The Forestry Sector Masterplan (FSM) to revitalise the forestry, pulp and paper, sawn timber, board products and utility poles, and treated products industries received the government’s stamp of approval in September 2020.

The forestry sector contributes almost 25% to South Africa’s agricultural GDP, and with its contribution of 4.5% to total manufacturing, forestry products rank among the top five contributors within manufacturing. In less than ten years, export earnings have almost trebled, with the sector providing a positive trade balance of close to R10-billion.

The Masterplan for the Commercial Forestry Sector in South Africa 2020 – 2025 is a high-level action plan. It is just one of several diverse sector master plans initiated by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic).

In this case, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) is the lead department with oversight over the FSM and its implementation. Further down the value chain, the dtic and the South African Furniture Initiative (SAFI) are finalising the Furniture Industry Master Plan (FIMP) for implementation in the second half of 2021.

The objectives of the master plan include encouraging sector growth, investment, job creation and competitiveness. From the government’s point of view, the FSM supports its Re-imagined Industrial Strategy for South Africa. Thanks to its catalytic role and impact on the national and rural economies, the forestry value chain is also prioritised under the Public-Private Growth Initiative (PPGI) that reports to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Michael Peter, the executive director of Forestry South Africa (FSA), is a member of the PPGI. He explains that “through FSA’s consistent attention to the process, we were able to ensure that the Masterplan has at its core, the same commitments of both the public and private sectors as those contained in the PPGI.”.

Industry participants involved in the FSM includes representatives from FSA, Sawmilling South Africa (SSA), the South African Wood Preservers Association (SAWPA) and the Paper Manufacturing Association of South Africa (Pamsa).

The goal of the FSM is to increase investment, jobs and competitiveness, underpinned by greater inclusivity in the forestry sector. The plan identifies seven key focus areas:

  • Expanded forestry resource and maintenance/ protection
  • Transformation
  • Processing
  • Illegal timber and crime-related activities
  • Research, development, innovation (RDI) and skills development
  • Key inhibitors
  • Institutional development

Erik Söderlund, the General Manager of the Institute for Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA), says the engineered timber truss industry welcomes the FSM.and that the government is stepping up to support the sector.

“One of the focus areas of the FSM is to combat illegal activities in the forestry value chain. With government support and funding opportunities for developing small businesses, increasing cooperation with building regulators, training programmes and a well-regulated industry, we expect faster progress with reducing the prevalence of illegal roof structures,” he comments.

The standout constraint is the lack of new afforestation and the need to remove the impediments to bringing more land under commercial forests. Investments and growth in the sector will not happen without afforestation.

The plan also comments that the pulp and paper industry with its two dominant, listed companies, Sappi and Mondi, far outweigh the other sub-sectors. “These vertically integrated companies impact the entire value chain. It will be their actions that will significantly affect the achievement of the goal and targets agreed for the Masterplan.”

The FSM addresses the governance, institutional arrangements, and capacity requirements to implement, measure, and evaluate the plan’s effectiveness. Successful delivery also requires sufficient budget commitments from the government and business in a time of severe financial constraints in a COVID-19 environment.