to 2015/2016 estimating that the industry has the potential to create 15 600 jobs at both plantation and value-adding levels, the under-utilisation of land is depriving communities of job opportunities. But forestry stakeholders are taking baby steps to address this imbalance.

Lizeka Zwane, head of the Forestry and Wood Strategic Business Unit (SBU) at the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), said the SBU had developed a “healthy pipeline” of new community-owned afforestation projects. “They are situated mostly in the Eastern Cape, and some could come on stream in the next fiscal year,” Zwane said.

The Pro-Forestry Scheme, an IDC-led initiative to stimulate development in the sector, will create about 1 000 jobs in forestry areas in KwaZulu-Natal, while the Mabandla community-owned forestry project in the Eastern Cape has created 104 jobs in forestry as well as jobs in spin-off projects in tourism, beef, conservation and a nursery, Zwane said.

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The SBU is now looking at supporting the establishment of a sawmill and is rolling out the Mabandla model to other communities, including the Sihleza forestry project in Umzimkhulu in KZN and the Cata forestry project in Keiskammahoek in the Eastern Cape.

“The Sihleza project will be rolled out in 2013 and the Cata project has been established. They will create approximately 80 jobs,” said Zwane.

The SBU has expanded its reach and will consider supporting the development of the forestry sector in other African countries. “The current focus is on Mozambique where the unit is in the process of appraising several forestry related projects,” Zwane said.

Viv McMenamin, Mondi director: land and forestry, said at a recent WWF New Generation Plantation workshop that forestry was operating in a “complex and challenging” environment. “We have to address social issues in the forestry sector. We have not come close to solving them,” she said.

Mondi is looking carefully at social issues in the communities in which they operate. The company’s enterprise development arm, Mondi Zimele, is currently working with Ikhasi Limited, a forestry contracting business wholly owned by the Siyathokoza Community Trust (SCT). SCT successfully claimed 1 500ha land in Kranskop from Mondi under the land restitution programme in 2008.

As with all Mondi land claims agreements, Mondi is leasing and managing the forestry operation from SCT for 20 years, and committed to assist Ikhasi become progressively more involved in the forestry operations. This phased approach saw Ikhasi begin with performing basic maintenance of unplanted conservation areas, before moving onto land preparation, plantation reestablishment and fire prevention. This R2,4 million/year contract with Mondi has created 45 new jobs at Ikhasi.

“Mondi’s contract with Ikhasi is a vehicle for skills transfer into the SCT. Through the business and the Trust, community members are exposed to the day-to-day running of a forestry operation as well as general business management,” said Mondi Zimele CEO Jason Smith.

If SCT is ready, Mondi may handover the forest from year 11. “Mondi provides funding for training and mentoring and assists the communities in gaining access to start-up capital for businesses, including vehicles and equipment. Mondi will continue to pursue mutually beneficial settlements that give communities the opportunity to profit from a prosperous forest industry. Thus far, Mondi has settled 19 land claims in SA,” Smith said.

The IPAP identified an estimated 100 000ha for afforestation in the Eastern Cape; 6 000ha in Limpopo; and 39 000ha in KZN. Key economic constraints that are holding back development in the forestry and processing sectors are the costs and delays associated with issuing of water licences; skills development and technology transfer to new forest growers and beneficiaries of land reform; investment finance; and insecurity of land tenure. Added to this, demand for raw material far exceeds supply and this has resulted in the closure of some downstream processing industries.