The groundwork has been laid for an upswing in the forestry and related sectors, including the pulp, paper, and timber industries.
Started before the Covid-19 lockdown, the detailed and ambitious Forestry Master Plan has now been finalised and is ready for implementation. It was compiled by government departments and representatives of the forestry and related sectors.
It was born out of the Presidentially-led Public Private Growth Initiative (PPGI), which aims to turn around South Africa’s ailing economy and create jobs.
“We believe the master plan is poised to lead to not only the expansion of the forestry sector, but also to the optimalisation of the sector’s resources,” said Ronald Heath, Director of Research and Protection for Forestry South Africa, in comments for the Dolphin Bay Brief.
“The plan will furthermore revitalise the entire value chain, to give South Africa’s economy a massive shot in the arm.”
The plan has seven focus areas. These include expanding the land under forestry and reducing losses from pests and fires; addressing transformation; timber processing; combatting illegal activities; and research, development, innovation, and skills development.
The first focus area of the plan will see 151 000 more hectares of land allocated to forestry in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape, by 2026.
In addition, 68 820ha of plantations owned by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment will be returned to forestry, as will the plantations which have been damaged by pests in KwaZulu-Natal and by fire in the Western Cape.
The master plan identified core elements to address transformation, notably the resolution of outstanding land claims, improving the quality and reach of extension services, funding support, and advisory and business support.
The new afforestation in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal will take place on community land and it is believed that land claims will increase black ownership of plantations to 50%.
A review of the forestry sector found there is a “compelling case” for prioritising forestry as one of the sectors for the PPGI to focus on. The review found that forestry is among the top five sectors within manufacturing; that in less than a decade its export earnings have more than trebled; and that the sector contributes almost 25% to agricultural GDP.
The plan requires R24,9bn of investment by major forestry companies, of which R8.4bn has already been invested. It sees 100 549 more jobs being created, most of them through new afforestation.
“The plan is underpinned by the Public Private Growth Initiative, bringing it into the remit of the Presidency. This, and the fact that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni referred to the plan in his mid-term budget address, indicates the necessary political will.”
The ‘processing’ focus area of the plan addresses the promotion of utility poles, sawmilling, pulp and paper, and boards.
It aims to improve market access for utility poles; to improve the competitiveness of sawmilling through the adoption of “modern technologies”; and to promote market access for solid wood production among other measures.
Steps to achieve these aims include promoting timber for housing and construction in South Africa including in medium- and high-rise buildings. Working groups have put much effort into this work already, said Bruce Breedt, Executive Director of the South African Wood Preservers Association.
“We’re in the early stages, but at least there’s movement. The Department of Housing and Public Works is on board, which shows progress. It will take time, but it will happen,” he said.
The master plan states that other countries’ barriers to their import of South African utility poles should be addressed through discussions. The aim is for South African pole producers to supply 200 000 treated poles to the African market annually.
The first step towards boosting sawmilling will be a study to inform the steps towards modernisation.
Illegal activities in the forestry and timber industries are to be addressed under the master plan.
The National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications has said it would start inspecting illegal timber treaters this month, evidently under recent pressure from officials within the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). “The DTI seems to have the necessary drive, and it’s positive that there is pressure on the regulator,” said Bruce.
The implementation plan for the Forestry Master Plan identifies a government or industry organisation responsible for ensuring each aspect is completed, and the DTI will check that the work is done.
“This plan is underpinned by the PPGI, bringing it into the remit of the presidency,” said Ronald. “This, and the fact that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni specifically referred to the Forestry Master Plan in his mid-term budget address, indicates there is the political will to implement the plan.
“The next step will be to retain the momentum created by the master plan and work hard towards the implementation roadmap. Industry will need to ensure that we deliver on our commitments; support government where we can on their commitments; and that we keep the pressure on government as the lead in implementing the plan.
“Central to this will be ensuring that the agreed structures continue to meet regularly to review progress, so that this can be reported to the presidency twice per year through the PPGI process.”