Friday, 02 August 2019
Amathole, on top of the world after 20 years of certification
Much has changed at Amathole Forestry Company (Pty)Ltd (AFC) over the past 20 years, but one thing has been constant: it has retained its FSC Forest Management certification throughout this time.
AFC, situated near Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa,operates 14,500ha of commercial forestry and 9,990ha of open and conservation areas. Its Kubusi and Hogsback plantations are situated along the southern slopes of the Amathole Mountains, which peak within the forest area at more than 2,000m. Where the journey began AFC, now part of the Rance Group with CJ Rance (Pty)Ltd (trading as Rance Timber), started its FSC journey as part of the South African Forestry Company (SAFCOL). Piet Odendaal, then Divisional Director of Forestry, was keen to see SAFCOL become one of the first FSC-certified companies in South Africa, and he actively encouraged the SAFCOL regions to obtain certification. The Eastern Cape region, which includes the Amathola area,obtained its first FSC certificate in 1998, closely following the Mpumalanga operations (now Komatiland Forests). The FSC certification process meant completely changing the way things were done. “Written standards were limited in the 1990s, and forestry relied on the experience of older foresters, with little formal checking and verification of standards in the field,” Karen Kirkman, previously SAFCOL Cape Environmental Manager and now an independent consultant to AFC,recalls. “Prioritized environmental management was also new.” Steep learning curve She describes the early days of FSC involvement as a steep learning curve. “The idea of independent auditors visiting plantations and verifying standards was new, and the first auditors were from Europe, often using unknown terms and not always being familiar with the plantation forestry environment. This made the process difficult, and a lot of training and sensitizing of foresters to the FSC standard was needed. “Early non-conformance corrective actions were for basic things, such as harvest planning control and procedures and standards in the field and related to the minimization of impacts on the environment. These are things that are now entrenched within the system.” In late 2002, as part of its privatization process, SAFCOL transferred its forestry holdings to regional companies. Its Hogsback and Kubusi parcels were transferred to Amatola Forestry (Pty) Ltd, and the Sandile and Zingcuka plantations were transferred from the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. Fast track improvements The FSC certificate was carried over to Amatola Forestry, with a decision to initially include only Hogsback and Kubusi (16,886ha)in the certification. Sandile and Zingcuka had been poorly managed, and without significant management input, they would not meet FSC standards. A programme to fast track their improvement through better silviculture, invasive plant control and environmental and forestry planning was initiated. These areas are now included in the FSC certification. Rance Timber and its black economic empowerment partners successfully bid to buy a majority shareholding in Amatola Forestry in 2005. The forest lands are on a 70-year lease. A name change followed, and the company is now known as Amathole Forest Company. “Amathole” means “place of the calves”, possibly because the mountain grasslands were good summer grazing for calving cows of the amaNqika clan; “Amatole”and “Amatola” was the spelling of the district until the early 2000s. Before privatization,fires had destroyed 40 per cent of state plantations in Amathole, which disrupted log supplies and resulted in challenges to maintain FSC certification. AFC has drastically improved fire-protection measures; over the past five years, there have been no losses to fire. AFC’s primary focus was stabilization of the industry in Amathole, prevention of fires and rehabilitation of plantations. These goals have been achieved, and log supplies, which go mainly to the Rance Timber sawmill,have increased. In parallel, audits for FSC certification have shown less and less need for corrective actions. A key player in the community The company now employs 1,400 people in its forestry and sawmilling divisions. It has been the backbone of the Amathole timber industry and continues to play a vital role in rural socio-economic development. The company sees communities and other stakeholders as an integral part of business success, and FSC social compliance requirements strengthen this. The company offers job opportunities, whenever possible, to people who are from or live in the mostly rural area. Apart from creating a pleasant work environment for employees, the company has a stakeholder liaison team that interacts with communities. High quality Today, AFC’s prime objective is production of high-quality pine saw timber. Saw logs are used for products such as graded structural timber, graded industrial timber and poles for agriculture and building. Eucalyptus timber is used for flooring for the export market and small-wood timber is used for pallets and fruit bins, as well as local furniture markets. The AFC plantations are managed on a rotation that varies from 10 years for eucalyptus poles to 30 years for pine saw timber. The company continually strives to improve performance through monitoring and implementing corrective actions. Its environmental management system is used to guide and regulate processes on the plantations. Procedures ensure that activities take legal requirements and national forestry standards into account as a minimum requirement while aiming at best forestry practice.