By: Dr Ronald Heath, FSA Director Research and Protection
2022 has seen our Sector beset by economic, social and environmental challenges, some expected others completely unforeseen. These have at times rocked us to our roots, and yet our trees continue to grow, and it is looking as if our forests are more productive than ever. I believe this is testament to the resilience of our Sector and the collaborative approach we, as an Industry, are renowned for. The two in combination have been instrumental in addressing and overcoming the challenges we have faced during 2022 and more than that, they are in a large way responsible for many of this year’s highlights too.
Investing in our future
Governmental investment in research has been declining for many years, the impact of which has hit every sector, including our own. This makes the significant support our Sector has been privileged to receive from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) through the Sector Innovation Fund (SIF) over the past six years even more poignant. Early this year we were awarded R35.2 million, on top of the R28 million received in 2015 and R11 million in 2019. The significance of this funding cannot be understated, as it will aid the Sector tremendously in increasing our research footprint and adding capacity to address both current and future challenges. The thematic themes to be addressed through the SIF funding has been selected strategically by the FSA Research Advisory Committee and talks to resource sustainability, climate change, precision forestry and pest and disease management.
Research, development and innovation, RDI, should not be undertaken in a vacuum. It needs to be driven by the Sector to ensure it speaks to the Sector’s ‘realised need’, with the RDI outcomes communicated widely to all stakeholders to ensure both its implementation and further funding. To this end, FSA partnered with the South African Institute of Forestry (SAIF) to co-host and revitalise the Forestry Science Symposium. The event was chosen due to its success over the years and its potential to promote science communication and collaboration, while contributing to the Sector R&D agenda setting. The first event, hosted virtually on 10 November, saw leading forestry researchers and thought leaders address an audience of over 200, talking about key research topics that will be instrumental in taking our Sector forwards. The event programme also included a senior official from DSI as a Guest Speaker, discussing the SIF funding they are responsible for. Going forward, the event will be hosted every second year and FSA and SAIF will, on a rotational basis, co-host the event with one of our research institutions. FSA is very proud to have relaunched the Forestry Science Symposium, which we believe will contribute significantly towards a focussed research agenda by bringing forestry researchers, industry representatives and government together.
A new dawn for pest and disease protection
After five years of only being able to report the challenges and struggles FSA has faced trying to re-instate the memorandum on pests and diseases that lapsed in 2018, we finally have progress on this matter! Thanks to the immense support of the PPGI and the strategic placing of this matter as a hot topic in the Masterplan process, we are pleased to have countersigned the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between FSA and DFFE.
The MoA will provide a R9 million financial injection over the next two years to address our Sector’s ongoing escalating battle against pests and diseases. The MoA will be overseen by a Steering Committee made up of FSA, TPCP, National Forest Research Forum and chaired by DFFE. Along with this positive development regarding pests and diseases management, it was good to see the publication of FSA’s Integrated Pest Management Framework which was developed by FSA’s Timber Industry Pesticide Working Group (TIPWG) and approved by FSA’s Environmental Management Committee chaired by Ms Louise van Wyk.
This year we did not only see pests and diseases costing our members millions of Rands, but we also experienced the huge and unintended negative consequences of measures aimed at combatting pest and diseases. In September, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) published amended phytosanitary measures pertaining to the export of round logs. The measures required exporters to remove all bark from logs before exporting them. Not only did this immediately increase the cost of exporting logs but resulted in timber merchants who are responsible for most exports to stop moving timber with immediate effect. This resulted in millions of Rands of sales being lost daily for our members. FSA was, however, successful in ensuring DALRRD rescinded the notice in only 4 days, as it was scientifically floored and not in line with national or international protocols. We will continue to work closely with DALRRD to prevent this from happening again and to improve the working relationship with the relevant directorates in the department.
TIPWG: keeping abreast with ESRA
TIPWG continues to ensure our members were well informed and positioned to address the myriad of challenges the use of chemicals pose. Over the past few years, the phrase ESRA’s have been a hot topic of discussion. This will continue for the foreseeable future as the TIPWG Environmental and Social Risk Analysis, or ESRA’s as we know it, is revised to address changes in local and international legislation and Forest Stewardship Council®, FSC®, requirements. Undertaking the TIPWG ESRA has been no small task and we must applaud the ongoing efforts of the TIPWG team, in particular Ms Jacqui Meyer whose hard work has ensured our members did not experience any challenges with the implementation of the new FSC Pesticide Policy. To date, all ESRA’s have been completed on active ingredient level but with the implementation of the Global Harmonised System (GHS), this will need change with ESRAs prepared on a product-by-product basis. Once again TIPWG is ahead of the curve and ready to start implementing the changes once FSC publish the IGIs and GHS labels are approved, positioning our Sector to comply with the new systems seamlessly.
A collaborative effort between TIPWG and Professor Keith Little of Nelson Mandela University has found a suitable alternative to pelargonic acid, an important pesticide for the preparation of firebreak tracer belts – a legal obligation the forestry industry has as landowners – that is now prohibited under FSC’s new Pesticide Policy. Through partnering with a company and undertaking 10 years of trialling various chemicals, pelargonic acid has been identified as the most promising alternative. The registration process for pelargonic acid was lodged in August 2022 and we hope the product will be available to the Sector going into the next fire season.
Our Sector has been experiencing delays when applying for registration of agrochemicals. This was addressed through the Masterplan as well as with intervention of the PPGI. We are pleased to report that through these processes, FSA has developed a better relationship with the office of the Registrar. Both applications submitted by TIPWG for emergency registration were processed in a reasonable time, with one application finalised. This is a major achievement if one considers that the Agriculture Sector has approximately 3000 applications pending for more than two years.
A great thank you goes out to “management” team of TIPWG. Dr Katy Johnson and Ms Jacqui Meyer under the leadership of the Chairperson Mr Roger Poole, has made TIPWG an integral structure of FSA. It is unfortunate that Roger will be stepping down as Chairperson at the end of 2022, but we sincerely thank him for his dedication and hard work in TIPWG. We would also like to thank NCT for making Roger available to serve on FSA structures. We cannot emphasise it enough, that without our members offering the time and experience of their staff to assist FSA, we would need an army to do the work we do.
Communication is still key
FSA’s communication and promotion efforts have gone from strength to strength this year as we have increased focus on proactive communications and significantly increased our video output and television exposure. To raise awareness about the social, environmental and economic benefits of sustainable forestry and to promote the production and consumption of sustainably managed forest products, FSA produced a video that creates a link between South Africa’s planted forests and the forest products and services the industry provides. While the full 3-minute video was launched at our Annual General Meeting in May, two 40 second trailers were released on 21 March in celebration of the International Day of Forests. The videos achieved international exposure and received tremendous compliments. In addition to the video, FSA Executive Director, Michael Peter, was filmed for a short video about the role the Forestry Sector could play in a Green Economic Recovery. The video covers important issues such as the sustainability of the Forestry Sector, its role in a circular economy and how the Sector can aid the country through a green economic recovery. Michael and I furthermore participated in a Business Day TV exposé on the Forestry Sector along with representatives of our sister associations which included Mr Bruce Breedt from SAWPA and Mr Dwayne Marx from SAFCA.
Supporting Gender Equality and Transformation
In celebration of United Nation’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, 11 February 2022, FSA held a webinar with the dual purpose: (i) to illustrate the broad array of scientific applications driving the Forestry Sector forwards; and (ii) to promote the integral role women play both within Forestry Science and the Sector. The webinar with its all-female line up illustrated the integral role women have in driving the Sector forward through scientific endeavour, addressing the often-held misperception that forestry is a male-orientated career path. It also positions women in the Sector as role models for future generations of women and girls to aspire to. To further celebrate the women in our Sector, FSA produced a forty-four-page digital and print publication for Women’s Month profiling just some of the women working in the Forestry Sector. The magazine is testament to the fact that women can be found excelling in every possible position available across the Forestry Sector, from harvesting foresters and sawmill foremen to CEOs and research scientists. There is no forestry role, responsibility or occupation that is out of bounds to women. Printed copies were handed out at schools, with the first batch delivered to the five schools She is Forestry is supporting by Forestry Sector Charter Council’s Executive Director, Khosi Mavimbela.
Promoting Forestry to our Youth
Teaming up with PAMSA, FSA sponsored the Daily Maverick’s Kids Pull-out published on 26 March 2022, which celebrated the International Day of Forests 2022. The pull-out informed its readers about forests, both indigenous and planted, providing information on forestry careers, where forestry plantations can be found in South Africa, as well as information about the forestry museum in Sabie managed by SAFCOL. The pull-out also highlighted the difference between sustainable forestry and deforestation, showcasing Forest Products.
Providing hope for conservation and communities
In celebration of Arbor Week, FSA distributed 1000 pepper bark trees grown by the Warburgia Programme to schools, traditional healers and leaders in KwaZulu-Natal forestry communities. Leading the project was FSA’s Business Unit Manager, Mr Nathi Ndlela and numerous FSA Small-Scale Grower representatives. In many of these communities pepper bark trees vanished years ago and while traditional healers know about their properties they had no access to them. This project will not only ensure that the tree’s medicinal properties will be accessible again, it will also ensure they are sustainably harvested. Alongside the tree, an infographic was distributed explaining alternative ways of harvesting the medicinal properties of the tree other than bark stripping. Providing forestry communities with these trees will also take the pressure off the few wild specimens remaining and aid in the conservation of this incredible tree.
After highlighting just some of our successes this past year, I cannot help but be excited about 2023 and what we will achieve. All these efforts are purely dedicated to our members and the Sector we serve and love.