The Forestry Industrialisation Conference, to be hosted by State-owned forestry company Safcol in Pretoria on October 4 and 5, will highlight the potential of industrial and commercial forestry and wood products to support economic growth.
Safcol chairperson Lungile Mabece highlights the decline of commercial forests in South Africa from 1.58-million hectares in 1998 to about 1.2-million hectares currently, and says the adoption of wood product and construction standards used in developed countries can provide the technical basis for a rapid increase in the use of wood and wood products in industry and for construction.
“South Africa has a climate that is conducive to forestry and we also have the technical knowledge and research output to support much larger commercial forestry and industrial use of forestry products. “When compared to European countries that have well-established forestry industries, South Africa holds a competitive advantage to grow lumber, but does not capitalise on this advantage.”
Additionally, the establishment of community-owned forests can provide monetary reward for stewardship of forests and provide a regular income for communities. Technical standards for establishing, using and sustaining forests are readily available to facilitate this. The felling, however, should be done by professionals, says Mabece.
Further, the export of lumber, timber and wood products is hampered by high costs of transport to export terminals and, therefore, an export-led approach alone is not sufficient to underpin forestry industrialisation. However, regional industrial forestry value chains can provide a sustainable model for forestry industrialisation.
Meanwhile, South Africa does not use as much wood as most other countries do to build its civil structures, and there is significant potential for wood and wood products to broaden the range of materials used to build houses and commercial structures.
“In some countries, such as Finland, Japan and the US, about 70% of houses are built using mainly wood. “Effective development and industrialisation of forestry can introduce wood building materials and help to broaden the range and reduce the costs of construction materials.”
However, Mabece highlights the significant challenge of modernising wood processing facilities in the country, with about 90% of wood processing facilities and plants being very old and wasteful.
“In some cases, up to 72% of the timber that enters these processing facilities is lost as waste. “We cannot effectively industrialise the forestry and associated industries with only 28% resource use efficiency.”
Various pieces of legislation and government structures can be leveraged to modernise and upgrade these facilities, although these would depend on return on investment prospects.
The conference will host forestry experts, specifically from Nordic countries in which forestry contributes significantly to their economies, to share their insights, best practices and technical knowledge on forestry and related industries.