South African Government

Let's grow South Africa together


Industry and exports
Role players
Programmes and initiatives
Socio-economic reform and growth

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) is the custodian of South Africa's forest resources, which cover over 40 million ha of the country's land surface area. An amount of R1,2 billion from the department's budget has been allocated to forestry and natural resources management.

The forest sector employs around 165 900 workers and provides about 62 700 direct jobs and 30 000 indirect jobs. Forestry provides livelihood support to 652 000 people of the country's rural population. The pulp and paper industry provides about 13 200 direct and 11 000 indirect employment opportunities.

Some 20 000 workers are employed in sawmilling, and 6 000 in the timber board and 2 200 in the mining timber industries, while a further 11 000 workers are employed in miscellaneous jobs in forestry.

In terms  of  land  use,  the  afforested  area is about 1,27 million ha or about 1% of the total South African land area  of  122,3  million ha.

The forest sector (forestry and forest products) contributes  about  1%  to  the  GDP. In terms of regional GDP, forestry in KwaZulu-Natal contributes 4,4%; in Mpumalanga 3,7%; in the Eastern Cape 0,6%; and in Limpopo about 0,6%.

The DAFF contributes to eradicating poverty through the Forestry Livelihoods Programme. Firewood, construction poles, medicinal plants and edible fruits are all critical to the livelihoods of the rural poor.

The department develops human resources through forestry-sector skills development initiatives and promotes employment through commercial forestry activities such as forestation and  downstream  activities. The integration of forestry programmes into provincial and municipal development plans will assist the Plant a Million Trees Campaign.

The department is pursuing a target of 10 000 ha of nett new afforestation a year.

The focus will remain on encouraging cooperatives, simplifying and streamlining the regulatory environment, training and extension, supporting the implementation of rural credit and offering incentives for new entrants.

In terms of the economic growth and development that forestry offers, the DAFF is working closely with other government structures in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal to fast-track the afforestation licensing process.

In the Eastern Cape, funds have been secured to assist communities with the processes of environmental impact assessments – a prerequisite preceding any afforestation activity.

Afforestation is taking place in rural areas where there are few other viable opportunities for job creation and economic activity.

The development of these additional raw material resources will attract greater processing capacity in the form of sawmills, board mills, chipping plants and treatment plants, which will lead to broad economic growth. An additional R500 million a year could be generated from such plantations.

The forestry programme also includes greening and tree-planting projects.

The programme prioritises work on fire-fighting programmes such as the Working on Fire Programme and encourages the establishment of fire-protection associations (FPAs).


The National Forests Act, 1998 (Act 84 of 1998), and the Forestry Laws Amendment Act, 2005 (Act 35 of 2005), reflect the vision for the future of forestry in South Africa. They emphasise sustainable forest management, and explain how people and communities can use forests without destroying them. The Acts set out rules for protecting indigenous forests, and ensure that the public has reasonable access to state-forest land for recreational, cultural, spiritual and educational purposes.

South Africa is richly endowed with more than 1 700 tree and shrub species. Some are threatened, and 47 species are protected under the Act.

Protected trees  may not be cut;  damaged, destroyed or possessed; collected; removed; transported; exported; purchased; sold; donated or in any other way acquired or disposed of except under a licence granted by the Minister or in terms of an exemption. In terms of the National Forests Act of 1998, all natural forests are protected.

The National Veld and Forest Fire Act (NVFFA), 1998 (Act 101 of 1998), and the National Veld and Forest Fire Laws Amendment, 2001 (Act 12 of 2001), are the primary legislation regulating veldfire management in the country. The National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill was published on 31 May 2013 for public comment.

The purpose of these Acts is to prevent and combat veld, forest and mountain fires. The legislation provides a variety of institutions, methods and practices for achieving the purpose. The Acts place an individual duty on every landowner where there is a risk of fire to take certain minimum precautions to prevent and combat fires. It  also  introduces  the  concept of voluntary fire protection associations (FPAs), which may be formed by landowners for purposes of veldfire management in a specific area.

Industry and exports

The forestry industry was a nett exporter of over R2,2 billion worth of goods in 2012, of which more than 99% took the form of converted value-added products.

The forest products industry ranks among the top exporting industries in the country, having contributed 1,92% to total exports and 1,4% to total imports in 2012. Capital investment in the industry amounted to an estimated R45 billion in 2011. The value of forest product exports grew by 23% over the past decade, from R11,2 billion in 2002 to R13,8 billion in 2012. In real terms, however (taking inflation into account), this growth was -28% over the period in question.

Consequently, the nett trade balance in foreign trade in forest products decreased from 2002 by -62% in nominal terms (-78% in real terms) to R2,2 billion in 2012.

In 2012, pulp products  were  the  most  important exports (R5 890 billion or 43% of the total), followed by paper (R4 707 billion or 34%), solid wood products (R2 680 billion or 19%) and other products (R555 million or 4%). Woodchip exports, mainly to Japan, accounted for 52% (R1 407 billion) of total solid-wood product exports.

As with other export-based industries, the continuing unfavourable economic environment has had a negative impact on demand, particularly in Japan, which is still recovering from the damage caused to some of its pulp and paper mills by the tsunami that occurred in March 2012. As a result of this, exports of forest products from South Africa decreased in value by R1,2 billion or 7,7% from R15 billion in 2011 to R13,8 billion in 2012.

Role players

National Forest Advisory Council (NFAC)

The NFAC advises the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on all aspects of forestry in the country.

The NFAC is actively involved in developing local criteria, indicators and standards for sustainable forest management, and makes recommendations on how public access to state-owned forests may be improved.

South African Forestry Company Limited (Safcol)

Safcol is government's forestry company, conducting timber harvesting, timber processing and related activities, both domestically and internationally. In 2013, the group had 18 plantations covering 187 320 ha with one sawmill and renting capacity at two others.

It subscribes to the Forest Sector Charter and plays a leading role in transformation within the industry. With the focus on communities adjacent to its plantations and specifically the youth in those communities, it makes a difference in the physical circumstances and networking in the communities. Between 2009 and 2011, 11 social compacts were signed with community clusters in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

In 2012, Safcol remained committed to socio-economic development. The structured approach of community partnerships was strengthened, with the focus on implementing needs-driven development and making a positive impact in community members' lives. In the areas where the group signed social compacts, an amount of R8,1 million was spent on socio-economic development projects.

In the same year, at the South African Enterprise Development Awards, Safcol received an award for the Most Innovative Enterprise Development Projects, as per the BBBEE codes. Initiatives towards green-building include implementing timber frame structures within socio-economic and enterprise development projects, which also received huge support from communities.

In support of the drive to develop skills and make forestry a career of choice, the group's bursary committee awarded 22 new internal bursaries for 2012/13. The in-house training centre, outside Sabie, offered training courses to 1 144 people and outsourced training courses to 244 people. Of special note is the launch of the Safcol-sponsored Forestry Chair at the University of Pretoria, which is an opportunity for students who wish to further their studies in forestry-related fields.

Despite a difficult operating environment, the Safcol group's financial performance for the 2012/13 financial year was better than it had been in the previous two financial years, resulting in an operating profit of R51 million (excluding the effect of the adjustment of plantation valuation). The profit to date has been attributed to the group's efforts to implement its turnaround strategy.

The group's share in the lumber market has increased from 4% to 12%, following the introduction of its new marketing and sales approach.

Research and training

South Africa has world-class forestry research infrastructure and personnel, with almost 2% of the forestry industry's turnover (private and public sectors) devoted to research. The forest research function within the department has been coordinating a number of research projects focusing on sustainable management of forest resources. These include:

  • the monitoring and evaluation of bark-harvesting techniques used for two indigenous tree species in the Letaba State Forest
  • sustainable harvesting of plants used for medicinal purposes
  • the sustainable use of Monkey rope (Secamone gerradii) by local subsistence farmers
  • ex situ and in situ conservation of the critically endangered Protea roupelliae sbsp. hamiltonii
  • conservation of the co-occurring endangered Leucospermum gerrardii within the Dr Hamilton Nature Reserve.

The major institutes servicing the research needs of the industry are the:

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) also plays an important role, in terms of species protection.

The faculties of agricultural and forestry sciences at the universities of Stellenbosch, KwaZulu-Natal and Venda offer forestry degrees. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (George Saasveld Campus) offers diplomas and limited degree courses in forestry disciplines.

The Natal University of Technology offers a diploma and BTech degree in Pulp and Paper Technology, and the Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry offers a diploma in Social Forestry.

Skills training is provided by a number of industry-sponsored and in-house training centres. Industry-sponsored bursaries are available, as are company-sponsored bursaries for study at these institutions.

The Fibre Processing and Manufacturing (FPM) Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta), is responsible for ensuring that the training undertaken by the industry meets certain quality standards.

The department, together with the FPM Seta, offers study bursaries in forestry-related fields.

Programmes and initiatives

Participative forestry

The department supports the establishment of community projects through regional forestry staff. An estimated R2 million has already been spent from the Community Facilitation Fund to support the establishment of projects on the ground. Current projects include the establishment of medicinal  plant  nurseries, in partnership with various stakeholders, and beekeeping, in partnership with the ARC.

In addition to producing honey, beekeepers play a critical role in agriculture, contributing to crop pollination and the development of products worth billions of rand.

The honey industry in South Africa has an average annual turnover of R3,2 billion and produces some 2 000 t a year. Government investment in KwaZulu-Natal aims to increase national production to 100 000 t and employ over 100 000 people.

National Arbor Week

National Arbor Week is celebrated annually around the first week in September, to promote the planting and maintenance of indigenous trees. It highlights the opportunities for sus- tainable economic development, community participation, poverty alleviation and job creation in forestry.

The Tree of the Year is a government initiative to raise awareness about the need to value and protect indigenous trees and to educate the public about South African trees.

The Trees of the Year for 2013 were:

In September 2013, seven trees were planted in honour of women leaders, during National Arbor Week, in the Botanical Gardens in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal.

At the same time, the Priority Zone Rooftop Gardens, a social project to address greening and issues of food security in areas where there is no space to establish gardens in city centres,was established, using recycled products, including old tyres, drums and pallets. Produce from the gardens is donated to the needy.

Also in September 2013, as part of the legacy projects for eThekwini, about 150 households received vegetable seedlings and seed packs as the first phase of the household food security project in Minitown.

Champion Tree Project

The purpose of the Champion Tree Project is to identify and protect trees that are of national importance and worthy of special protection, due to their remarkable size, age, or aesthetic, cultural,  historic  or  tourism  value.  Similar projects have been established in several other countries, but this is the first of its kind in Africa. Nomination forms with guidelines for the nomination process are available from the DAFF.

Every nomination cycle starts on 1 August year, and ends on 31 July the following year.

The first individual tree to be declared as protected under the National Forests Act of 1998, in 2003, was a historic English oak tree, the only remnant of the old Sophiatown that was razed by the previous government when it resettled that community in the 1950s.

This intervention was an attempt by a property owner to stop the imminent destruction of the tree. Protection was afforded only after the tree was severely pruned.
This was the starting point of the Champion Tree Project, aimed at preventing similar destruction of other important trees.

More than 70 trees and groups of trees have been declared by the department as champion trees, based on criteria such as size, age and historical value. These trees are all protected under the National Forests Act of 1998. They include the Tsitsikamma Big Tree along the Garden Route, the Post Office milkwood tree of Mossel Bay, the Sagole baobab in Limpopo and camphor trees planted at Vergelegen Estate in the Western Cape three centuries ago.

The oldest planted tree in South Africa is a saffron pear, brought from the Netherlands and planted in the Dutch East India Company's Gardens in Cape Town more than three centuries ago, supposedly by Jan van Riebeeck.

Historic trees include a poplar tree, which served as a landmark for refugees during the apartheid regime who found a safe haven in the Johannesburg house of Ruth Fischer, the daughter of Bram Fischer, who was a founder member of the South African Communist Party.

Million Trees Programme

The Million Trees Programme was launched in 2007 as part of a UN greening initiative to encourage countries worldwide to plant more trees. Its purpose is to ensure that at least one million trees, including fruit trees and indigenous ornamental shade trees, are planted every year. In South Africa, the Million Trees Programme is a partnership between the three spheres of government, non-governmental and community-based organisations, schools and the corporate sector. Since its inception, more than four million trees have been planted, 40% of which were fruit trees planted mostly in poorer rural areas of the country.

In an effort to ensure the programme is implemented widely, government is calling on the corporate sector to make a contribution, and for citizens and organisations to become involved.

A million trees had been planted across the country by the end of 2013. This will bring to 13 million the number of trees planted nationwide since the project began in 2000.

The million-a-year tree plantation programme is in partnership with petroleum giant, Total South Africa.


Sustainable forest management

Broadly speaking, there are three categories of forest, namely indigenous forests, woodlands and plantation forests. Forestry activities in indigenous forests and woodlands are not limited to the protection of the resource as a natural heritage, but include its development, use and management, as well as the management and processing of non-timber forest products.

Plantation forestry practices include, among others, the establishment of vast areas of land with exotic species that are harvested and processed into pulp for the paper and packaging industries, sawn timber, furniture, shelving and flooring. By the end of June 2012, 1 539 752 ha of plantation forestry land (planted and conservation areas combined) in South Africa were certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the second largest area in the southern hemisphere after Brazil.

Although large forestry companies do not own all the certified forests, having their own specialist environmental departments has helped the rapid expansion of certification, as they ensure that land is managed according to their own stringent environmental codes of practice. To promote transparency, members of the public are invited to join company staff when regular audits are conducted.

There has been an increase in the number of non-corporate growers who have become certified. This may be attributed to factors such as the FSC's acceptance of group-certification schemes and the availability of local FSC auditors, both of which have reduced the cost of certification considerably. The introduction of small, low-intensity managed forest audits enables small and community forestry schemes to be FSC-certified.

As part of its commitment to the practice of sustainable forest management, the forestry industry is also involved in the National Forest Advisory Council Committee for Sustainable Forest Management, which develops criteria, indicators and standards for sustainable forest management, tailored to meet South Africa's specific conditions.

The indigenous forests of the southern Cape received FSC-certification – a first on the continent for high forests. This represents a major step towards the sustainable management of the country's natural forests.

The 14th World Forestry Congress will be hosted in Durban from 7 to 11 September 2015.

Indigenous forests

Only about 0,5% of South Africa's total land area is covered by natural forests. About half of the more than 1 700 indigenous tree and shrub species, representing some 530 000 ha of dense growth, grow along the south and east coasts and on the southern and south-eastern slopes of inland mountains. The other half is spread over the interior plateaux in isolated valleys and ravines.

A number of these natural forest regions, such as the Tsitsikamma National Park, are important tourist attractions.

The large Afro-temperate forests of the southern Cape, although distributed close to the coast, are aligned with the inland forest types of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. This is because the southerly temperate latitudes compensate for the altitude of inland forests.

Almost half of all natural forests in South Africa are found on private property or land under communal tenure. A detailed inventory of natural forests helps government to monitor changes in forest areas.

Although the country's low natural forest coverage has led to the development of the commercial forestry sector over the last 100 years, natural forests have continued playing a major role in the livelihoods and well-being of many rural communities. The use of natural forests as sources of building material, fuel wood, food and medicine is increasing, with an estimated 80% of South Africa's population still using medicinal plants, most of which are sourced from natural forests.

The forest-type classification for natural forests represents 24 broad forest types. The Natural Forests Protected Areas System guides  the setting aside and demarcation of natural forests as protected areas.

Systematic timber harvesting occurs in certain areas of southern Cape forests and on a smaller scale, in the Amathole forests in the Eastern Cape. This sustainable harvesting system concentrates on the removal of small quantities of senile trees dying off within the forest. On average, 3 750 m³ of round logs are harvested annually (150 m³ of stinkwood, 750 m³ of yellowwood, 2 500 m³ of Australian blackwood and 350 m3 of other species). The seven-week fern (Rumohra adiantiformis), harvested  in  the  Knysna  and Tsitsikamma forests, is another valuable product of indigenous forests. The South African market for this fern is considerable and reaches its peak in September, when sales have been known to exceed 420 000 bunches.


The woodlands, also known as savannas, constitute a forest resource of major importance in South Africa. It is the most accessible forest resource for poor communities and contributes in the region of R2 000 to R5 000 to poor households annually. Natural forests cover less than one million ha of land in total, plantation forestry covers less than 1,3 million ha and the woodlands collectively cover about 29 million ha to 46 million ha.

The cover includes extensive areas in the low-lying, drier areas of Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Rich biodiversity is found in savanna woodland comprising 5 900 plants, 540 bird species and 175 mammals. These include iconic species such as the Big Five group of mammals that are important to the tourism industry. Several protected tree species of the savanna, such as camel thorn and leadwood, contribute substantially to the lucrative braai wood market, and guidelines have been set for licensing processes to assist with the control of their use.

Kathu Forest in the Northern Cape is the first woodland area to be declared protected woodland under the National Forests Act of 1998.

In the past, this resource was not really recognised as a forestry responsibility, except where some woodland occurred on State-forest land in conservation areas. However, the National Forestry Action Programme of 1997 identified woodland management as a key area of operation for forestry. The National Forests Act of 1998 also includes woodland in its definition of forests and mandates monitoring and reporting on the state of the woodlands. This legislation protects woodlands on private and communal land, as well as in state forests, while promoting sustainable use.

Savanna woodlands are the most extensive vegetation type in southern Africa and dominate Africa as a whole. Globally, woodlands cover between an eighth and a sixth of the Earth's land surface.

The woodlands are a valuable source of fuel, building material, craft timber and a variety of non-timber products. These include fruit, fodder, medicinal compounds, honey, meat and mushrooms. They form the backbone of the livelihoods of millions of people. The annual marula-fruit (Sclerocarya birrea) harvest, for example, is worth some R1,1 billion a year to rural communities.

There are 87 savanna woodland types, and although the biome as a whole is fairly well protected in formal and private reserves, many under-protected savanna types have been identified.

Another woodland type is the albany thicket biome, characterised by dense growth of woody and succulent plant species. There are 13 thicket types, which together cover about three million ha. Extensive spekboom plantings are underway in the Eastern Cape to restore the carrying capacity of degraded thicket areas, and to capitalise on the high carbon sequestration rates of this species as a climate change offset.

Commercial forests

Commercial forest plantations predominantly meet South Africa's demand for wood. During the 1930s, government started extensive commercial plantations to make South Africa self-sufficient in its timber requirements, and to provide more job opportunities.

Commercial plantations of exotic species proved to be a sound investment and the private sector established large plantations of pine, eucalyptus and wattle. South Africa's plantation forests cover about 1,2% of the combined cultivated (arable) and grazing land.

The commercial forestry industry in South Africa is committed to practising sustainable forest management and is a world leader in forest certification.
Stringent environmental codes of practice are implemented in all plantation and processing activities.

The Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) completed its role in developing the National Forest Protection Strategy for the DAFF, a project funded by the Food and Agriculture Organisation  (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).

Another development which will assist in enhancing forest protection is the MoU, formalising FSA's support and funding for these activities at the Forestry and Agriculture Biotechnical Institute (FABI), which has been entered into with the University of Pretoria (UP).

FABI's state-of-the-art biological control and quarantine facility at the UP was officially opened in May 2011.

The FAO and DAFF approved the National Forest Protection Strategy, which includes forest fire-related matters, in 2011. Once fully implemented, the strategy is expected to provide the industry with additional resources and enhance the coordination of responses to combat forest fires.

Plantation yields

Sappi has 290 million commercial trees on its land. The company harvests 35 million trees and plants 37 million trees every year. Sappi manages about 140 000 ha under natural vegetation, which includes grasslands, indigenous forests, wetlands and riverine areas.

The timber is used in wood products such as roof trusses. It is also pulped, so that the wood fibre may be used for newspapers, boxes, paper bags and paper.
SouthAfrica's intensively managed commercial forestry plantations are recognised as some of the most productive in the world – not only climatic and soil conditions but also advanced management  techniques.  Consequently, from a  limited  geographic  footprint  of 1,27 million ha, the industry can produce, on a sustainable and annual basis, between 16 and 18 Mt of timber a year.

Production from the country's plantation forests amounted to 16 Mt (18,5 mm3) in 2011, some 800 000 tons or 5,3% more than the 15,2 Mt (17,5 mm3) recorded in 2010.

In terms of production by product, pulpwood production at 10,3 Mt was by far the highest, representing 65% of total production. Sawlog production was 4,5 Mt (28% of total).

Mining-timber production of 573 000 tons and the production of other products such as poles and charcoal of 657 000 tons made up the balance.

Socio-economic reform and growth

The forestry vision states that forests are managed for people and that there is a need to create an enabling environment for economic and social development through sustainable forestry, especially at local level.

Forestry strategies to achieve this vision include forestry, enterprise development, aimed at creating opportunities for people to use forests including indigenous forests, woodlands and plantations, and forest-based resources for economic growth, income-generation and job creation.

The forestry enterprise development concept is central to government's pro-poor agenda and also a key component of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) in the forestry sector.

BBBEE Charter

The BBBEE Charter process is one of many government strategies aimed at transforming the economy. The formulation and implementation of BEE programmes at different levels and in different sectors of the economy include partnerships between government and the private sector, including trade unions and community-based organisations.

The BBBEE Charter for the forestry sector will be instrumental in achieving objectives such as increasing the number of black people, particularly women, who own, manage and control enterprises and productive assets; and facilitating ownership and management of enterprise and productive assets by communities, workers, co-operatives and other collective enterprises.

Under the charter, government aims to process about 15 000 ha of water-use licence applications a year for the next 10 years to obtain a nett increase in afforested land of about 10 000 ha a year or 100 000 ha over the entire period.

Community forestry

Community forestry is designed and applied to meet local social, household and environmental needs and to benefit local economic development.

Community forestry is implemented by communities or with the participation of communities, and includes tree-centred projects in urban and rural areas, woodlots, and woodland management by communities and individuals.

Community forestry has gained impetus through more focused core functions, particularly in urban greening and forest enterprise development.

Participatory forest management of the DAFF is an integrated approach that contributes to achieving the sustainable management of South African forests.
Elements of participatory forest management were initially developed for indigenous state forests.

However, the aim is to use participatory forest management as an approach to managing all forest types, where feasible (indigenous forests, plantations, woodlots and woodlands and where different types of ownership and management (state, provincial, communal, private and community) exist.

Ninety-six community-stream flow-reduction activity applications, totalling about 13 000 ha, were supported by the departments of agriculture, forestry and fisheries and trade and industry through assistance provided in the undertaking of environmental impact assessments in the Eastern Cape.

Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA)

The FTFA is the sub-Saharan African partner of Global Releaf, an international greening organisation.

The FTFA's mission is to contribute to healthier living, especially in disadvantaged communities, through environmental awareness and greening programmes.

The FTFA was started in 1990 to address sustainable development through greening, climate change action, sustainable natural resource management and food-security programmes.

The FTFA works in partnership with government, the private and public sectors and civil society. Its goal is to provide trees to as many underserved communities as possible, with the help of sponsors and certificate programmes.

The FTFA; the departments of water affairs and of agriculture, forestry and fisheries; and the Institute of Environment and Recreation Management manage the Urban Greening Fund. It is a collective fund that supports partnerships aimed at sustainable development through tree planting, parks, food-gardening projects and
environmental education.

Organisations, companies and individuals can contribute to the fund to help disadvantaged South Africans create a greener, healthier and more secure life.

International trade

The Directorate: International Trade of the DAFF is responsible for implementing, monitoring and reporting on South Africa's commitments and rights under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, as well as bilateral and regional trade agreements.

South Africa maintained its status as a net exporter of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (AFF) products during 2012. Total AFF exports amounted to R61,7 billion against imports of R55,1 billion during 2012.

South Africa was a net exporter of forestry products and a net importer of fisheries products during 2012.

Exports of forestry products amounted to R9,9 billion against imports of R6,9 billion during 2012.

The United States of America, Germany and Thailand declined significantly during the same period with imports of wood pulp, rum, tafia and photocopy paper declining the most.

Source: South Africa Yearbook 2013/14