Pests and diseases hammer the sector

The SA forestry production sector is reeling from an ever-increasing onslaught of pests and diseases affecting its trees. Fears are that this problem is going to balloon out of control unless drastic and effective counter-measures can be devised and implemented.
Issue Date: 13 April 2007

The SA forestry production sector is reeling from an ever-increasing onslaught of pests and diseases affecting its trees. Fears are that this problem is going to balloon out of control unless drastic and effective counter-measures can be devised and implemented.

 “Last year, the forestry sector lost R19 million from the effects of the sirex wood wasp alone. There have been thousands of pests and diseases of commercial forestry identified around the world. We must reduce the impact of these problems that are already in SA, and make sure there are as few opportunities as possible for new species to enter the country,” said Prof Mike Wingfield, director of the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute of the University of Pretoria, and world-renowned award-winning expert on timber pests.

Outgoing Forestry SA (FSA) chairperson Chris Pienaar, said a host of new infestations are currently plaguing the sector, including the cossid moth on cold-tolerant eucalyptus species, thaumastocoris on eucalyptus species in general, and a resurgence of known diseases such as pitch canker in older pine plantations in the Western Cape. “All of these are a major concern that if not attended to, could wreak havoc in our plantations at a time when we can least afford it, given the current and future imbalances between the supply and demand for timber,” Pienaar added. “This situation underscores the absolute necessity for the industry to have effective entomological and pathological capacity available for it to deal with these problems.”

Some 23% of FSA’s industry funding budget was earmarked for forest protection issues in 2006, and this cost is likely to escalate in coming years. In addition, after initially approving R410 000 for the sirex control programme strategy, FSA had to approve an additional R210 000 for inoculating pine trees with nematodes against the wasp. P ienaar expressed concern that government was putting minimal resources into combatting the sirex problem and added the issue was of such magnitude that it was not just an industry problem, but had become one of national importance. “This is not only because we need to protect our national timber resources, but also because we need to ensure that we are able to supply timber products that are so essential in supporting our growing economy,” he said.