Strategic land use

Forestry development as a strategic land-use, presents significant economic potential for rural communities to use their land assets for improved income and wealth generation. There exists a massive economic potential within South Africa to further exploit available land resources for high impact afforestation projects which should change the rural forestry architecture. This potential for vast afforestation is real and not imagined if it is taken into consideration that the country’s commercial plantations of 1,27 million hectares cover only 1% of the total land area. By 2009, as a sub-sector in agriculture, forestry contributed 9,7% of agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP) valued at R6,7 billion. Furthermore, these plantations employ a total of 170,000 permanent people.

Eastern Cape context

Taken within a provincial lens and context, the Eastern Cape represents only 10% or 130,000ha of the country’s forestry plantations. These plantations employ a total of 8,000 permanent people. The 130,000ha contributes about R1,1 billion in provincial GDP which is about 33,3%of the agriculture, forestry and fisheries contribution to Eastern Cape GDP. In the provincial stakes, the status quo places the Eastern Cape in third place after Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces when taking into account the total area under cultivation. Furthermore, the Eastern Cape has an additional, mostly state-owned, 100,000ha of land which is available for new afforestation projects.The 130,000ha contributes about R1,1 billion in provincial GDP which is about 33,3%of the agriculture, forestry and fisheries contribution to Eastern Cape GDP. In the provincial stakes, the status quo places the Eastern Cape in third place after Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces when taking into account the total area under cultivation. Furthermore, the Eastern Cape has an additional, mostly state-owned, 100,000ha of land which is available for new afforestation projects.

If you take into account jobs per hectare, it means the additional 100,000ha that is ready for afforestation holds a potential to create almost 6,200 additional permanent jobs. More than 50% of the potential plantations or 50,000ha, are in the OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo districts with significant areas in Mbizana, Ingquza Hill, Nyandeni and Mhlontlo local municipalities. In essence, the province’s dormant forestry potential places it in pole position to challenge Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal’s dominance of the sector. There is also an additional 30,000ha of existing plantations that require rehabilitation and improved management to achieve their yield potential. However, it is also worth taking note of the wide and scattered distribution of forestry plantations within the province which presents unique logistical and managerial challenges which institutions such as ECRDA is committed to addressing. In addition to this, scale has emerged as an important factor in management efficiency, risk profile and the profitability of plantations.

Responsive forestry action plan

ECRDA has become a central cog in helping the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) craft a responsive and progressive provincial forestry action plan that places rural and subsistence landowners at the centre of the forestry development debate in the Eastern Cape. In practical terms, the strategy engages private forestry commercial partners to ensure the recognition of community land rights and a balancing act between the developmental and commercial opportunities that forestry concerns could offer.

Forestry development model

ECRDAs forestry model recognises the communal tenure nature of rural land ownership and it aims to incorporate landowners into a forestry development ecosystem and value chain that presents viable economic spinoffs and financial returns for their land assets. This model seeks to ensure that communal land owners become active participants in the formal forestry sector by turning their land into prime real estate for commercialisation purposes. Currently, these land assets on communal hands are not productive and therefore do not accrue any economic returns. ECRDAs model is dedicated to changing this status quo by facilitating and providing support mechanisms for further development of the sector. In essence, the model advocates for community ownership and the management of forestry projects for their own benefit. It seeks to link up communities with competent private sector players to provide technical, operational and administrative support in exchange for preferential access to a portion of the timber produced at market rates. In this regard, ECRDA continues to facilitate funding and high-value partnerships as well as play an oversight role.