The SANBI Grasslands Programme, a UNDP-GEF funded programme implemented by SANBI between 2008 and 2013, had a specific focus on biodiversity mainstreaming into plantation forestry sector in South Africa.
Eighty percent of South African plantations had already been certified under the Forestry Stewardship Council, the most widely recognised forestry certification system in the world. Certification supports a market incentive for sustainability by which responsible consumers increase the demand for environmentally friendly products. However, while certification is viewed as a useful monitoring tool, additional tools and support were required to ensure that the biodiversity on plantation forestry land is protected. Certification does not influence the development of new plantations and FSC standards and policies were not appropriate for small-scale and emerging timber growers. Furthermore, the certification standards required modifications to ensure relevance to grasslands ecosystems.
Grasslands Programme intervention: The Grasslands Programme aimed to ensure that Forestry Stewardship Council certification accounted for plantations in grassland ecosystems and was no longer a market barrier to small growers. The Forestry Stewardship Council national standards for South Africa have been finalised and are currently awaiting ratification by the Forestry Stewardship Council. There are three standards, for indigenous forests, large commercial forestry and small and medium scale plantations. Once these standards are ratified, they will be an important update to effective certification in South Africa.
Big forestry companies own large tracts of unplanted land. It was estimated in 2006 that this permanently unplanted land covered approximately 662 832 ha. These areas are generally highly heterogeneous and biodiverse, combining a mosaic of grassland, wetland, riparian and natural forest habitats. The integrity of this already fragmented network of habitats is threatened by the spread of uncontrolled invasive alien plant species, inappropriate burning regimes, uncontrolled livestock grazing, soil erosion from poor forestry management practices and is at risk from mining in some areas. The unplanted areas presented an opportunity for improved conservation of a considerable area of biodiversity rich land through establishing formal protected areas and providing support for better management.
Grasslands Programme intervention: The Grasslands Programme worked to secure the end term target of 300 000 ha unplanted areas under better management. 271 642 ha is already under Conservation Planning Tool management and a further 59 795 ha is in progress. Most of the large forestry companies are already using the tool. Biodiversity stewardship sites have also been declared. Over 20 000 ha have been declared or are gazetted. There is a significant area still in the process of being declared. Capacity within provincial government conservation agencies to perform stewardship has been promoted with the establishment of dedicated stewardship offices at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.
Expansion of forestry plantations over the period 2005 to 2025 was predicted to achieve a maximum coverage of 200 000 ha. In 2005 the government set a target for 140 000 hectares of forestry expansion, 100 000 ha in the Eastern Cape and 40 000ha for KwaZulu-Natal. Expansion of the industry for economic development was to be targeted towards small grower and communal schemes. There were no tools in place to ensure that this forestry expansion avoided priority biodiversity areas. It was anticipated that forestry expansion would occur among the small grower sector and rural communities. This presented management problems associated with multiple land ownership and limited access to FSC certification.
Grasslands Programme intervention: As a direct result of the application of the Biodiversity Screening Tool, there has been no new expansion of forestry into designated biodiversity priority areas. The tool has proven to be effective in enabling decision makers to proactively avoid biodiversity priority areas when planning new afforestation in the Eastern Cape. The tool is used to review applications submitted by forestry companies for forestry expansion. There has been considerable progress with small-scale timber grower pilot projects towards implementing sustainable forest management practices and certification. The sites at Umgano, Ozwathini and Izanqawe continue to receive extension support and mentoring in the form of fire protection, alien plant management and forest management. The Grasslands Programme has provided assistance with land use plans, grazing plans and plans for biodiversity stewardship sites in these areas. The small grower work will continue with funding being sought from other sources.