South Africa

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Forest Network in South Africa

A summary of facts regarding the forest network in South Africa: 

· Approximately 80% of all Forestry Stewardship Certified (FSC) forests (1,5million hectares) in South Africa are exotic plantations planted up with pine & eucalypts.

· Historically, South African forestry companies (SAPPI, MONDI or SAFCOL) established exotic timber plantations in grassland biomes, rather than developing indigenous forested areas.  Today their activities are located primarily in the provinces of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. 

· Working for Forests.  All Environmental Programmes (Department of Environmental Affairs) work to the employment prescripts of South Africa’s Expanded Public Works Programme using labour-intensive methods which target the unemployed, youth, women, people with disabilities and small to medium size enterprises (SMMEs).

· Approximately 60% of indigenous forests in South Africa are state owned and fall under the management of the South African National Parks (SANParks).

· Forestry South Africa (FSA) is South Africa's premier and largest forestry organisation representing growers of timber in South Africa. The Association’s membership includes all 11 corporate forestry companies active in the Industry, approximately 1 300 commercial timber farmers and some 20 000 emergent small scale growers who between them own or control no less than 93% of the total plantation area in the country.  Given these credentials FSA is regarded by Government and the private sector alike as being the Industry’s “representative body”.

Introduction to Working for Water & Working for Forests

In 1994, President Nelson Mandela launched South Africa’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) which was an integrated, socio-economic plan for the new South Africa. “Our RDP programmes seek to mobilise all our people and our country’s resources towards the final eradication of apartheid and the building of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist future”, said President Mandela at the time.

One of the most ambitious and long lasting RDP projects created during this period was the 1995 establishment of Working for Water, by the then Minister of Water Affairs, Professor Kader Asmal. From its inception, Working for Water’s (WfW) aim was to marry job creation with the management of invasive alien plants, on account of their effects on water quantity and quality, biological diversity and the functioning of natural systems.

In the years that followed, the ‘Working’ programmes expanded to encompass Working for Wetlands, Working on Fire, Working for Energy, Working for Land and Working for Forests.

Environmental Programmes (EP)

In April 2011, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs  established Environmental Programmes (EP), to managing two divisions:

  • Natural Resources Management (NRM) programmes address threats to the productive use of land and water, and the functioning of natural systems, by invasive alien species, wild fires and land degradation. In doing this work, they also promote opportunities for value-added industries (including fibre and eco-furniture production), whilst ensuring meaningful livelihood opportunities for those employed from marginalised communities. NRM programmes include Working for Water, Working on Fire, Working for Wetlands, Working for Land, Working for Forests and Working for Energy (Biomass).
  • Environmental Protection and Infrastructure (EPI) programmes manage the identification, planning and implementation of focal areas such as Working on Waste, Working for the Coast, People & Parks, Eco-Furniture Factories, a component of Working for Land and finally, Greening and Open Space Management.

All environmental programmes work to the employment prescripts of South Africa’s Expanded Public Works Programme using labour-intensive methods which target the unemployed, youth, women, people with disabilities and small to medium size enterprises (SMMEs).

Collaborative management of forests in South Africa 

The distribution of forests and woodlands in South Africa ensure that their influence is woven across the fabric of society and their management relies on a collaboration of multiple stakeholders from various organs of state, the private sector, civil society and non-government organisations (NGOs).

Although NRM programmes deal with broad issues, the following programmes – Working for Water, Working for Land, Working on Fire, Working for Energy and Working for Forests - use multi-stakeholder collaboration management to address many of the issues facing South African forests, woodlands and urban forestry. It is the intention of this paper to highlight aspects of the multi-stakeholder collaborative management strategy used by Working for Forests, Working for Water and Working for Land.

Working for Forests

From the perspective of biome definition, indigenous forests cover only 0,56% of the total surface area of South Africa. Described as the crown jewels of the country’s forestry assets, they include the Knysna Tsitsikamma Forest (25 706ha) in the Eastern Cape, the Karkloof Forest Complex (6 738ha) in KwaZulu-Natal; the Marieskop Forest (3 103ha) in Mpumalanga and the Woodbush Forest (4 625ha) in Limpopo.

Approximately 60% of indigenous forests in South Africa are state owned and fall under the management of the South African National Parks (SANParks)

Conversely, indigenous woodlands cover 40% of the total surface area of South Africa, but only 23% of these remain untransformed. Approximately 65% of the woodland biome is privately-owned and used for cattle ranching, game ranching & crops.

Working for Forests is a project which seeks to address the rehabilitation of smaller indigenous forests and woodlands across the country in order to enhance South Africa’s forest resources.

As a multidisciplinary project, Working for Forests brings together a host of stakeholders in order to:

· Investigate the most appropriate way to ecologically restore vulnerable areas with indigenous plants. This is achieved through the propagation of indigenous plants in nurseries. Rehabilitation projects create jobs and build capacity in a range of skills associated with commercial horticulture. Through stakeholder collaboration with the South African Nursery Association, South African Green Industries Council and SA National Biodiversity Institute, Working for Forests is able to offer advice on what plant species to grow and propagation techniques to use in each area. Work programmes further provide investment in teams of workers – and thereby jobs for marginalised communities.

· Promote sustainable woodland practices which are referred to as Community Forestry. WfW works to convert areas invaded by wattle into woodlots that provide biomass fuel for rural populations. In this regard, six nurseries are planned to propagate bee foraging plants this year. They will use both existing forestry nurseries that have fallen into disrepair in remote rural areas and establish new nurseries – in the Free State (Qwa Qwa), North West, Limpopo, Northern Cape (Upington) and Western Cape (Kluikjieskraal).

· Install working teams that can clear invasive alien plants from indigenous forests or restore indigenous plants to the forest areas that have been degraded.

· Work with South African National Parks  (SANParks) to removing invasive species from woodland forests and other biomes within the national parks. SANParks currently receive R40m a year from Working for Water for environmental jobs programmes. Moreover, the People and Conservation Department at SANParks facilitate six forums within the borders of the Kruger National Park as a communication channel for all conservation related activities and community issues. The forums are constituted by the interested and affected members of the community represent all villages bordering the Kruger National Park at monthly meetings.

Working for Water

South Africa is a water-poor country and by far the largest total surface area of South Africa is covered by arid, grassland, fynbos and indigenous woodlands (known as bushveld). In these areas, the issue is not managing ‘forests’, but rather saving the integrity of our woodland forests, bushveld, grassland, arid and fynbos biomes from an invasion of exotic trees, shrubs and climbers.

Over the last 200 years, an estimated 9 000 exotic plants have been introduced to the country, 198 are currently legally classified as invasive and a further 170 will shortly be classified. It is estimated that these plants cover about 10% of the country surface and the problem is growing at an exponential rate.

More than 7% of all water run-off is lost to alien plants which use 3,3 billion cubic metres of water in excess of that used by indigenous vegetation every year. If left alone, invasive plants could eventually use as much as 20 percent of South Africa's annual run-off.

Clearing Invasive Species

Between 1995 and 2011, WfW teams cleared over 1.6 million hectares of alien plant invasion. This clearing has yielded an estimated release of 48-56 million cubic meters of additional water for alternative uses annually. Since 1995, South Africa has invested R3bn in WfW, and a further R2,85bn has been budgeted over the next three years. If WfW had not invested in biological control of invasive alien species, it is estimated that South Africa would have lost R48,2bn a year in ecosystem services. See more at South Africa's invasive species mothership website. 

Using a people-centred approach, WfW annually manages over 300 projects across all nine provinces. Between 22 000 and 56 000 work opportunities have been created annually since 1995. (185 686 job opportunities created between 2004/5 to 2008/9).

During this time, WFW has rescued vast tracts of the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park – a woodland forested area in KwaZulu-Natal - from the triffid weed and harvested pines from the slopes of Table Mountain.

The development of people is an essential element in the collaborative management of forests, bushveld, arid and fynbos areas. Short-term contracts jobs created through the clearing activities are undertaken with the emphasis on recruiting women (60%), youth (20%) and disabled (5%). By creating an enabling environment for skills training, WfW invests in the development of communities by implementing HIV and Aids projects and other socio-developmental initiatives.

Forestry and nursery partnerships

In the late 1990s, and as part of WfW’s multi-stakeholder collaborative management, significant partnerships were established with the nursery and forestry industry. Since then, policy makers have held meetings with leaders in industry, local communities and representatives from the green industries private sector on issues such as legislation, regulations, communication and public participation.

The forestry partnership is the primary interface between the government and private sector forestry companies. Approximately 80% of all Forestry Stewardship Certified (FSC) forests (1,5million hectares) in South Africa are exotic plantations planted up with pine & eucalypts. Historically, forestry companies (SAPPI, MONDI or SAFCOL) established exotic timber plantations in grasslands, rather than in indigenous forested areas and today they dominate the landscape in provinces such as Mpumalanga.

Whilst the contribution of the timber industry to economic development and jobs is recognised nationally, the ecological impact of exotic plantation forests on the environment has been of concern to ecologists for decades.

Following negotiations that took place in collaborative multi-stakeholder talks, exotics such as pine and eucalypts (gum trees) have been declared Category 2 Invasive species and can only be grown in legally designated areas. Moreover, every exotic timber forest has to be overseen by an environmental impact assessment (EIA), is managed in a stewardship programme and all trees within 50m of any watercourse have to be legally removed and the area rehabilitated.

Plant me instead

Urban forestry is an enormously important to the country as 70% of South Africans are urbanised. Johannesburg, for example, is the largest man-made forest in the world and includes over 10 million trees. Urban greening is a multi-stakeholder initiative and has unprecedented support from non-government organisations (NGOs) such as Food & Trees for Africa and Quebeka - as well as state-funded initiatives such as Arbor Day – Tree of the Year Celebrations, Plant Me Instead and Plant for Nature.

Working for Water’s Nurseries Partnership was established in 1999 and over the last thirteen years has resulted in a long and fruitful multi-stakeholder partnership with organisations such as the South African Green Industries Council (SAGIC), South African Nursery Association (SANA), South African Landscapers’ Institute (SALI), Interior Plantscapers of South African (IPSA) and Institute of Landscape Architects of South Africa (ILASA).

The relationship with the green industries has given Working for Water unprecedented access to the media which has historically allocated time to domestic gardening on television, radio and in the print media. Gardening shows, garden centre competitions and the commercial landscaping awards of excellence all showcase aspects of ecologically sound urban forestry management in the media – raising the profile of the sector.

Digitally downloadable booklets on the size of tree roots, as well as water wise guides to planting up indigenous forests on golf courses and housing estates are now available online. This year, multi-stakeholder promotions included a planting for nature (focussing on bee foraging plants) promotion in 150 garden centres and a sponsored 32 page booklet on water, invasive exotics and planting up indigenous forests – will be available to local landscapers later this year.

A successful National Invasive Species Week & Weedbuster Week promotion is celebrated by South Africans in October each year. As invasive species are regarded as a negative issue, the green industries have worked with Working for Water to develop and endorse a national Plant Me Instead campaign which promotes garden-friendly species suitable for planting up in indigenous urban forests or rehabilitation areas. South Africa also liaises closely with Australia who runs a well established Grow Me Instead campaign.

Water wise and ecological forest education that is transferred between academics, government and the private sector in multi-stakeholder meetings with the forestry and green industries has had a major impact in public awareness over the last two decades.

All green industry organisations now include ecological statutes in their membership codes and landscapers are duty bound to inform clients of invasive species and suggest suitable environment-friendly alternatives.

Over the past decade, landscapers have also transformed their practices and overwhelmingly plant indigenous trees in their commercial and domestic projects. Growers corroborate this fundamental change and confirm that tree purchases are now overwhelmingly slanted towards water wise indigenous tree species.

Through stakeholder links with the Garden Centre Associations, the country’s approximately 500 garden centres undertake to stock no invasive species and inspections are regularly conducted in the spirit of self-regulation. Moreover, established tree species that may be listed as potential invaders, but which provide shade for customers in garden centres, and which are legally allowed to remain in place (eg pines, jacarandas and eucalypts), bear signage with full disclosure on the species and a warning that tree species should not be used for urban forestry.

Value Added Industries

Since 2000, the WfW Value Added Industries team has set up a host of ecologically ethical social enterprises that use cleared invasive alien plant biomass to make indoor and outdoor furniture, decor, eco-coffins, wood chips, building materials, toys, screens, blinds, fences, baskets and garden objet d’art.

Poplar Products comprises a group of exited WfW workers based at KwaMhlanga, 70km north-east of Pretoria. They harvest poplar from local wetlands in the area to weave baskets, toys and garden décor. Black wattle screens created by the Western Cape’s Planet Wise teams were recently used in the Gold Award winning South African stand to the Chelsea Flower Show in London.

In 2005, WfW, key government departments and faith-based groups were awarded US$150,000 (about R1.2 million) for a two-year pilot project to manufacture Eco-Friendly Coffins – made from wood from cleared invasive alien plants. This project continues to this day and this year’s budget is R264 million.

Working for Land

This programme addresses the rehabilitation of degraded land to support optimal ecosystem services harvesting. Projects focus on carbon sequestration as well as erosion and the impact this has on water quantity and quality.

“South Africa has the climate change response objective of making a fair contribution to the global effort to achieve the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” South African National Climate Change Response Green Paper (2010)

Rehabilitating forests

By far the largest Working for Land project is the Subtropical Forest Thicket Restoration Project (STRP), which aims to restore degraded forest thicket using indigenous spekboom (Portulacaria afra) plantings. This spekboom carbon farming initiative is a partnership between farmers, communities, government, ecologists, soil scientists, botanists, ecologists and economists in the Eastern Cape.

The aim is to restore large tracts of the nearly 1,4-million hectares of spekboom rich thicket that covered parts of the Eastern Cape a century ago. Implementing agency, the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB), based in Patensie, is currently overseeing large-scale planting in degraded sites in the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, Addo Elephant National Park (Darlington Dam) and the Fish River Reserve.

To date, over 1000 hectares of spekboom have been replanted. South Africa is now ready to sell R250m worth of carbon credits in this project. The project’s benefits range from job creation - with estimates of between 55 000 and 70 000 person days - to reducing silt loads in dams and rivers and greater ecosystem productivity and biodiversity.

The GIB is also responsible for the 300 ‘thicket-wide’ experimental plots set up across the 550 km east-west span of spekboom-rich thicket. Scientific monitoring and evaluation is provided by a team of scientists from Stellenbosch University, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and Rhodes University.

R24m has been spent in 2010-11 already, and R18m is set aside for the 2011-12 financial year. The project has been validated and registered through the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance, making it a ‘bluechip’ voluntary carbon market credit. It will take 40-50 years for full rehabilitation.


The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) states, “collaborative management includes management arrangements negotiated by multiple stakeholders, consisting of a set of rights and privileges (tenure) that are recognized by the government”.

In South Africa, Natural Resource Management Programmes has used this template for nearly two decades to promote and support the collaborative management of natural resources. Through shared decision-making over natural resources by the State, private sector and communities, this strategy has proved to be a pioneering and successful strategy in Southern Africa.

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