Huge volume of timber lost due to Knysna fires
Fire salvage operation nears end as investment sought in new plantation More than a million cubic metres of timber was lost from South Africa’s annual supply when one of the country’s largestever fires tore through plantations and hundreds of homes between Knysna and Nelson Mandela Bay last year. This is according to MTO Forestry Group chief executive Lawrence Polkinghorne, who said the overall impact of the fire on the country’s forestry industry could not be understated. Polkinghorne’s assessment of the fire damages comes after the Eastern Cape government’s recent announcement that it is seeking capital investment of R1.5-billion to plant new plantations of 100 000 hectares, which will create an additional 12 000 jobs. He was commenting as the company, which lost tens of millions of rands in timber, along with a R100-million sawmill near Port Elizabeth, nears completion of a nearly nine-month salvage and mop-up operation. “With approximately 600 000m3 harvested on four major fronts, between Knysna and Jeffreys Bay, the end of the burnt logs is in sight after the devastating fires last year,” Polkinghorne said, indicating the volume of timber the company has managed to salvage. “This could not have been accomplished without the same verve and focus people showed during the fires and a massive sustained effort since last year has culminated in the removal of extraordinary volumes of burnt logs, most of which have found their way to the local markets, and some to China.”
The operational complexity, financial impact and production capacity required to execute the salvage operation would have crippled most, Polkinghorne said. However, the company had managed to implement successful strategies which resulted in positive impacts across the business. “The devastation [from the fires] has been incredible. More than seven people died and hundreds of homes burnt to the ground. “MTO Forestry lost thousands of hectares in its tree plantations, as well as one of its sawmills, but the major focus was on saving lives and bringing the fires under control,” he said. Outlining his department’s 2018-19 policy, Eastern Cape Rural Development and Agrarian Reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane said the forestry sector in the province, based on 2015 figures, contributed R2.428-billion to GDP. “This contribution comprises more than R1-billion for primary production and more than R1.4-billion of processed timber. However, the province has the potential to increase the contribution to GDP by R3-billion,” the MEC said. “As at 2017-18, the Eastern Cape forestry sector created 5 700 permanent and 9 300 seasonal jobs, resulting in 15 000 jobs. The province requires a capital investment of R1.5-billion to plant a new 100 000ha, which will create an additional 12 000 jobs.” He said a R113-million investment by the Jobs Fund in the forestry sector in the province had seen the establishment of six community-owned forestry plantations (at Izinini, Sixhotyeni, Mkambathi, Sinawo, Gqukunqa and Lusikisiki) which produced logs on 4 200ha of land and had created 695 permanent jobs and 405 seasonal jobs.