One of the biggest challenges facing the South African forestry, agriculture and fishery sectors is addressing the widening chasm between ageing producers and the absorption of young graduates. Another, facing forestry in particular, is the fragmentation of business units and land areas. This has seen the transfer of operations and skills to emerging land-owners and small growers who may not necessarily have the financial resources or technical knowledge to effectively get timber resources to market.
It is against this backdrop that Forestry South Africa (FSA) has sponsored a cash prize of R60,000 towards the Agristars Youth Award for Forestry in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). This prize was awarded to bioresources engineering students Lesego Mokou and Kholofelo Moloko from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. They received their award along with other young entrepreneurs and innovators in Pretoria on Thursday, 30 June, at a high-profile dinner hosted by DAFF Deputy Minister General Bheki Cele.
The Minister issued a clarion call to South Africa’s young entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists. “Don’t get your PhD and masters, and then look for a job. Your job is to look far, far ahead. We want you to come with answers.”
Engineering answers for emerging timber growers
Together with Simon Ackerman, research scientist at the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) and UKZN peers, Thankslord Hadebe and Namisani Nduli, Mokou and Moloko engineered a cost-effective timber winch proposed as a production tool to assist small-scale growers and contractors to productively extract timber grown on steep terrain.
The development and prototyping was established as a collaborative project with the UKZN Bioresources Engineering Department forming part of their final year student training undergraduate curriculum.
The project – initiated in 2015 by Hadebe and Nduli – resulted in the development of a chainsaw-powered winch as the base for future work. The prototype showed great promise and was further developed this year, incorporating a change in the drive mechanism, and an overall revamping of the structural design. Mokou and Moloko have been responsible for bringing this design to the point where it is ready for prototype manufacture.
Stars of agriculture, forestry and fisheries light up SA’s future
The event showcased the excellence and exceptional achievements of young graduates, entrepreneurs and producers in agriculture, forestry and fisheries in the hope of attracting and absorbing more young people into these sectors as a desirable and ‘cool’ career.
The initiative forms part of DAFF’s Young Producers and Entrepreneur Strategy (YPES), which aims to bridge the gaps of mature producers while reducing youth unemployment and poverty. The strategy supports the establishment of youth-owned and/or managed enterprises, youth entrepreneurs and activities that encourage the active participation of young people in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector.
Vibrant sector, value-add and rural development
South Africa has a vibrant commercial forestry sector, which plays an important role in meeting domestic wood and wood product needs. It also earns valuable foreign currency through wood chip and cellulose exports. In addition, tree growing contributes to the development and improvement of rural livelihoods.
FSA executive director Michael Peter highlights the sector’s socio-economic importance: “The forestry industry provides significant social and enterprise support to local people. More than 24,000 small-scale timber growers have entered the market over the past two decades, many of whom have gone on to become very successful and to create employment for more people.”
He adds that forestry companies provide formal employment for approximately 145,000 people, in addition to tens of thousands of related upstream and downstream jobs along the wood and paper product value chains.
FSA’s members and partners provide bursaries throughout the forest product value chain, and fund the University of Pretoria’s Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) and the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) where many more young people are supported in their forestry-related professions.
DST sees the wood for the trees
For the past eight years, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) has funded FABI’s Forest Molecular Genetics Programme, which has evolved into a multifaceted tree-breeding platform. The Industry Innovation Partnership initiative established in 2013 saw an initial allocation of R500 million with a reservation of R166 million for the development of the Sector Innovation Fund (SIF) as part of the broader initiative.
The forestry SIF – ‘Future Plantation Forests for the South African Bio-economy’ – implemented and coordinated by FSA, has attracted a DST investment of R25 million over three-and-a-half years. It is expected that at least R20 million will be funded by industry, as a direct cash contribution.
DAFF leads the industry in pest and disease control
DAFF and FSA have continued to co-fund the multi-million Rand Sirex Woodwasp Control Programme. The programme, implemented through FABI and the ICFR, has saved the plantation industry from massive losses to this damaging pest. DAFF and FSA also co-fund the Tree Protection Co-operative Partnership at FABI, which remains a global leader in the field of pest and disease research.
Forestry South Africa (FSA) represents South Africa’s timber growers with membership spanning all 11 active corporate forestry companies, approximately 1,300 commercial timber farmers and some 20,000 small-scale growers. Collectively, FSA’s members own or control no less than 93% of the country’s total plantation area.
In South Africa, around 1.3 million hectares of fast-growing tree plantations are grown as short-rotation woody biomass crops to produce approximately 20 million tonnes of renewable biomass feedstock. These industrial wood plantations are managed by growers and processors for a wide array of end products, with a shift away from traditional pulp and paper towards bioenergy and chemical feedstocks. These require cutting edge science, technology and innovation.
Globally, the forestry sector contributes around $600 billion annually to GDP and provides employment to more than 50 million people.