By Katy Johnson
Before I launch into my article, for those who don’t know me, I am the face that hides behind the Forestry South Africa, Forestry Explained and TIPWG websites, as well as their newsletters, articles and other publications like TIP-Mag. More recently, I have become more involved with FSA’s wider communication and promotion efforts and this is what has inspired this piece, along with a thought-provoking article by Rob Thompson in the October SAIF newsletter.
Rob’s article challenges the reader to “appreciate more, that which we have, the simple things, our health and family, the creatures that we share the planet with and make happen the best treatment for all of these valued treasures.” The inspiration for his article is drawn from multiple sources, including the WWF’s Living Planet Report which provide some dire home truths about the state of our planet, an SA travel show that showcases the beauty and intrigue our world has to offer and the health scare of a colleague that illustrates how fragile life is. With clever use of an analogy, drawing comparisons with a coffee snob response to instant coffee, he also urges readers to “stop tolerating instant gratification, consumerism, neglecting oneself and others.”
I have to admit, the coffee-snob analogue got me first. As a relative newcomer to the world of coffee I was happily sipping on a cup of instant coffee when I read it and immediately began wondering if I had inadvertently been torturing my tastebuds?
Once I was able to push that question aside, I thought about Rob’s key messages and how in many ways it applied to a collaboration I had recently become involved in with the Forest Stewardship Council® FSC®. FSC are currently running pilot projects in both South Africa and Australia/New Zealand to identify the positive impacts of FSC certified plantations beyond satisfying the market’s demand for FSC certified products. Indicators that in many ways will help those outside our Sector: “appreciate forestry more, by illustrating the simple things, the health and social benefits it provides, as well as the creatures, habitats and ecosystem services the patchwork forestry landscape harbours, highlighting the way as a Sector we are trying to ensure our forests are sustainably managed ensuring the best treatment of all these valued treasures.” The objectives may not be an exact match to Rob’s words but are a close fit.
The benefits, both direct and indirect, that result from South Africa’s commercial forestry landscape are clear for those in the industry to see. In many ways, I think as an industry we may take these benefits for granted, much like many household forestry products are taken for granted by the general public. But are those looking at forestry from the outside even aware these benefits exist? I would argue no.
Five years ago, I was asked to a working group meeting by Dr John Scotcher. At this point, I had no real knowledge about the Forestry Industry, beyond what I had learnt during the conservation and biodiversity lectures I first attended, and then taught whilst at University. Sadly, it was not the benefits of forestry that were pointed out during those lectures. The thing that struck me, when listening to the biologists, foresters and plantation managers in that working group meeting was the myriad of social, environmental and economic benefits being banded about. In three short hours, my very black and white view of plantation forestry had been shattered and what had been constructed in its place was a far more complex, colourful and intriguing image of an industry I wanted to learn more about.
Over the last five years, this image of forestry in South Africa has, if anything, become more complex, colourful and intriguing. Meetings with Forestry Researchers, Community Development Officers, Business Unit Managers, Foresters, Contractors, Students, Nursery Supervisors, Working Groups and more, have always left me amazed by both the diverse array of careers within our Sector and how, independent of job role or career path, individuals within the industry shared the same deep-rooted passion for the Sector. It is the passion, enthusiasm and pride these diverse individuals have for their shared Sector that, to me at least, suggest forestry’s benefits outweigh all else.
In my new role, working under Dr Ronald Heath who heads the FSA Communication and Promotion portfolio, communicating the potential benefits forestry brings is just as important as responding to any unfair criticism of the Sector on behalf of FSA members. This is because, proactively putting out information about the rural jobs forestry creates, the food security programmes and other CSI initiatives being rolled out in vulnerable communities, or the recreation and conservation opportunities the patchwork forestry landscape offers, provide the context upon which criticisms of Sector can then be evaluated and contextualised.
The need to provide context is a subject I am passionate about. The need to contextualise risk formed the basis of my PhD thesis and the need to contextualise the key message underpinned every wildlife documentary I was involved with, in my life before forestry. So, it is fitting that my role in forestry is to provide the information necessary for the wider public and decision-makers to contextualise and evaluate the issues raised by forestry critics.
The challenge, and they’re always is a challenge, is getting the information needed to make generalisations about the benefits forestry heralds. Aside from the obvious economic benefits forestry brings, which are easily quantifiable and readily available. Compiling, quantifying and in some cases simply identifying indicators that represent social and environmental benefits is a far more daunting and challenging prospect. Perhaps in part, because they have been taken for granted or seen as unintended by-products of forestry and so have not been logged, tracked or quantified in the same way the economic benefits have in the past. This, I believe, will have to change, as society evolves away from being driven solely by the economics of consumerism, to one that is far more aware of the social impact and environmental footprint their consumerism has.
The FSC’s project is illustrative of this change. That we now need not only to meet demand but also illustrate how this is done brings both social and environmental benefits. It is therefore exciting that South Africa has been chosen to pilot the project, to draw up the first list of potential social and environmental indicators upon which the positive impacts of plantation forestry can be measured, and provide context for the criticism regarding its social and environmental values which are often levelled at plantation forestry globally.
The pilot project is still in its infancy, with a list of potential indicators drawn up by FSC currently being put forward to the FSA Environmental Management Committee (EMC). Feedback from the EMC consultation will be passed back to FSA, to draw comparison with the pilot study currently being conducted in Australia and New Zealand. From this, a list of potential indicators will be drawn up by the EMC and consultation will begin in earnest.
We are only at the start of a long, and I can imagine, an arduous process which will require a lot of back-and-forth to achieve FSC’s objective of creating a database of environmental and social indicators to underpin the message that plantation forestry, when done sustainably, has many benefits. However, if we can achieve this, suddenly communicating the benefits and contextualising the risks will get a whole lot easier.
As for the coffee dilemma? Well, I took Rob’s advice and sipped on my first cup of Sabie Valley filtered coffee as I wrote this piece and while it may not be up to standards of a true coffee snob, it certainly educated my tastebuds and banished the jar of instant coffee for good.