South African Forestry Company & Agricultural Research Council on status of afforestation and reforestation projects, deforestation and climate change effects on the forestry sector: briefing

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

13 September 2010
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Forestry Company Limited and the Agricultural Research Council briefed the Committee on afforestation and deforestation projects, and climate change effects on the forestry sector.

The South African Forestry Company Limited submitted that forestry was based in the rural areas and was therefore well positioned to support Government objectives on socio-economic development of the rural communities. Moreover, there were many opportunities within the forestry full value chain that needed to be explored in order to develop small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs within the rural communities. The South African Forestry Company Limited was not offering extension services as support services to small growers, but rather focusing on assisting communities that had acquired land through the restitution programme. Currently, it was negotiating with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on how it could assist in the revitalization of Category B plantations. Discussions were at an advanced stage with shareholder representatives on the Government’s decision to leave commercial forestry, and on facilitating the speedy resolution of the protracted land claims process. There was also a possibility that the South African Forestry Company Limited would expand into Mozambique.

The Agricultural Research Council’s Plant Protection Research Institute advised Members that the International Conservation Union and other international organizations recognized that invasive alien species were the second most important threat to conservation and biodiversity. The Institute focused on how the alien plants had landed in the country, legislation on alien plants, consequences of climate change on invasive alien plants, and remedial actions that should be taken. The Institute warned that the impact of climate change on fynbos biome would lead to unreliable patterns of rainfall and a hotter climate. This would result in the extinction of local unique flora. Fire risks would be on the increase. Possible remedial action against invasive alien plants would involve intensifying national weed clearance efforts, vastly increasing biocontrol capacity, developing information and awareness campaigns for landowners, and intensifying mapping of weed distribution. There was also a need to intensify climate modelling and economic impact studies.

Members enquired about threats to forestry, the number of trees the South African Forestry Company Limited planted a year, the status of the process of privatization, how the gap between forests and communities was going to be closed; and wanted to know how alien plants were controlled by their mother countries. They also asked how much money was needed by the Agricultural Research Council for research, infrastructure development and recruiting young scientists, about plans for communicating with rural areas, and about the consequences of importing insects. The Chairperson suggested that the Agricultural Research Council should admit that it was experiencing problems so that the Committee could intervene.

Meeting report

South African Forestry Company Limited (SAFCOL). Presentation
In outlining the strategic objectives of the South African Forestry Company Limited (SAFCOL), Mr Kobus Breed, Chief Executive Officer: SAFCOL, noted that SAFCOL was mandated in terms of the Management of State Forests Act 1992 (Act No. 128 of 1992). Its objective in terms of the Act was to develop the South African forestry industry and optimize assets according to accepted commercial management practices and conservation principles.


Mr Breed said that his organisation was aiming at practicing world class sustainable forest management, increasing financial value by more than 50%, developing solid company brands, fully embracing all aspects of the transformation charter, increasing value added services to customers and broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) participation in the industry, positioning the organisation as an attractive business partner and investment, and creating economically vibrant forest communities where people desired to live and return.

SAFCOL was not offering extension services as support services to small growers. The focus was on assisting communities that acquired land through the restitution programme. Currently, SAFCOL was negotiating with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) on how SAFCOL could assist in the revitalization of Category B (CAT B) plantations.
 
At present, the focus was on managing the impact of recession on profitability and sustainability, and on continuing with the implementation of business strategies to review transformation, marketing, land and land claims, and community impact strategies. Discussions were at an advanced stage with shareholder representatives regarding the Government’s decision to leave commercial forestry, and to facilitate the speedy resolution of the protracted land claims process. There was also a possibility of expanding in Mozambique and talks with the Mozambican Government had taken place already. The process of transferring minority shareholding in private entities was taking place.

In years to come, SAFCOL was planning to build strong relationships with relevant stakeholders, while strengthening its commitment in working closer with communities, and developing better models for real empowerment. It was also noted that the role of forestry as carbon storage needed to be investigated, and that the opportunities that were in abundance within the forestry full value chain needed to be explored in order to develop small and medium enterprises (SMMEs) and entrepreneurs within the rural communities.

Financial details were presented, illustrated by graphs and tables.

Agricultural Research Council: Plant Protection Research Institute ARC.PPRI). Presentation
Dr Roger Price, Manager, Weeds Research, Agricultural Research Council: Plant Protection Research Institute (ARC. PPRI), put in context the issue of alien plants. He explained firstly how the plants had arrived in the country. Such plants had arrived 150 years previously as garden ornamentals, barrier plants, and agro-foresting species. Additionally, there had been unintentional imports during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

The Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act 1983 (Act No. 43 of 1983) (CARA) and the National Environmental Management Biodiversity 2004 (Act No.10 of 2004) (NEMBA) covered legislation around alien plants. The ARC.PPRI believed that NEMBA would prove an effective Act; it classified weeds according to categories; it provided for the enforcement of regulations, and it made the management of alien plants practical.

There were risks associated with alien plants. The risks, amongst others, were in water resources and courses; biodiversity (pompom weed was a major risk); nitrogen fixation; aquatic systems; smothering vegetation; and fire and erosion

As a result of climate change on invasive alien plants, it was anticipated that climate in the western region would be hotter and drier. It was also expected that the climate would become hotter and wetter along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, that carbon dioxide levels would be higher, and that intense weather events would aid dispersal of weeds. The climate would no longer be suitable for indigenous vegetation. As a result, indigenous plants would go extinct and the weather would be further disturbed as a result. Because existing alien plants in South Africa were mainly subtropical, such plants would be better suited to the changed climate and would thrive on the increasing disturbance of the weather. Higher CO2 levels will favour woody plants and C4 tropical grasses. Moreover, this would lead to the outbreaks of “sleeper weeds”.

The impact of climate change on fynbos biome would lead to unreliable rain and hotter climate. This would result in the extinction of local unique flora. Invasive acacias would increase their range, and watercourses would be prime targets for invasives. Emerging weeds like cactus would expand and fire risks would be on the increase. On subtropical regions, a hotter and wetter climate would favour weeds of subtropical and tropical origin, for example, pereskia, cat’s claw, chromolaena, parthenium, jacaranda, and seringa. In the Bushveld region, cactus would mushroom and the diversity of trees and monocultures of mopane would diminish.

It was also highlighted that climate change would have an effect on biocontrol as climate change would cause ranges to expand or contract and the efficacy of biocontrol might increase or decrease. Lantana biocontrol agents might do better along the coast in more humid conditions. Hakea and Acacia biocontrol agents would suffer in the hotter and drier Western Cape.

Possible remedial action would involve intensifying national weed clearance efforts, vastly increasing biocontrol capacity, developing information and awareness campaigns for landowners, intensifying mapping of weed distribution, and intensifying climate modelling and economic impact studies.

Discussion
SAFCOL Presentation

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked how many land claims were settled and if the settlements were in favour of claimants. He further wanted to know what the legislation said about gumtrees planted near lakes and swamps as these trees were using a lot of water.

On the issue of gumtrees, Mr Leslie Mudimelo, Senior Executive: SAFCOL, replied that SAFCOL was operating with planting permits that had obtained stipulations and guidelines. The policy was fully compliant. Rules were observed before planting. Everything followed a formally structured policy. Research was informing SAFCOL’s planting process.

With regard to land claims, he stated 61% of total landholdings were under land claims. There were 28 different land claims, of which two were settled but were awaiting transfers. The settled claims were in Limpopo. It was also highlighted that communities in these areas were having disputes over land boundaries - hence the delay in transfer. Land claims in Mpumalanga were at an early stage. Initially, SAFCOL was just an observer in processes of land restitution and claims, but recently a resolution had been taken that it should help in the facilitation of processes.

Mr N du Toit (DA) wanted to know about threats to forestry.

Mr Breed replied that one of the major threats was the economic downturn. Another threat was the building of new human settlements. SAFCOL was engaging local authorities and Government departments, especially the Department of Human Settlements. Recommendations were expected on timber housing projects. Already, such projects had started in Grabouw. Fires were another threat. Communities were being given workshops on what to avoid and how to report forest fires. SAFCOL had identified other threats as natural; such threats included wind and drought, and baboons.

Ms M Mabuza (ANC) asked for clarity on how the gap between communities and forests was going to be closed.

Mr Breed explained that although there was limited access to communities on forested areas, engagements with communities were happening around issues of medicinal plants, grazing land, and opportunities of developing new businesses. SAFCOL was trying to foster mutual beneficiation. Funds were allocated for social development and the community concerned would identify its needs. Usually, communities wanted funding for their schools and medical centres.

Mr Leslie Mudimelo added that his organization would set up a Community Forum. The community would identify its needs, and SAFCOL would sit down with the community and come up with solutions. When a community had been identified, SAFCOL would usually partner with the Development Bank in terms of developing the needs of those communities.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) wanted to know the number of trees that SAFCOL planted per annum.

Mr Breed said that SAFCOL usually planted five million trees a year. At present, SAFCOL had tried to re-plant those trees that were damaged by fire. The number of trees that were harvested was also five million.

Mr S Abram (ANC) enquired when the strategic objectives of SAFCOL were formulated and had been the outcomes thereof.

Mr Breed replied that the mission and vision for SAFCOL had been formulated two years previously. At present, the organization was busy with the implementation, and this process would take a long time to bear fruit.

The Chairperson enquired about the status of the process of privatisation.

To which Mr Breed said privatisation was in principle started in the years of 1997 and 1998 by the Cabinet. It was decided that commercial forestry should be exited. That was when the operations of SAFCOL started to be privatised. There were seven companies, but these were later consolidated. Two sections in Mpumalanga and Limpopo were also combined. Other entities were sold. And then in 2007 it was decided that SAFCOL should be privatised. A review that was undertaken indicated that Komatiland and commercial forestry were not big enough in terms of size to have an impact on the economy and were not strategic of nature, therefore privatisation had to happen. For a company to privatise, it had to present an asset. SAFCOL’s asset was the right to plant and harvest trees. With the exception of few thousand hectares, all the operations of SAFCOL were on state forest land and it had the right to operate on that land in terms of the delegation of authority by the then Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry. What needed to happen was to change that delegation into a long-term lease. All the four companies that were privatised had been given a seventy-year lease on the land which was state forest land. The Land Claims Commissioner had expressed unhappiness with that lease, and that was the issue that needed to be discussed with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the Department of Land and Rural Development, and the National Treasury.


ARC Presentation

Mr Du Toit wanted to know how these alien plants were controlled by their mother countries, and what the current budget was for fighting these alien plants and how much would be needed in future.

Dr Price replied that usually research was done on where the weed had originated. Mother countries would provide the agents with information regarding that plant. Genetic analysis would pinpoint the hybrid it was from. Then the ARC scientists would visit the country to conduct thorough research. There were natural enemies of those plants in their home countries. And, occasionally, it had been found that those plants were weeds in their own countries too but that they were more controlled; however, they were capable of spreading. The ARC had an issue with the Convention on Biological Diversity about collecting insects from the mother countries of the alien weeds. It was difficult though there were stricter processes that had to be followed. However, he defended the practice; even South Africa was practicing that procedure because it had a duty to protect its own biodiversity. 

With regard to the budget needed, Dr Price said that the ARC was currently focusing on the biological control of weed and some other projects by the use of herbicides. The current budget for the year was about R13 million, of which most went to salaries; the little that was left went to infrastructure that was collapsing. He said that, for example, to fix the quarantine facilities a sum of R20 million was needed.

Mr Cebekhulu asked what the end result would be of importing insects to fight alien plants and enquired if these insects were not going to kill local ones.

Dr Price explained that a post-release evaluation of insects was done. When an insect was brought in, it was quarantined for a thorough study. Tests were conducted and results were presented to the DAFF to make sure that the insect did not affect closely related plants and commercial products. So, there were strict regulations. When the insects were released, a risk assessment was done. Also, in international literature, there had been few reports about foreign insects out-competing local ones. Because of stringent quarantine regulations in South Africa, very few problems had been reported.

Mr Abram wanted to find out about the capacity of the ARC in terms of research and what could be done to reach out to some communities that had literacy challenges.

Dr Price replied that the ARC needed to improve on levels of awareness dramatically. Quarterly bulletins were uploaded to the website. Booklets with information on waterweeds and other things were produced but they were in English only and not distributed to rural areas. These campaigns needed funding and people with relevant expertise. Unfortunately, such resources were very scarce at ARC.

About research capacity, Dr Price elaborated that some research projects had collapsed in many institutes within the ARC. Many well-known scientists had retired after as many as 20 years of service and had not been replaced. No succession plan was in place. A strong Employment Equity Plan was in place and many Blacks were coming in but the main problem was that the “Black Diamonds” were quickly snapped up by companies like South African Breweries (SAB), and had left for better job prospects and money. Research was not seen as an attractive career and the ARC was not the employer of choice. Research had suffered in the last ten years due to a lack of many things required to carry it out. Money was indeed provided but it was not visible at core or basic research level.

Dr Bosman commented that emphasis should be on awareness levels on the ground if people were to be informed of alien plants. He asked what programmes were in place to reach out to the public.

Dr Price said more needed to be done and in future the ARC would try to include local languages in its communication messages and would design programmes that people in rural and township communities could relate to.

Mr Du Toit remarked that the ARC was in need of money for infrastructure development and training and payment of new scientists. This meant that on a yearly basis DAFF would need to give ARC something between R100 million to R200 million.

Ms Mabuza suggested that there should be consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to make sure that ARC obtained enough money in the next financial year so that it could do the important things it wanted to do. It was one of the sectors that were essential. It was not a good picture to have a research station like ARC collapsing and its scientists leaving in droves for better opportunities.

The Chairperson suggested the ARC should admit it was experiencing problems so that the Committee could intervene. But if it was not acknowledging the existence of problems, it would be difficult for the Committee to offer assistance.

The meeting was adjourned.


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