JOHANNESBURG – “When people think of building with wood, they think of Wendy houses and squatter camps – but the richest of the rich use wood; if you go to Clifton, you will see mansions costing milions, made of wood. South African Forestry Company Limited (SAFCOL) Chairman, Lungile Mabece, told Power987 on Tuesday.


Mabece is advocating the growth of SA’s forestry industry which, he says, offers many economic and social benefits – yet is hampered by legislation and a culture of misunderstanding about the value of wood. “Overseas, they’re building universities, and palaces with wood. They’re building the biggest bridges with wood – but in SA we can’t even build bridges for pedestrians in a village. We want to change that.”


SAFCOL is hosting South Africa’s first Forestry Industrialisation Conference this week to highlight the country’s competitive advantage in the global industry, amongst others. SA is a leader in the forestry industry on the continent, says Mabece, “but for the rest of world, Africa as a continent in forestry does not exist.” The conference is designed to change all that, he adds.


Commercial forests in South Africa has declined from 1.58-million hectares in 1998 to about 1.2-million hectares today. Mabece believes that the adoption of wood product and construction standards from developed countries can provide the technical basis for a rapid increase in use of wood and wood products in industry and constructions.


“We are looking at issues affecting forestry – and at creating an enabling environment, such as licencing for people to establish plantations, as well as enabling people to build houses, office blocks and skyscrapers with wood – this is not happening in SA.”


Mabece believes the greatest constraints to the growth of SA’s forestry industry is “a question of culture”. “There are also conflicting views regarding forestry… Some people say we should not be growing trees because they take up too much water, others say we should be planting trees because they bring water. Part of our responsibility to convince government of the benefits of forestry industrialisation and to present evidence of what happens elswehere to show it works. For instance, Mpumalanga has the most trees, yet it is not driest province.”


Compared to most European countries, South Africa has a competitive advantage in the industry thanks to a climate that is conducive to forestry, as well as the technical knowledge and research output to support much larger commercial forestry and industrial use of forestry products.


The establishment of community-owned forests can be used to provide monetary reward for stewardship of forests and provide regular income to communities. SAFCOL is hoping the conference will expose people to these and similar opportunities.


The conference is aimed to let people know there are oportuities and there is innovation,” adds Mabece. “We are working with industry, academic insitutions – we have five universities on board, and of course CSIR, to make sure South Africans are able to get maximum value out of forestry.”


SAFCOL is also hoping for government’s buy-in, says Mabece. “We have designed the conference to bring government departments that affect possible growth in the forestry industry. We also brought on board industry players in the value chain, as well as academics, experts overseas who have implemented what South Africans  don’t believe is possible with wood,” he explains.


The conference takes place at Transnet Freight Rail in Esselenpark, Kempton Park from 4-5 October.


Source : Power FM