Following a recent meeting with the forestry and sawmilling stakeholders in the fire-ravaged Southern and Eastern Cape areas, Forestry South Africa (FSA) and Sawmilling South Africa (SSA) have emphasised the need for intensive collaboration and careful coordination between government and industry during the recovery operations.
The two associations, the government departments of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Trade and Industry (the dti) and the National Disaster Management Centre are assisting industry with plans to mitigate the impact of these losses, by salvaging commercially saleable product and re-establishing the affected areas.
The prolonged drought, high temperatures, powerful winds and fire-adapted fynbos combined to exacerbate the spread of and devastation caused by the fires.
At a regional industry level, there has been extensive damage to the timber plantations and one complete saw mill was razed to the ground. The scale of the disaster is the worst that the industry has experienced in the region for many years. At this time, it is not possible to put a monetary value to the damage caused by the fires but preliminary estimates indicate losses running into hundreds of millions of Rand.
From an employment perspective, there may be a short-term increase in jobs as the industry seeks to commence salvage, re-establishment and reforestation operations, providing it can secure the finance necessary for these interventions. However, in the medium to longer term and until the plantations return to a more normalised rotation, stakeholders will need to explore other employment interventions, as the future sustainable supply of timber, will be adversely affected.
FSA, SSA as well as SAFCA (the South African Forestry Contractors Association) will mobilise additional contractor capacity to ensure that the interests of local businesses and jobs are protected. The South African Wood Preservers Association (SAWPA) will carry out research around the ‘treatability’ of burned poles.
FSA and SSA will continue to facilitate meetings with national, provincial, regional and local disaster management officials.