GEORGE BUSINESS NEWS - Following the publication of an article in the George Herald during February, and through continuous pressure from some stakeholders, including the forestry industry, a meeting was held at the George Campus of Nelson Mandela University on 28 March.
This meeting was attended by representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff), the Forestry Charter Council, the community, PG Bison, Geelhoutvlei Timbers as well as the forestry industry represented by Forestry SA, the Southern Africa Forestry Contractors Association (Safca), Sawmilling SA and the Southern African Institute of Forestry.
Dr Jaap Steenkamp, forest expert and consultant, wrote the following article on the dire state of the forestry industry for George Herald.
At the meeting in March, Daff was tasked with a number of assignments, including the establishment of a working group, but at a follow-up meeting on 25 April, it transpired the proposed working group had not been put together or other relevant stakeholders invited.
Losing out on R100m/year
At this meeting, where Safca had to again explain the gravity of the situation and the bigger picture, Safca used the current status of salvaging of timber and the current available area as a case study. At the moment, more than 6 000ha is available that can be re-planted (salvaged and cleared).
If an annual increment of 12m³/ha is assumed and the production on this area is converted to sawn timber at an efficiency of 45%, with a price of R500 per cubic metre for round timber and R2 000 per cubic metre for sawn timber, then the loss to the George area alone amounts to just over R100-million per year. In the meantime, until the go-ahead to re-plant, the invasive plants and other vegetation are growing, hence increasing the cost of fire protection and re-establishment on a daily basis.
This increase in costs, depending on the actual time lapse to action, may well render re-establishment cost to become prohibitive for establishing the new timber rotation.
The biggest concern regarding fire protection is the issue of absent landowners who plead poverty. These include Daff, CapeNature and SANParks. These parties are supposed to take the lead in the issue, but need to be pushed for every step.
As major landowners in the area and contributors to the fire disasters by their absence and non-management of their land, it is imperative that they should willingly be part of the solution.
It transpired also that forestry is not priority for the Western Cape government. The reasons cited for this is that it is impossible to work with Daff (the no-response attitude) and that they will rather make money available and promote, amongst others, tourism.
No excuse for crises
The whole situation could have been avoided if Daff and the government institutions had the will and capacity (skills and monetary) to do what they were supposed to do as responsible landowners. There is also no excuse for Daff not having a plan at all for the re-establishment of the areas earmarked for re-establishment. Succession plans should have been drawn up long ago so that the areas they wish to transfer to the community could happen as a transfer of a going concern - the best and most cost-effective situation.
The fires actually only highlight the complete lack of planning and capacity at Daff.
The planning for the short term will now be in conjunction with stakeholders, hopefully including public land owners. The next meeting was set for 17 May, but postponed to an, as of yet, unknown date, at the request of Daff.
All things equal, and given willing positive government stakeholders, the question remains if fire protection (interim land management) will be done well and if re-planting will start within two years.
It is unfortunately a fact that the mobile infrastructure in some areas (fire trucks etc.) were already disposed of, that retrenchment packages are being prepared for affected workers and that contracts have been cancelled, rendering contractors looking for alternative work. Some salvage work is continuing, but that will come to an end in the near future.
This will be followed by a proverbial big silence and more huge economic losses to the Southern Cape.
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