If the Forestry Exit Strategy, that is currently ruling the management of Grabouw’s plantations, is not reversed within eighteen months, it will be too late to save the region’s 100-year old forestry industry, with the loss of 12,000 jobs.
Within just eighteen months there will be so little timber to process that remaining sawmills will close, and the condition of the former plantations will have deteriorated to the extent that they will no longer be capable of attracting the investment that would be vital to re-establish new plantations.
By that time the region will have also lost the supporting infrastructure such as forest roads, fire fighting capability, skilled foresters, education and research.
This is the message from the citizens of Grabouw, led by the Grabouw Development Forum (GDF), who are calling for an urgent amendment by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) to the current lease of Grabouw’s plantations, which will enable the leaseholder, Cape Pine, to manage the plantations to ensure their future viability instead of clearing the land of pine trees in accordance with the current terms of its lease.
“We have reached the tipping point,” says Pieter Silberbauer of GDF. “If the terms of Cape Pine’s lease are not changed within eighteen months, young plantation trees and forestry infrastructure will have been decimated to such an extent that they will no longer be capable of attracting investment in the future.
“That will signal the death knell to a sustainable industry that is of critical economic and social importance to Grabouw.”
He explains that, as government revised its 2001 Exit Strategy in 2008 – clawing back some 60% of plantation land in the region, all that is needed is for DAFF to amend Cape Pine’s lease to instruct it to manage the plantations for a viable future rather than clearing the land of pine trees.
“Government has already re-commissioned most of the land as forestry, so it’s just a case of updating Cape Pine’s lease!” he says.
Mr Silberbauer, who is MD of the specialist timber construction company Rustic Homes, points out that the species of pine tree, Pinus radiata, grown in Grabouw’s plantations, produces higher quality timber when grown here than anywhere else in the world.”
“Pinus radiata grows exceptionally well in the Western Cape. It seems complete madness that if we don’t produce it here, we will have to import inferior quality from other countries,” he says, adding that the timber from Pinus radiata is ideal for many uses, including building construction.
Furthermore, Mr Silberbauer points out, the production of timber fits perfectly with government’s National Development Plan – a key driver for development in South Africa.
“Forestry ticks all the boxes for the government’s own strategy for economic development. Forestry is a sustainable industry, producing renewable materials.
“Also, trees provide a proven solution to combat global warming as they mop up carbon dioxide and are fantastic at producing oxygen – a fact acknowledged at last year’s world summit on global warming, which was held in Durban. Yet our country is the only one at present that is trying to slow down forestry, while the rest of the world is growing theirs at a pace. We cannot have a green economy if it is also one that is encouraging deforestation!”
The GDF points out that the wellbeing of the region’s indigenous vegetation – mainly fynbos – is dependent on a thriving forestry industry. The Grabouw Ratepayers’ chairman, Alex Rowe, points out that, as Cape Nature’s resources are already severely stretched, it would be very unlikely that it could effectively manage ex-forestry plantation land – much of which is colonised by exotic species such as wattle and rooikrans.
“If the 60% designated forestry area is reversed immediately, this will also ensure that the previous plantation area will be well managed for nature conservation. Without forestry, there will not be the investment to fund conservation management that is essential to keep the land clear of exotic species,” says Dr Rowe.
He stresses too that the ex-forestry land is fast becoming a dangerous liability with large amounts of highly combustible wood covering the ground. This, he points out, is happening at the same time as the region’s fire fighting capability is being diminished.
Finally, Dr Rowe makes the point that the Elgin valley has become a mecca for mountain bike enthusiasts. The tourist revenue generated by the sport has become an important part of the valley’s economy. The loss of forestry plantation infrastructure could have a serious negative impact on this.
“Government must act now to save our forests to save the future of our town,” concludes Dr Rowe.