80 students to gain forestry sector skills as part of master plan rollout

14th April 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Under the Forestry Sector Masterplan, which emphasises forestry skills development, about 80 students will participate in the programme at the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FPM Seta) and the universities of the Witwatersrand and Pretoria.

They will start as soon as the enrolment processes at the institutions are completed, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Deputy Minister Maggie Sotyu said in her keynote speech at the Forest 21 workshop virtual launch event on April 14.

"[The] creation of economic and employment opportunities in the forestry sector can be realised through the inculcation of a sense of entrepreneurship; support to small, medium-sized and microenterprises (SMMEs) and having well trained and skilled graduates from academic and vocational training institutions.

"Forestry as a sector provides economic and employment opportunities in predominantly rural areas, where there are high levels of poverty and unemployment," she said.

The government worked with industry and labour to finalise the Forestry Sector Masterplan. Key aims of the masterplan include research and development, innovation, human resources and skills development.

"This . . . is aimed at ensuring that we have well skilled professionals and technocrats in the field of forestry to implement the masterplan, which is essentially a growth, transformation and investment plan for the sector. Additionally, the focus area on skills development will ensure that entrepreneurs are created in the sector who can create employment opportunities and grow the economy," said Sotyu.

"This ideal can be achieved if, and only if, our institutions that provide training, learning and teaching are strengthened to produce graduates that can adapt to the dynamic and changing environment; skilled people who have an entrepreneurial spirit leading to them creating SMMEs and hiring people; and, above all, products that will be resilient," she added.

"The Forest 21 initiative seeks to inculcate climate-smart forestry and entrepreneurial innovativeness in forestry education. We are looking forward to brighter prospects with Finland and Norway, as our partners in the joint project to strengthen capacity within higher education institutions offering forestry in South Africa."

The project will run for three years to improve the efforts of the forestry sector to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

"We hope the initiative will also improve the entrepreneurial innovativeness of the sector to create more sustainable, high-technology, lucrative product and service-oriented businesses, which will assist the country to curb unemployment, inequality and poverty."

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) supports the initiative and will cooperate with counterparts in other departments to ensure its success.

The initial Forest Industrialisation Conference resulted in the partnership between Forestry South Africa and HAMK University, in Finland. This was followed by a visit of  South African forestry personnel to Finland.

Today, these initiatives have resulted in the collaboration between the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation; the DFFE; the South African Qualifications Authority; the Council on Higher Education; the FPM Seta; the universities of Witwatersrand and Pretoria; the Mpumalanga province; and the forestry industries in South Africa, Norway and Finland.

"A critical challenge facing the world and developing countries is the high unemployment rate, with associated issues of some citizens being food insecure, especially at household level. A key issue to be addressed in this regard is the creation of economic and employment opportunities, especially where the majority of the population comprises of the youth.

"Social measures and safety nets for the most vulnerable in communities still play a role in alleviating the plight of those who do not have the means of survival. However, putting a heavy burden will be unsustainable on these social support mechanisms without stimulating economic growth and creating economic and employment opportunities," Sotyu said.