Everybody has already heard much about South Africa - its history, culture, political leaderships, extremely beautiful natural parks and their wild animals, privileged geographical location, gold and diamond mining and extremely good wines - a country which is now also famous for the football/soccer. However, South Africa also distinguishes itself by the excellence in planted forests and is worldwide acknowledged for the advanced technological levels developed for the forests and industrialized products obtained from Pinus, Eucalyptus, and Acacia mearnsii. For the country’s total territorial area of about 119 million hectares, there is an area of approximately 1.5 million hectares of forest plantations, which corresponds to 1.2% of the country’s total area. Due to the low pluviometric index in many of its provinces, it can be practically said that the forest plantation area has reached its maximum and should not grow further. The reason is that the planted forests require at least 800 mm of rain per year. These areas, not so abundant in the country, are also viewed by agriculture for the production of food, in order to meet the requirements of the 49 million inhabitants the country has, as well as for other important economic export-oriented agricultural crops, such as sugar cane, corn, and wheat. There is in the country so great a concern about the water resources, that there is a Ministry of Waters and Forests, with its Department of Water Affairs, Forestry and Environmental Conservation (http://www.dwaf.gov.za). This public organization establishes orientations, guidelines and promotes studies about the forest plantations, focussing much on their hydrology.
The country has a very interesting and privileged geography, as it occupies the southernmost point of the African continent. For this reason it has a vast coastal region bathed by the Atlantic, as well as by the Indian Ocean. In general, the lands are not rich in fertility, the soils are sandy and the areas have low rain precipitation in the more central region, where the mineral extractions and the biodiversity conservation parks are dominant. The richest and more populated areas are located on the coasts of the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. The topography of these regions is flat, favoring agriculture and plantation forests. The poorest and most degraded soils are destined for Pinus and Eucalyptus plantations. The highlands of the region of the ancient Transvaal, with altitudes between 900 and 1,600 meters (at present the provinces of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gautang) are also very appreciated for forest tree plantations.
The forest-based business represents about 1.5% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), approximately 9% of the agribusiness and 4% of the exports. 55% of the woods produced by the planted forestry areas are destined for pulp and paper production, 38% for sawmills, 3.5% for underground mine props and supports, and the rest for firewood and other minor uses. The pulp production amounts to 2.4 million tons/year and that of paper and board to 2.6 million tons (45% of packaging papers; 33% of printing and writing papers; 6.5% of tissue papers). Among the specialties produced by the pulp industry are the approximately 600 thousand tons per year of dissolving market pulp manufactured by SAPPI, the most important manufacturer of this kind of pulp from Eucalyptus wood (Sappi – Saiccor pulp). The main - highly internationalized - pulp and paper manufacturing companies are two: Mondi and SAPPI. They have strong presence in important markets, such as the European and the Asian ones. The export of pulp, paper and solid wood products is very important for the country’s economy. Besides pulp and paper, other forest products distinguish themselves, such as: sawn wood, veneers, wood panels, particle boards, export-oriented chips, plywood, resins, tannin, etc.
Eucalyptus was introduced into South Africa as an exotic tree in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first experiments took place in arboreta, where Pinus and Acacia species were also tested. The commercial Eucalyptus plantations were intensified from 1930 onwards, to meet the demand for wood destined for underground mining. Very much developed for this purpose was the species Eucalyptus grandis, known by the local population as "saligna gum", because it was originally introduced as E.saligna, due to the similarity in the morphology of the trees of these two species. At present, E.saligna is much less popular than E.grandis due to its lower growth rate, similarly to the situation occurring in Brazil. E.grandis and its hybrids continue to be the most important genetic materials for the South-African silviculture and are oriented to the regions where the altitude is lower than 1,400 meters. Above that, species more tolerant of cold or frost (E.nitens, E.viminalis, E.macarthurii, E.dunnii) are planted.
In 1950, there was a forest base of 170,000 hectares of planted Eucalyptus forests, amounting at present to approximately 580 thousand hectares. From 1970 to 1990, the role of South-African research and development for the genetic forest and classic Eucalyptus breeding was fundamental, even influencing this type of research in Brazil with its technological achievements. At present, the emphasis of researching on forest improvements has been the forest biotechnology, by means of centers of investigations like FABI, CSIR, etc. (See Euca-Links).
Practically the whole forest plantation base is distributed over the coastal region in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, as well as in the mountains of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The majority of the planted forests is certified (approximately 1.1 million hectares), the FSC being the dominant certification scheme.
The main planted genera in terms of area extension are: Pinus (52% or roughly 760 thousand hectares ), Eucalyptus (39% or about 580 thousand hectares) and Acacia mearnsii (8%). There are still remnants of native forests in those regions. According to the statistics (relatively uncertain), about 9% of the country is still covered by forests; what is difficult is to clearly define how and what are those forests. This is a common problem in statistics; even those from FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization – present this difficulty.
The main species in commercial Pinus plantations are: Pinus taeda, P.patula, P.elliottii, P.caribaea, P.greggii. The main Eucalyptus species are: Eucalyptus grandis, E.dunnii, E.saligna, E.macarthurii, E.nitens, E.fastigata, E.viminalis, E.smithii, E.microcorys. Furthermore, there are hybrids produced among these species and E.urophylla, E.tereticornis, and E.camaldulensis. For pole production, the preferred species are: E.paniculata, E.cloeziana, Corymbia maculata. In very arid regions, the preferred species are E.camaldulensis and E.cladocalyx, but this only occurs in small areas, to supply local demands. As the Eucalyptus introduction into the country did not occur for so large a number of species as in Brazil, the natural hybridization did not occur in so serious a way. The black wattle (Acacia mearnsii), oriented to tannin extraction from its bark, occupies about 130,000 hectares and completes the list of the main forest species planted in South Africa.
The average annual growth rate of the Eucalyptus plantations ranges from 25 to 45 m³/ha.year, but in the cold and semiarid regions the growth rates are lower, ranging from 15 to 25 m³/ha.year. Very common is the sprout coppicing for new and successive forest rotations, between 2 and 8, the number of which is higher among the rural farmers. There is a very good stump sprouting and almost total absence of more severe pests, as ants, which favors this type of management.
E.grandis, E.saligna, E.tereticornis, and E.dunnii species are very much used by the pulp and paper industry. Practically all mills consume a wood mix, in spite of the advanced forest technology largely present in the country. The first Eucalyptus pulping tests were performed in a lab in 1943 and the industrial production has already begun at the SAPPI mill of Enstra at that same time period. Since then, the Eucalyptus pulp production (paper and dissolving grades) has had a substantial growth for both export as market pulp and printing and sanitary paper manufacturing.
Considering the unavailability of areas to expand the planted commercial forest area, the emphasis in research has been placed on increasing the forest productivity. The purpose is to produce more wood from the same forest base. For this reason, silviculture and forest tree breeding are rather advanced in terms of technologies and search for new alternatives. Several universities and research centers (see Euca-Links) are dedicated to try to find new silvicultural and genetic routes, in order to guarantee the sustainability of the forest-based business in the country. The main technological forest research lines in South Africa are as follows:
• genetic forest improvement and breeding;
• forest biotechnology and genetic mapping;
• irrigated silviculture and forest hydrology;
• soil and natural resource conservation;
• Eucalyptus stump sprouting and coppicing;
• plantation reestablishment of less productive forest stands;
• hybridization and cloning;
• precision silviculture, mechanization and operations automation;
• Eucalyptus species more tolerant to cold, frost, fire, and hydric deficit;
• mechanical strength, basic density, lumber stability, and quality of the Eucalyptus wood logs;
• woods of higher aggregated value: saw-timber, furniture, mining wood, housing construction wood, etc.
Some of the South-African researchers and technical people who helped or are cooperating to build the Eucalyptus silviculture and wood-based industry histories in the country have been or were: A.P.G. Schonau, F.S. Malan, M.P.A. Coetzee, G. Malan, K. von Gadow, P.W. Varkotsch, G. van Wyk, J.G. Myburgh, J. Fox, M.J. Wingfield, B.D. Wingfield, Z. Myburg, C. Clarke, R. Baxendale, M.J.P. Shaw, P. Clegg, W.K. Darrow, R.C. Bigalke, N.O. Wessels, C. Young, D. Ramsay, E.J. Smith, G. Gerischer, L. Christov, M.J.P. Shaw, M. Plessis, J. Wright, T. Coutinho, M. Rouget, P. Crous and N. Denison. Certainly many other names would deserve to be nominated by what they are doing for the technological forest and industrial development in the country. Unfortunately, my knowledge and my network are not so great in South Africa.
Considering all this, it can be definitively stated that South Africa is one of the world’s leading countries in terms of production, management, and technologies for the Eucalyptus forest plantations, as well as for the most different uses of the woods produced by them.
Our acknowledgement and special admiration for its companies, research centers, universities, public and private entities and for all South-African technicians and researchers, for believing in the Eucalyptus as a basis for a strong, healthy, and sustainable economy.