Forestry in South Africa
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July : Sector Innovation Fund to boost R&D in the forest sector

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30 July, 2014

Sector Innovation Fund to boost R&D in the forest sector

Forestry South Africa Department of Science & Technology

Research and development in the South African forestry industry has received a massive boost with the awarding of a R25 million grant over three years from the Department of Science and Technology.

Last year Forestry South Africa applied to the DST for a Sector Innovation Fund in order to boost research and development to address key challenges facing the industry. FSA was one of only three successful applicants to be awarded a Sector Innovation Fund out of a total of 38 applications representing 28 sectors of the economy.

The fund will be managed by the newly appointed Research Director of FSA, Dr Ronald Heath, previously employed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. A call for expression of interest has been distributed by FSA through the media and direct communication with key stakeholders. Proposals will be reviewed and adjudicated by a Steering Committee comprising the FSA Research Advisory Committee and representatives from the DST and the Forestry and Natural Resources branch of DAFF.

Some of the Sector priorities identified to address the challenges faced by the Sector include:

  • Appropriate forest management to address a range of systems and end-products.
  • Development and application of biotechnology in tree improvement and tree protection.
  • Ecosystem management for growing trees sustainably.
  • Application of spatial technologies in forestry including remote sensing.
  • Improvement of timber (woody biomass) as a feedstock for bio-based products including bioenergy, biopolymers, biomaterials and other bio-products required for a diversified bio-economy.
  • Forest engineering and modernisation research (harvesting, roads and transport, ergonomics and people) - reduced stump to mill costs.
  • Managing a fragmented/mosaic forest landscape, including rural sustainable development.
  • Responding to demands for competing in new global markets.
  • "Impact" research to support policy development and inform legislation and to support the competitiveness of the sector.
  • Technologies and capacity to predict risks, and to detect, monitor and design control programs to a continuously increasing base of threats to the sector.

The proposals selected will not only need to address challenges facing the forest sector, but will also need to address key criteria identified by the DST. These include:

  • Increased private sector investment in Research, Development and Innovation.
  • Increased general level of Research and Development in South Africa forest sector.
  • Increase the competitiveness of the forest sector (nationally and internationally).
  • Develop human capital.
  • Generate knowledge.
  • Contribute to the intellectual property portfolio of the forest sector.
  • Work towards transformation through the development of opportunities for emerging new role players.

"The awarding of the SIF fund to the Forest Sector is a significant accomplishment and is the first substantial public funding to be directed to the commercial forestry sector in 19 years," said Dr Heath. "The awarding of the SIF has been well received and has ignited new enthusiasm and energy within the forest R & D community," he said.

"This is a massive coup for us," said FSA's Executive Director, Michael Peter. "We are never going to compete with other timber producers, like Brazil, in terms of volume, so we're going to need to be innovative. We need to develop new products, new markets, genetic technology, harvesting and logistics innovation, better land use planning ... basically we have to produce more with less," he said. The Forest Sector would like to express its gratitude to DST and look forward to future collaboration to advance the Forest Sector and increase its contribution to the National Outcomes and priorities.

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