Forestry is vital for society, the economy and the planet
The discussion topic was the Role of the Forest Sector and Wood Products in Society, the Economy and the Planet. Talk Radio 702 presenter and award-winning author Gugu Mhlungu facilitated the event.
The first session covered the environmental and socio-economic aspects of forests and wood products. Panellists were emphatic about the importance of planted forests and debunked several myths and misunderstandings about the sector.
Jane Molony, executive director at PAMSA, stated that “the claim that print is not green is untrue. It is a myth and not greenwashing. Digital is stored in a databank that needs air-conditioning. Energy comes from coal. Paper is up to 40% less carbon intensive than digital”.
She said, “Trees in South Africa are farmed to make timber, pulp and paper. They are audited, certified and sustainably managed. Tree farming
does not cause deforestation. “Deforestation happens for agriculture where trees are felled and not replanted. We do not use indigenous or natural forests in this country; we farm trees and replant them like you would farm grain or maize.”
Molony explained that forestry plantations represent just 7% of the planet’s forested area but provide about 50% of the wood for global industrial use, such as pulp, paper, and timber for construction. Some 30% of the forestry-owned land in South Africa is set aside for biodiversity. “So not only are our forests sustainable sources of wood products, but they are also homes to thriving biospheres and not green deserts as some would suggest”, she added.
DR TRACY WESSELS
Wessels is the group head of sustainability and investor relations at Sappi. She added, “Trees need three things to grow: sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. Just like children, younger trees need more energy to grow and thus absorb more carbon dioxide”.
“A sustainably managed working forest takes up more CO2. By harvesting a small proportion of mature trees and replanting with new trees each year, we improve the carbon sequestration rate”, explained Wessels.
“Trees are a renewable resource and part of the circular economy. Commercial forestry is highly regulated, certificated and controlled. Sustainability for the forestry sector is about balancing the 3Ps of people, prosperity and the planet. We ensure that we do not infringe on human rights while working to conserve biodiversity and develop products that create value and jobs.”
Wessels said, “Water is the new carbon”. It must be managed proactively. Sappi believes water stewardship is crucial. Forestry is not the only water user, meaning farmers, companies, and the government must look after catchment areas. “We need to educate all users about science-based targets and how to manage water. Humans use more water than trees.
Ndlovu, the general manager of Mondi Zimele, said sustainability is about a lot more than just the environment. Between Sappi and Mondi, we buy from 10 000 small growers with between one and 30 hectares of trees.
“Mondi Zimele works with communities to help them plant trees in an environmentally and economically sustainable way for all parties involved. The small grower development in the forestry industry plays a significant role in helping create meaningful jobs that support rural communities, particularly women”.
Ndlovu said sustainability is a culture that must be built into the education system. “We need to challenge the government and ask them what they are doing about it”.
The protection of indigenous trees and biodiversity is also essential to the sector. Conservationist and head of Outdoor Escapes, Neary said the oldest use of trees on the planet is medicinal use. “Traditional healers take a little bit of the bark, but muti hunters destroy or cut down trees”.
Neary is involved in the highly successful Sappi Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species Stewardship Programme. and is changing how communities interact with the indigenous trees around them.
“We learned that working with traditional healers and other community stakeholders who use indigenous trees was one of the best ways to help protect the trees”, said Neary.
“By engaging with healers and community-based social ecologists, we have identified and solved the destructive issues affecting our indigenous trees”.
Citing the case of Warburgia salutaris (pepper bark tree), Neary said it is over-harvested due to its wide range of medicinal uses. The stewardship programme distributed over 85,000 free saplings in Southern African communities and had an 83% survival rate. Zimbabwe, for example, was down to two trees and now has 4,000.
“By helping to protect endangered tree populations, we are assisting South Africans in accessing their natural benefits without negatively affecting the environment.”
The second session of the day focused on packaging trends, innovation, and developments in packaging substitution and recycling.
McFarlane, the packaging senior at Woolworths, explained, “One of the biggest trends is the re-emergence of paper as a primary packaging medium, and not just secondary or tertiary packaging in the form of cardboard boxes”.
For example, he presented Woolworths’ new locally recyclable paper packaging for its organic pasta range.
DR VALESKA CLOETE
Cloete, group innovation, research and development manager at Mpact, added, “There is no single packaging solution for everything. By applying a fit-for-purpose approach, companies can ensure that materials are responsibly sourced and designed for
consumption and disposal.
Water is the new carbon. It must be managed proactively. Forestry is not the only water user, meaning agriculture, communities, business and the government must look after catchment areas.
“Major South African brands are aligning themselves with international food safety regulations and other local regulations such as the extended producer responsibility regulations to ensure packaging compliance from design to disposal”.
DR NELSON SEFARA
“What’s exciting is that we are constantly researching and finding new ways to maximise the potential of trees and wood components,” explained Sefara, the Sappi Technology Centre manager.
“We are always investigating what we can do with the process waste, which highlights the sector’s commitment to being truly circular”, he said.
The speakers and audience tapped into their creativity with South Africa’s Guinness Book of Records holder and origami artist Juanne-Pierre De Abreu. De Abreu currently holds the record for a display of 29,416 origami butterflies. His bemused students were surprised by the high skill and patience it takes to fold square pieces of paper into butterflies.
Source: WoodBiz Africa Magazine
(Pages 13 -14)
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