The SAFCOL Forestry Industrialisation Conference, FIC 2017, was held at the Transnet Rail Training Centre near Tembisa in Kempton Park recently and things became quite heated as issues of land claims and transformation took centre stage.

Speaker after speaker, starting with SAFCOL Chairman Lungile Mabace, urged the forestry industry to transform at a faster rate. Macabe went as far as calling for attendees who wish to become involved in forestry business ventures to add their name to an impromptu list so that SAFCOL could help facilitate the transformation of the industry.

He also went on to warn businesses that if they fail to transform, they would find themselves more and more ostracised within the industry.

Macabe also warned potential BEE partners that the only way in which SAFCOL would ever approve suc BEE partnerships, is if both parties are actively involved in the industry.

“We need people who are not afraid to et their hand dirty,” says Macane. “We need patriots in this industry, so do not think you are going to make a BEE deal where you are only the face of the deal. You need to be actively involved in the day to day operation of the concern. We do not condone free rides.”

Macabe went on to outline a plan to introduce agroforestry projects in some SAFCOL forests, which he said will promote food security as well as profitability.

He detailed the outcome of a review which looked at the production of berries within the forest, saying that preliminary findings indicate that one could make more money from the production of berries that from the actual forestry projects.

Speakers at the conference included the Deputy Minister for Public Enterprises, Dikobe Martin, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, Bheki Cele, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Bulelani Magwanishe, and Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Mcebisi Skwatcha.

Another issue that was continually raised is the fact that the forestry industry is finding it difficult to attract young people into the industry. Speaker after speaker raised the fact that the industry is poorly marketed and that more needs to be done to get young people to study toward a career in the forestry sector.

According to Deputy Minsiter of public enterprises, Dikobe Martins, the industry is teeming with opportunities for growth, yet the general public remains largely ignorant of the opportunities that are available.

He said that the forestry sector has the potential to create jobs, reduce poverty, and transform the economies of rural communities who live in close proximity to forestry operations, yet, despite the fact that forestry contributed 11.1% to the national agricultural GDP in 2015 as opposed to only 4.5% in 1980, and the industry creating and sustaining in excess of 158 000 jobs, the public is scarcely aware of the industry, or of the other downstream opportunities that it creates.

Other speakers at the event included the executive director at Forestry South Africa (FSA), Micheal Peter, SAFCOL forestry chair at the University of Pretoria, Prof Paxie Chirwa, chief scientist and director, Bio refinery industry development facility at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr Bruce Sithole, and independent forestry consultant Jeanette Clarke, among others.

Very interesting talks were also held by Richard Stretton, the founder of Koop Design, Werner Slabbert jnr of Ecolog Homes, and Erwin van der Weerd from Greenpods / Perfect Places on the benefits of timberframe homes and modular buildings.

Things became slightly heated when Werner Slabbert snr, a board member of the Institute for Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA) took to the podium to lament government’s failure to declare wood  as part of their Alternative Building Materials (ABM) list.

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