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The forestry industry is the second largest cultivator of land in South Africa. It has a capital base of R30 billion and an annual turnover of R12 billion. It meets 95% of the country's needs in wood-based products and has a positive trade balance of R2 billion per annum. It is one of the strongest forces in creating rural employment, with more than 200,000 people benefiting directly from employment or income generating opportunities.

Forestry plays an important role in the subregional economy by supplying raw materials to industries and by using manufactured goods and labour. Forestry also impacts hugely on the water and drainage system of the subregion. Up to 70% of the plantations in the Biosphere Reserve belongs to the state. On government land there are 10,563 hectares of planted plantations and 11,774ha of indigenous forest.

Signalling a far reaching change in policy, the Department of Water and Forestry (DWAF) recently earmarked a number of plantations for removal, which are the subject of contracts with sawmills. The different compartments of the plantations are left to grow to an age where a marketable product can be delivered to a sawmill. After harvesting the areas will be left unplanted and handed over to Conservation Forestry. The timeframe for these removals are within a 15 year period.

Land Usage In The Biosphere Reserve

Work for Water

The Work for Water Project of the Department of Water and Agricultural Affairs (DWAF) is an innovative job creation project where illegal commercial species are removed from streams and rivers, and from vleis and fountains. DWAF is also planning Joint Forestry Management programmes with bordering communities where communities will benefit from forestry activities. Under the astute leadership of the Honorable Minister Kaida Asmal, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) has undergone a restructuring and transformation process which has transformed the face and operations of the forestry industry. Its present orientation towards participation and people centered policies are seeing changes in the management and conservation of state forests in the region.

Land use and Conservation

DWAF has now established Primary Conservation Areas (PCA) in the estimated 22,500 hectares of state forest on the escarpment's eastern slopes. These conservation areas presently total 14,500 ha. These initiatives are driven through the Joint Forest Management Initiative and are providing new structures for dealing with conservation and development issues.

Two further forestry districts are found in the Greater Biosphere region: one in the upper Blyde and Treur catchment areas and the other in the Magoebaskloof Woodbush. 11,249 ha and 30,000 ha of plantations are found here respectively. The entire forest cover of approximately 41,000 ha could be producing 550,000 cubic metres of wood - yielding a GGP of just under a R100 million per annum over these three districts.

The balance of indigenous forests is managed for water generation, purification, scenic and natural agendas. The debate (and at times controversy) surrounding forestry vis-à-vis water use and/or sustainability is the subject of worldwide attention. Assessments of water use effficiency based on direct economic benefits are presently being prepared by the Water Research Commission (WRC). Extremely complex research involving Total Economic Benefits (TEB) could provide constraints or incentives to the industry.

Out of interest, pulpwood and chip exports, currently accounting for 52% of total roundwood produced and sold in this country, are projected to rise to 65% of total consumption in 20 years. The debate will rage whether development of the resource as a whole can be sustained at these production levels when social and environmental considerations are factored in.