Arbor Week is a time to celebrate South Africa’s indigenous trees and forests, including those found within commercial forestry landholdings. After all, commercial forestry began in South Africa over a century ago to protect South Africa’s remaining indigenous forests from over-exploitation due to the increasing demand for wood. Now, the Forestry Sector protects over 61,000 hectares of indigenous forests within its patchwork landscape. These indigenous forests are home to hundreds of species of indigenous trees including several rare and endangered species.
Warburgia salutaris, or pepper bark, is one such tree. Renowned for its medicinal anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, the bark of the tree has been used by traditional healers to cure colds and chest infections for centuries and is now registered by the South African Health Products Regulatory Body. Unfortunately, its popularity has pushed the species to the brink of extinction.
Thankfully, a collaborative effort between Kruger National Park, Sappi, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), Agricultural Research Council (ARC), Honorary Rangers and many other partners have brought this species back from the brink – see Forestry in Focus Issue Seven: pepper bark: The real answer to life, the universe and everything!
In celebration of Arbor Week, FSA have distributed pepper bark trees grown by the Warburgia Programme to schools, traditional healers and leaders in KwaZulu-Natal forestry communities. Leading the project is FSA’s Business Unit Manager, Nathi Ndlela and Small-Scale Grower representatives Ms Busi Mnguni and Ms Rejoice Shozi.
“FSA represents thousands of small-scale forestry growers. These are individuals and groups that mostly own less than 100 hectares of forestry land, which they use for producing wood for themselves, their communities and larger companies. Our small-scale members are the ones with the deepest ties to the communities neighbouring South Africa’s forestry plantations, so it made sense to go through them when organising an Arbor Day celebration aimed at benefitting forestry communities and conservation”, explains Nathi.
The event started in Mpembeni, part of the Dube Tribal Authority, where Nathi and Rejoice handed over trees at Amabuye Secondary School, planting a tree with the learners, before handing others out to learners, Traditional Leaders and Traditional Healers.
“We are highly appreciative of FSA coming into our community and donating these trees. Pepper Bark trees are no longer found in our indigenous forests and people cannot access it locally. With these trees we can change this. We have also learnt today about how to grow and harvest these trees correctly, that cutting the bark can kill the tree, so it is better to harvest just the leaves that also have medicinal properties. Thank you, FSA we really appreciate the donation of these important trees.” – Mr Zakhele Nxumalo, Traditional Healer.
“I am happy and proud to be creating this connection between FSA and my community, it is important. It is also important that we are doing something that will benefit the conservation of nature and our soil, planting trees does this and we need to do more of it.” – Rejoice Shozi, FSA Small-Scale Grower Representative
This was followed by an afternoon in Port Dunford, part of the Mkhwanazi Tribal Authority, where Ms Busi Mnguni handed over trees to Traditional Leaders and Traditional Healers and the following day to the Kantayi Secondary school.
“I will not sleep tonight! My phone will not stop ringing. Everyone is so excited and so thankful. We had nine traditional healers here today, they knew the tree and how to use it, but many of them have never been able to find one in the wild. For many, this was the first time touching a Pepper Bark, so we are bringing these trees and traditions back to communities that have lost them. By educating those who were here today with how to properly care for and harvest the tree, we will have helped ensure future generations are able to touch, see and use this special tree.” – Busi Mnguni, FSA Small-Scale Grower Representative
“By giving these trees to communities that neighbour areas where pepper barks can be found in the wild and raising awareness through specially prepared isiZulu infographics about alternative ways of harvesting the medicinal properties they hold, we hope to aid the long-term conservation of the pepper bark tree”, says Nathi.
Michele Hofmyer who has been involved with the Warburgia programme from the start explains the importance of pepper bark distribution programmes such as this one, “by handing out the plants freely to traditional healers and community members, we are taking the pressure off the wild populations. Traditional healers know what a rare and valuable plant this is, so are willing to accept cultivated pepper bark if they know the seeds were sourced from wild individuals. They also are open to new ways of utilising the plant, using the newest two leaves and bud instead of the bark, which are just as potent as the bark but far more sustainable to harvest. The robust nature of the pepper bark tree, its readiness to grow in sunlight or shade and its ability to be planted straight into the ground or in a tub, makes it incredibly suitable to this kind of project. I hope that one day when we drive through the communities and neighbourhoods that have received our trees, there will be a pepper bark growing in every garden, school and community building”.
Thanks to the efforts of the Warburgia Programme, it looks like the pepper bark’s conservation status will be downgraded from endangered to vulnerable when it is next reviewed. “It is an amazing feat, as very rarely are endangered species downgraded! It’s a nod to all those who have played a role in the conservation of this amazing tree. Through hard work, collaboration and determination, we have managed to save a species and that is all the reward we need”, Michele explains.
FSA is very proud of its members who have been part of this incredible project from its inception, like Sappi and Malcolm Stainbank, and is grateful that through out Small-Scale Grower networks we too are able to play a part in the preservation of this incredible tree.
Source: Forestry South Africa