South Africa faces timber shortage after planting restrictions

The South African timber industry is now facing a wood shortage. Photo Credit: Tim Graham/Getty images

The Government of South Africa’s draconian restrictions on the circulation of forest and planting permits has driven the country to a timber scarcity.

Approximately 70 per cent of the felled timber in South Africa goes into construction. The remainder is then shared by the packaging sector, joinery sector, and furniture sector, with a bit also taken for industrial use.

Executive Director of Sawmilling South Africa, Roy Southey, said the government had initially brought the restrictions into being around two decades ago due to the paucity of water resources during an interview with Business Day. “The development of forestry needs to be [well-controlled] and fairly managed. This resulted in a marked decline in the establishment of forests in [South Africa] as the authorities tried to find the best way to balance the need for timber and the need for water and other environmental considerations.”

As the nation’s economy boomed, the forests declined.

Now, faced with a lack of appropriate land, it is forecasted that in the coming two decades, South Africa will be required to bring in almost half its pine structural wood to meet demand.

“Importation…is subject to many variances, not least of all the effects of currency fluctuations,” Southey said. “If large volumes of structural lumber were to be imported, it could affect rural job creation in [South Africa] and could increase prices to the consumer. There is a lot of sawn lumber being imported into [South Africa] and there always has been, but this in mainly for the higher-end furniture and joinery subsectors.”

Director of forestry-based industries of the Department of Trade and Industry, Tafadzwa Nyanzunda, said that the government had wanted to develop and install a comprehensive strategy for wood processing, as well as other initiatives that would aid the sector get back onto its feet.

But Southey stated that while the government had been shifting in the direction of handling the issue, it also moved slowly. However, he also mentioned that many solutions were being investigated by all involved parties, including the state.

These solutions consist of an analysis of the planting permits, or licensing systems, as it is also known as; the introduction of species that grow at a faster rate; bringing in sawn lumber; upgrading the sawmilling industry to be more efficient; and the establishment of more forestry locations.

Presently, York Timber is the sole listed company in the place, and the outdated technology in the company’s sawmills only yield an estimated 40 per cent of a log being used productively. However, at this point in time, the current best practice in sawmills usually brings about a 90 per cent rate of use. That is the goal York Timber is working towards.

Source: Business Day