The Forestry Sector, like every other, experienced a dismal year following the onset of Covid-19 in 2020. With last year’s timber sale volumes down on 2019 figures, which in itself was a year the Industry did not want to repeat, it should be noted however, that the final 2020 timber volumes were far higher than the Industry had projected mid-way through the year. This was mostly thanks to the Essential Sector status afforded to the Industry, as well as the integral role many wood-based products played during the pandemic. The Sector’s inclusion in the Presidential-led Private Public Growth Initiative (PPGI) also aided timber sales.
In contrast, 2021 started on a far brighter note, despite Covid-19 not abating as many had hoped. The first six months of 2021 saw timber volume figures on par with those of 2018, with predicted total volumes for 2021 comparable to pre-Covid-19 figures. Unfortunately, no one could have forecast the insurrection or the devastating impact it had on our Sector, which is clearly illustrated by the drop in timber volumes during July and August. Thankfully, September and October volumes recovered well (Figure One), thanks to the resilience and determination of our Sector. We now expect the total annual tonnage for FSA members to be between 13.2 and 13.4 million tons, which on the back of the ongoing Covid-19 challenges and additional insurrection pressures is quite an achievement.
Looking at this at a subsector level, most performed well in 2021.
The Sawmilling subsector is having a remarkable year to date, with the highest volumes reported since 2018, an impressive 3.11 million tons for the first 9 months of the year (Figure Two). Likewise, the mining timber subsector has also showed a fantastic recovery in 2021. Not only are volumes 84% higher year on year compared to 2020 but are 54% higher than reported in 2019 at 203 200 tons for the same period (Figure Three).
The pulp subsector also had a strong start to the year (Figure Four), however, it was also the subsector hardest hit by July’s insurrection. This was a result of most of its processing capacity being situated in KZN. As a result, volumes dropped 21% between June and July, and again by 18% between July and August. Monthly volumes did recover in September, but the production capacity lost in July and August will not be recovered. As a result, although the reported pulpwood volumes for the first 9 months of 2021, at 6.58 mt, was 8% higher compared to 2020 figures, they were still 8% lower than the corresponding 2019 figures.
Unfortunately, the poles subsector has not experienced the same levels of growth as the other subsectors during 2021. Timber volumes to date are 197 500 tons, 12% higher than those of 2020 but still remaining 23% lower than the corresponding period in 2019 (Figure Five).
In summary, 2021 timber volume figures boast well for our Sector. They illustrate the Sector’s rapid recovery observed after the onset of Covid-19 in 2020 and the July 2021 insurrection, demonstrating the Industry’s resilience and determination. The role of the Presidential-led PPGI needs acknowledging, as does the immense value it brings to our Sector. Through the Sector’s involvement in the PPGI, we were able to support the allocation of resources to critical areas as well as facilitate the opening of critical road infrastructure during the insurrection. We sincerely hope the current trends continue and that in 2022 our Sector returns to the high levels of production we saw in 2018 or even higher.
Source: Forestry South Africa