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Forests include plantations, natural/indigenous forests and woodlands/savannas. All activities linked to these fall under the umbrella of “forestry”.

In addition to timber and related products, forests offer non-timber products and activity. They play a big part in our fauna and flora. Fruits, plants, medicinal herbs, birds and animals are found here. Trees protect watersheds and conserve the soil. They purify water and moderate its flow. They produce oxygen and help the planet against global warming. Often tourist activity incorporates forests or woodland area (South Africa’s Kruger National Park is a woodland area).

This page focuses more on plantations and timber. It is interested in forestry as “the science of planting, managing and caring for timber plantations”. Not that forestry, defined like this, lessens the undertaking. The landscape, the plant and animal species found within them, and the communities affected by them all still require attention. (See the notes on this by Forestry Explained,

Forestry gives us several sectors downstream, like sawmilling, furniture making, paper and pulp production. For more on this, see the “Wood, pulp and paper” page.


Agroforestry is when trees are incorporated among other activities on the farm with environmental and other benefits. Interested readers are referred to the following sources:

International business environment

Loss of forests leads to a loss of biodiversity and diminishes the planet’s ability to withstand global warming. The main threats to the world’s forests are conversion to agriculture, illegal logging, population growth and urbanisation, and poverty. Globally, what mainly causes concern for the management of forests, is deforestation through the illegal cutting down of trees, the expansion of logging into areas which are protected or of high conservation value (HCV), and timber supply from controversial sources.

Further reference:

Local business environment

Visit the Forestry South Africa websites for a useful overview of forestry in the country: See also for statistics, news, information on training and legislation and more.

About half of the more than 1 700 indigenous tree and shrub species found in South Africa 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 plateaus. Indigenous forests are indispensable to the country’s heritage, beauty, wildlife and environment, while commercial forests provide jobs and economic opportunities for many people, especially in rural areas.

Plantations can be classified into two main categories: hardwood and softwood. Eucalyptus (mainly Eucalyptus grandis and its hybrids) and wattle (Acacia mearnsii) are the main hardwood species grown in South Africa. Pine (of which Pinus patula is the most common species) accounts for all South African softwood plantations.

As a tree poor country (where indigenous forests are protected), South Africa has had to rely almost exclusively on the development of exotic forest plantations to meet its demand for wood.


Plantations cover about 1,2 million ha of South Africa. Timber production areas are found mostly in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, with the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Western Cape also making a contribution. Pine and Eucalyptus account for over 90% of the total timber planted area, with wattle making up the balance. South Africa produces between 15 and 18 million tons of timber a year (GCIS, 2022, 2021).

The sector employs more than 150 000 South Africans, largely from rural communities, and invests heavily in initiatives that empower and uplift the rural communities that neighbour the industry’s plantations.

Challenges to the sector include stringent government restrictions on granting water licenses, environmental policies restricting plantations in protected areas, and farmers moving away from timber to other crops such as citrus, macadamia and avocados.

South Africa’s Forest Industry has an export value of over R38.4 billion.

Sources: and Forestry SA press release, April 2024;; the Forestry and Wood Products Market Value Chain Profile which used to be published by the then Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.


Principles of sustainable forestry

  • For every tree harvested, another is replanted in its place, ensuring the renewability of this natural resource and its carbon capturing potential.
  • More than 20% of forestry landholdings remain unplanted and is proactively managed to preserve biodiversity and ecological services upon which we rely.
  • There are some 62 000 hectares of indigenous forest, 171 000 hectares of grasslands and associated wetlands, and 12 902 hectares of fynbos found within the forestry landscape.
  • More than 85% of forestry landholdings are internationally certified, illustrating the industry’s commitment to environmental and social stewardship.
  • Wood-based products can provide sustainable carbon-neutral alternatives to fossil-fuels, plastics, concrete, clothing and even energy production.
Source: Forestry SA press release, April 2024.


Forestry certification

Certification encompasses an independent and ongoing assessment / audit of an organisation’s forest management practices, to measure compliance against a range of nationally and internationally recognised social, economic and environmental standards (Forestry SA). Read the PDF “Forest Certification: What’s it all About?” at

Further reference:

National strategy and government contact

Forestry products contribute “at least” 4.5% to the total manufacturing in the country, putting it among the top five sectors within the manufacturing industry. It is also a “significant contributor to rural economies and social wellbeing”. It has “huge potential in job creation whilst ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources”.

The Forestry Sector Master Plan is “an agreed-upon set of actions, with time frames, that all stakeholders commit to implementing for the benefit of the sector or value-chain. Its objectives include encouraging sector growth, investment, job creation and competitiveness”.

The Forestry Sector Master Plan supports the Reimagined Industrial Strategy for South Africa. Forestry is also one of the sectors that is being prioritised under the Public Private Growth Initiative – a partnership between government and the private sector to stimulate investment.

Source: adapted from

The instruments of policy relevant to the forestry sector are:

  • The National Forests Act, 1998 (Act No. 84 of 1998) – concerned with the sustainable management of forests and the protection of forests and trees as well as community participation
  • The National Veld and Forest Fires Act, 1998 (Act No. 101 of 1998) – concerned with the combating of veld and forest fires
  • National Water Act, 1998 (Act No 36 of 1998) – afforestation is a stream-flow reduction activity (SFRA). The introduction of this Act led to the forestry sector losing some 80 000ha (APAP, 2014:13)
  • The Wattle Bark Industry Act, 1960 (Act No. 23 of 1960) which provides for the control of the wattle bark industry
  • The Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (CARA), 1983 (Act 43 of 1983) seeks to protect prime agricultural land and manage land use nationally.
  • The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), 1998 (Act No 107 of 1998 means that afforestation requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
  • The Forest Sector Transformation Charter. Find the Amended Forest Sector Code (2017) at

Planting trees in a fairly regulated process. A water licence and an environmental impact assessment (EIA) are required.

Certain trees are protected by law and should anyone wish to cut or utilise these trees they need to apply for a licence from their local DFFE office. In terms of Section 15(1) of the National Forests Act, no person may cut, disturb, damage or destroy any protected tree or possess, collect, remove, transport, export, purchase, sell or donate any protected tree or any forest product derived form such a tree without a license.

Role players

Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE)

Find the forestry pages on the DFFE website.

National Forest Advisory Council (NFAC) – The NFAC advises the Minister on all aspects of forestry in the Republic.

Forest Sector Charter

Department of Water and

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural

Role players

Associations involved

Forestry South Africa (FSA)

Find details of the Head Office and Pietermaritzburg Regional Office on the FSA website,

Forestry South Africa (FSA) “represents 11 corporate forestry companies, approximately 1 100 commercial timber farmers and some 20 000 small-scale growers. Collectively, these growers own or control no less than 93% of the country’s total plantation area of 1.2 million hectares” (FSA, 2024).

  • Paper Manufacturer’s Association of South Africa (PAMSA) represents the country’s pulp and paper producers. See
  • Sawmilling South Africa (SSA) represents the formal sawmills in the country –
  • South African Forestry Contractors Association (SAFCA) is an association of forestry contractors which assists contractors with technical information and represents them on national forums and bodies. See
  • South African Wood Preservers Association represents timber treaters and preservative manufacturers. Visit
  • The Timber Industry Pesticide Working Group (TIPWG) promotes “responsible and effective use of pesticides in South African commercial timber plantations”. See

Other groups of relevance:

  • Dendrological Society and Foundation
  • Institute for Timber Construction South Africa
  • South African Utility Pole Association Tel: 033 330 3418
  • The Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu)
  • Some funds by the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) are specifically forestry, pulp and paper orientated e.g. the Rural and Community Development Fund and the Strategic Projects Fund. Details can be read at
  • Contact the Komatiland Forestry Museum at 013 754 2724. View the history of the timber industry and how forestry operations have developed over the decades.

Training and research

General role players

  • Forest Industries Training Providers’ Association (FITPA)
  • FP&M SETA (Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Education and Training Authority) The SETA responsible for training in the forestry sector
  • Numerous companies like Skills for Africa provide short courses and other training. The reader is referred to FITPA or FP&M SETA for a further list of training materials.

Tertiary and research

  • Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)
  • Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR) A research institute funded by the private sector timber industry and focused on applied research in many fields, including amongst others, tree breeding, silviculture and forest protection.
  • Companies like Merensky do their own training, research, and development.
  • Nelson Mandela University School of Natural Resource Management Forestry National Diploma, B.Tech, M. Tech and D. Tech in forestry. Accredited short courses are also offered.
  • Southern African Institute of Forestry
  • Stellenbosch University Department of Forest and Wood Science Offers all levels of degrees in forestry and wood science
  • Tshwane University of Technology TUT offers a one-year Higher Certificate in Forestry Management
  • University of Pretoria Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) A world-class Institute working in the field of combating pests and diseases in the forestry and agricultural sectors
  • University of Venda Department of Forestry

Rhodes University, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Cape Town offer some training relevant to the forestry chapter e.g. Woodland Ecology, Forest Ecology, Ecophysiology of trees – Nutrition, Water & Carbon.

Websites and publications

Visit the websites of role players listed earlier on this page.

The Forestry Handbook, published by the Southern African Institute of Forestry (SAIF). Visit for details (look for the “Resources and publications” menu option). Find the other publications here too, like the Southern Forests: A Journal of Forest Science, the Fire Manager’s Handbook on Veld and Forest Fires (by William C Teie, edited by Tian Pool), and There’s Honey in the Forest.

Refer to the Business Directory at A Sawmill Directory is available at

Tree Farming Guidelines for Sappi Outgrowers is a practical guide to timber forestry. Chapters can be downloaded from the Internet.

Find the “Sustainable FORESTRY. Sustainable CITIES. Sustainable ECONOMIES” infographic at

The A1-size poster “Pests & diseases in South African Forestry” can be ordered from SA Forestry magazine.

Call 012 842 4017 or email aeinfo [at] for the leaflet “Charcoal production in kilns”. It is also available in Afrikaans.

Subscribe to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) eNewsletter. Go to for details.

Venter F. & Venter, J-A. 2015. Making the Most of Indigenous Trees (3rd edn). Pretoria: Briza.

Esterhuyse, N., Breitenbach, J. von & Söhnge, H. 2012. Remarkable Trees of South Africa. Pretoria: Briza Publications.

Van Wyk, B. & van Wyk, P. 2014. Field Guide to Trees of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Penguin Random House.

Identify South Africa’s 980 larger indigenous tree species, as well as 135 alien invasive trees with an App. Read about The Tree App South Africa at

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