In line with the teachings I received from my mother when I was still a little boy, “that never let a disaster go to waste, draw as many lessons as possible from it”, I would like to congratulate the small-scale timber grower sub-sector in this country, South Africa, for their resilience and buoyancy. Amid the covid-19 pandemic, you are still standing strong, mirroring your healthy trees.
Despite the many troubles 2020 brought, it has also provided invaluable learning experiences confirming several things about the grit, determination, passion and resilience of tree farmers in this country. Something I can also safely ascribe to tree farmers across the globe, from the stories being generated from Eswatini, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Uganda, Nigeria, Myanmar, Brazil, Indonesia, China, South Korea, Finland, Sweden, Norway and many other places.
Timber farmers are not looking for handouts they are looking for a hand up.
Small and medium-scale timber growers are as resourceful as the bigger corporate growers. They may not have an “army” of individuals that have expertise in every aspect of their business, but they always make a plan. As the Afrikaans-speaking people often say, “n boer maak ‘n plan” and I can honestly say I have not seen timber growers folding their hands because of a problem being too big. They die trying to find a solution and in most cases, they find it before they die. COVID-19 was no exception, with many working unfavourable shift system, starting work so early in the morning and ending very late, changing shifts in the middle so that personal contact between the labour force could be minimised while the work continued, being a perfect example. Other privileged sectors may have enjoyed COVID-19 relief funds, however, it is testimony to the resilience and determination of small-scale timber growers that they somehow survived without receiving a cent from any of the “relief funds”.
The cry of the timber farmer is “access, access, access”, not, “give give give”.
When everyone was slowing down their demand, you were crying access to markets. You have been crying access to sustainable and conducive markets that will not prioritize the advantaged. For years timber farmers have been crying access to appropriate finance and not free funds. I only hope that our Government has learnt that if you invest in the correct infrastructure to encourage business development and a conducive environment for business to thrive, the need for social grants will be greatly reduced, even during a pandemic. You continue to cry access to research outputs, access to technological advancements whilst they are still new. Going forward, I hope there will be better dissemination of new knowledge gained from research, better technology transfer and extension services. Like most meals, “knowledge is better served hot”.
Timber farmers must quickly learn to embrace technology, innovation and bring youth into their enterprises
The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is here to bring equalization between the strong and the weak, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Not very long from today, new technologies will present the best and the cheapest ways of doing everything. COVID-19 has just kicked most of the timber farmers, who by description are generally the older generation, into the deep end when it comes to the adoption of new technologies – communication platforms being an obvious example. I still marvel when I see a grower consultation meeting convened by FSA’s Development Manager, Mr Nathi Ndlela, with 90% of the participants being grey-haired. Please hold it right there, and embrace more, it is not as difficult as we all thought it would be. It is time you bring in your children and grandchildren to sit in front of the computer or device with you and help you navigate the meeting. Maybe that will be the way to ignite their passion for the sector.
Without the youth, the sector is dying slowly. Next year presents another opportunity to involve the youth in our forestry enterprises. COVID-19 has kicked the doors open by enforcing social distancing and working from home, we are spending more time with our family therefore it is time to involve the entire family in our businesses.
I wish everyone a good break and may you come back relaxed, healthy and more vibrant in the next year.
FSA Director: Business Development