Small Holder Updates

Monday, 04 January 2016
Manguzi: A backbone of timber for tribal communities

Smallholder Story (© Steven Germishuizen)© Steven Germishuizen

Timber, often from plantations smaller than a hectare, is the major income source in the Manguzi and Ozwathini areas in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal.

Typical of rural areas, land tenure is bestowed by tribal authorities, and smallholders work within a range of ancient practices. Coinciding with the recent World Forestry Congress in Durban, an FSC Smallholder Support Program team visited pilot projects being run to find ways to have these plantations FSC certified.

It’s a hot spring day in the north-eastern corner of South Africa, and Induna Mthembu Mabanjeni Alias is relaxing under the umKhuhlu tree (Trichilia dregeana) outside his home. Here, he often meets with his advisors and his people.

Small-scale forestry

Today, in this leafy coolness, the induna (“great leader”) is receiving visitors from FSC and Mondi Zimele, the small-scale business development arm of packaging and paper group Mondi. They have come to see how his people weave growing trees into the varied use of their communally owned land in a responsible way. 

“What we do here is grow trees, and we value any support that enables us to do that in a more sustainable way,” the induna says. It’s a means for his people to secure a regular income, he explains, and it’s vital in an area with few formal jobs.

Here, in the Tembe traditional authority area, forestry, mostly small scale, accounts for about 80 per cent of incomes. In rural South Africa, social grants usually make up the lion’s share of income, even more than from migrants, men who leave their families to work in the cities. 

Skills transfer

The area, near the border town of Manguzi, is part of the Mondi Zimele Small Growers Certification Pilot Project, involving about 70 growers on 300ha in the old Zululand part of KwaZulu-Natal. Here, forestry mingles with subsistence farm plots and clumps of indigenous trees.

The project, with a grant from the FSC Smallholders Fund, offers technical support to the development of best operational practices and transfer of skills through extension services. It also supports capacity building through training and developing an institutional structure – giving smallholders a voice – with the aim of them eventually becoming FSC certified.

The induna walks his talk. He has 20ha planted with trees, mostly eucalyptus, started by his wife in 1999 when he was working in Johannesburg.

Women-headed households

He tells his visitors that he supports women working in forestry. This is important. It’s estimated that half the households here are headed by women, largely due to migrant labour, but in some areas, traditional systems have excluded women from being custodians of land.

The induna’s strong backing of the pilot strengthens it. “Community engagement is considered to be a critical success factor,” Sizwe Mtengu, Mondi Zimele’s Head: Forestry Partners, says.

Mondi Zimele supports emerging businesses and growers within the forestry value chain and surrounding communities. “The programme’s objectives are to increase local participation and job creation in communities surrounding Mondi’s area of operations,” Mondi Zimele CEO Jason Smith explains. 

According to Mondi Zimele, the objective of small grower certification is not to expand community forestry but rather to encourage existing forestry land to be more sustainable and productive, thereby enabling involvement of community growers in markets.

Mutual benefits

Benefits flow both ways: Mondi helps develop sustainable fibre supply and small-scale growers benefit from timber sales revenues in the long run.

Near the induna’s home, about 90 tons of eucalyptus logs line the sandy road. The timber has been brought here from several growers’ stands, and later it will go to Mondi’s mill in nearby Richard’s Bay. 

The process is managed by timber supply agents, contracted by Mondi to co-ordinate with local growers, ensuring that timber for the mill comes from legitimate sources and that growers are paid fairly for their timber. 

Mandla Ntuli of Awethu Forestry Services, Mondi Zimele’s timber procurement agent here, points to the role of timber in these communities. He tells the story of a man who became disabled in 1969. He lived on a small government grant and it seemed that his family would never escape being poor. 

Then he started planting forest plots. He built his own home. Three of his children have just graduated; three more will graduate soon.

“Timber,” Ntuli says simply, “assists people to find life.”

© Forest Stewardship Council® · FSC® F000100