Agri-SA warns of a timber industry decline

DESERTED: SA timber growers continue to leave their plantations to cultivate crops such as avocados and macadamia as alternatives, while others look for opportunities in Brazzaville.
DESERTED: SA timber growers continue to leave their plantations to cultivate crops such as avocados and macadamia as alternatives, while others look for opportunities in Brazzaville.

COMMERCIAL farmers' union Agri-SA is expecting a further decline in the production of timber as many licensed timber growers continue to desert the plants in favour of other crops.

It said the decline would automatically push the price of timber up. According to Agr-SA, many growers were now focusing on macadamia, avocado, mango and other crops.

Agri-SA deputy president Theo De Jager said the move had prompted local farmers to consider opportunities in Congo-Brazzaville, where they had been offered a portion of land by that country's government.

He said many farmers had interest in timber growing but due to limited space, they ended up accepting offers there.

"South Africa's timber industry is shrinking and has lost thousands of hectares to other crops," De Jager said.

He said opportunities in Congo-Brazzaville would allow local farmers to compete with the French and Italians.

Though they are not happy about taking their expertise to a foreign country, which will lead to job losses, De Jager said they were happy that they had been given more land to plant on - 60000 hectares - while their competitors, French and Italians, were given 20000 hectares, combined.

"In South Africa, there is no sign that the industry will grow any time soon because of conservation and the shift to other crops," he said.

Sowetan understands that the industry was blamed for consuming high volumes of water, forcing the government to halt the issuing of water licences to timber producers.

That resulted in the industry "shrinking" and unable to employ more people than before, De Jager said.

He said most current licence holders, mainly land restitution beneficiaries, were shifting from timber plantation to cultivate avocados and macadamia as alternatives.

But the move to Brazzaville will see most farmers returning to production.

"Farmers want to export timber to the rest of the continent, especially North Africa - which does not have a timber supply.

And it takes a few years longer to harvest timber in Congo than in South Africa, where it takes between 15 and 20 years," De Jager said.

The decline, according to farmers, has fuelled an increase on crude timbers.

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