South Africa’s Forest Resource Base
South Africa’s forest land covers just over 40 million ha (about 36,7%) of the country’s total land area of 122 million hectares. Despite its “low forest cover” status, South Africa ranks as the third most biodiverse country in the world. The South African forestry sector is a reliable source of employment, with plantation forestry employing approximately 166 000 people and a further 63 000 in downstream processing plants. It has been calculated that the dependants of the forestry sector employees are approximately 1,2 million people.
South Africa has the highest percentage of proportional area of certified plantations in the world. About 82% of commercial plantation areas in South Africa have achieved the global Forest Stewardship Council certification. The history of forestry in South Africa is a remarkable story of the parallel actions of protecting a very small indigenous resource, while creating the substitute plantation resource that has satisfied the demands of a growing population, and creating an export-oriented and competitive industry.
Forestry has supported a vital rural industry, contributed to the growth of infrastructure, expanded technology into remote rural regions, and substantially grown human capital through an integrated and adaptive programme of research and innovation, a blend of “scientific indigenous forest management and plantation forest”.
This coherent programme involved parallel but integrated programmes of genetics, silviculture, forest management technology, and wood product development, and this eased the burden on natural forests. Continuous innovation that focused on silvicultural practices and technology, and the quest for timber quality improvement culminated in products suited to market needs and the innovation continues today. The commercial forest sector has been proactive, leading the world in certification and adapting to the special social requirements in South Africa, hence supplying the market with certified products derived from sustainably managed forests.
Some private forestry companies are on a drive to empower poor communities through outgrower schemes whereby emerging tree growers are supported in managing their small-scale plantations.