Since its inception, Mondi Zimele’s small grower programme has supplied over 9.4 million quality plants to timber growers, with 1,04 million plants distributed in the 2022 planting season alone, besides providing training, securing markets and organising knowledge-sharing field days.
Mondi Zimele is proud to have partnered with and benefitted a total of 3 435 emerging growers, supported by 93 local empowered forestry contractors (harvesting, timber transporters, etc.), ensuring that the programme is a significant economic driver within the rural Zululand region. Emerging growers have sold a total of 933,690 tons of timber back to Mondi, contributing to a revenue of R803 million. Just this year, growers supplied 122,989 tons of timber at a value of R112 million in revenue.
Another notable achievement, in conjunction with various partners, has been a breakthrough in Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for small-scale timber growers under the CMO Group Scheme.
Community forestry wins
Mbongeni Mngomezulu, a wizened timber farmer and small grower, shares the history of community forestry in the Mfekayi area and his vision for the future…
“When the depot was set up in ’89, it streamlined the market and more people could see the possibilities of forestry. Khulanathi is the backbone of the timber industry here,” said Mngomezulu.
The Mfekayi depot and weighbridge’s opening meant that small-scale growers could deliver their harvested timber to the depot, no longer needing to make the long trek (88km) to the Mondi mill in Richards Bay.
The Mondi and later Mondi Zimele’s outgrowers’ scheme was instrumental in establishing sustainable community forestry in the Mfekayi area, where economic opportunities are scarce and unemployment is rife. Khulanathi Forestry was formed in April 2007 after the closure of the Mondi group’s Khulanathi outgrower programme.
Mngomezulu started growing trees in 1980, when local people knew very little about forestry. He began managing three hectares on behalf of the local Chief and established a timber transport business to assist other small growers with the short haul to the Mfekayi depot. Today, he is the chairperson of the Growers’ Committee in the area, employs 10 permanent employees and also grows sugar cane to supplement his forestry business.
Mondi Zimele supplies Khulanathi Forestry with 500,000 seedlings/cuttings a year, with the mandate to distribute them to local community growers and sell the timber back to Mondi once it has gone full rotation. Khulanathi also assists the growers with technical support, training and timber certification.
“The free, high-quality seedlings have been very important in growing the timber industry here,” said Mngomezulu. “Their distribution also saves us travel costs, where previously we needed to travel up to 150km to the nursery to buy them. They make forestry here more viable and sustainable.”
“I do loading and short-hauling of timber from the small growers’ woodlots to the depot using a tractor trailer system. There are 14 contractors doing the same work in this area … with around six people per per contractor!”
“This really contributes to the volume of available fibre for our mill in Richards Bay,” said Sizwe Mtengu of Mondi Zimele. “It also helps us foster good relationships with our communities and supports local economic development. We have seen a huge improvement in the timber quality from small growers over the years.
Many are taking forestry more seriously as a business that can support their families. “Khulanathi ensures that forestry development is in line with best operating practices,” he said. “They also pay the small growers upfront, which assists them hugely with cash flow.”
Their main challenge is having more timber than the depot can procure. Mondi Zimele is committed to growing its small timber grower footprint and partnership in the region, and with that, increase the timber supplied by growers to Mondi.
Another challenge is that of water security, for which Mngomezulu would like to see boreholes established. “I would like to praise Mondi Zimele and Khulanathi,” he said. “Forestry is the number one driver of economic development in this area. We have sent our children to school and built beautiful homes with the money we have made growing trees.”
Soil is the source of life
Rejoice Shozi, small-scale timber grower and local leader, explains how forestry is providing livelihoods in
Rejoice Shozi’s mother grew vegetables and trees and her father grew sugar cane on the small family plot in
Empembeni, 30km south of Richards Bay.
When her father died in 2015, Shozi inherited three hectares of land and revived and expanded her mother’s
small Eucalyptus plot. She soon saw timber’s benefits and began asking to use neighbours’ unused land. She thus established three more hectares of Eucalyptus, which she plants, maintains and harvests while paying the landowners a fee.
“From a young age, I learned that soil is a source of life,” said Shozi, who is a guiding force for small
growers in the area where she is the chairperson of the Growers Committee. She assists local growers with
coordinating transport, harvesting and general forestry advice.
Shozi employs six people when she is planting or harvesting timber and she has bought her own chainsaw,
offering harvesting services to other growers in the area. She receives free seedlings from Mondi Zimele via Khulanathi.
‘Ma Shozi’ harvests her timber on a six-year rotation and delivers it to the Khulanathi depot at Esikhawini.
Khulanathi coordinates transport for the long haul to the Mondi Mill in Richards Bay. “We use local labour and transport contractors,” said Shozi. “Transport is my biggest challenge because it is my biggest cost,” she said. “I hope to one day own my own truck.”
“Shozi makes it easier for us to work with the small growers here,” said Thokozani Mfekayi, Khulanathi Forestry Operations Manager. “She assists us to communicate with growers for meetings and field days.”
“Once we have harvested, Shozi will replant to full stocking. We give her advice on how best to establish, maintain and harvest her woodlot.
We also assist in negotiation for rates with transport contractors. When she is ready to replant, we will deliver high-quality Eucalyptus seedlings to her. We distribute Mondi Zimele seedlings to all our small growers.”
Sizwe Mtengu of Mondi Zimele pointed out that many people in rural KZN have access to land but lack the resources and skills to utilise it profitably. This is where Mondi Zimele is filling the gap.
Shozi recently attended a harvesting training field day arranged by Mondi Zimele, through Khulanathi as part of their initiative to certify small growers. The certification programme assists small growers in the area toward getting FSC certified, through CMO and the guidance of Michal Brink. Three growers have already been certified.
This will give the small growers a better rate for their timber, along with the stamp of approval for the sustainability of their operations.
“There are many women being empowered. Forestry has helped me raise four children and grown my self-confidence. We must teach our children how to grow trees and understand the value of the land. – Rejoice Shozi
Queen of the forest
Sabathile Tembe, the mother of Chief Tembe of Mfihlweni, is also a prosperous three-decade-long champion tree farmer who operates a forestry contracting business offering other growers planting, harvesting and transport services.
When she’s not busy with her royal duties, she’s tending her Eucalyptus forests and offering her knowledge to other small growers in the community.
Tembe manages 26 hectares of timber, and over the years, she has bought two cars, her own tractor, a labour truck and several chainsaws with the capital from her forestry work. Tembe employs up to 100 people when things are busy… a sure sign that business is booming.
Sabathile plants high-quality GU clones from Mondi Zimele as part of the Forest Partners Programme. “There is a very low mortality rate and the trees grow so fast and healthy that we are able to get the best income,” said Tembe.
The Mondi Zimele seedlings are distributed by Khulanathi Forestry. Tembe grows, fells and transports her timber to the roadside on the R22. Khulanathi pays for her timber upfront and organises transport for the long haul to the Mondi Richards Bay mill, 250 kilometres to the south. This service saves the small-scale growers like Tembe significantly in time, money and resources.
“I have a wonderful working relationship with Thokozani Mfekayi and David Gumede of Khulanathi Forestry,” said Tembe. “Any questions I have about the forestry business, they have the answers.”
“Mondi gave us their support to supply to the Richards Bay mill,” said Thokozani Mfekayi, operations manager for Khulanathi. “However, we could see that we were going to finish the timber out here, so we expanded the project. We approached Mondi Zimele again to assist with planting materials to set up a more
sustainable business model.”
Fifteen years later and Khulanathi is still distributing Mondi Zimele seedlings to over 3,000 small growers in KZN, while procuring a steady stream of pulp logs, 10,000 tonnes a month, for the Mondi Richards Bay mill.
“My greatest wish is that the younger generations will take an interest in forestry and farming,” she said. “I hope that they will see the opportunities that the land has to offer.”
When asked about problems, her answer was somewhat unexpected: “As growers, we do not have many challenges,” she said. “We have land and permission from the Chief to plant it… we have seedlings and a market. Mondi Zimele and Khulanathi are here to help us find the solutions.”