South African NGOs renew call for suspension of plantation certificates: “massive cost to the environment”

The following Open Letter to David Nahwegahbow, Chair of the Forest Stewardship Council, has been submitted by Philip Owen of Geasphere .

Re: Certification of Industrial Timber Plantations in South Africa

Dear Mr. David Nahwegahbow

I look to you for guidance and advice. I represent a organization opposed to the further expansion of Industrial Timber Plantations (ITP’s)in Southern Africa and elsewhere.

We firmly believe that ITP’s comes at a massive cost to the natural and social environment, and that these costs have not been quantified.

In South Africa, timber plantations are established in the rare ‘high rainfall’ areas, primarily grassland. These areas are some of the most floristically diverse areas of our country. In South Africa, millions of hectares of primary grassland, savannah grassland and pockets of indigenous forests have disappeared beneath this sea of alien monoculture.

South Africa’s most threatened bird species – Rudd’s Lark – has been most severely affected by destruction of its high rainfall grassland habitat. South Africa’s most threatened antelope species, the Oribi can also trace its demise to loss of same grassland habitat.

Industrial Timber Plantations are of fast growing, high yielding, evergreen species, and consume vast quantities of the scarce water resource. Many springs have become bone dry since whole catchments had been planted to high impact ITP’s. There are reports that with ready access to water, a mature eucalyptus tree can use upwards of 500 liters of water daily. Also reports that in some areas where ITP’s have been established, the water table has dropped as much as 36 meters.

It is sad to see how we people lose touch with the reality of our relationship with mother earth. We substitute her bounty with row upon row of monotony, smothering the life-force in the soils. As we steal from this soil, we must remember that in truth – money does not make the world go round.

On April 23, 2004 I sent a letter to the FSC board of directors and others who attended a FSC stakeholders meeting in Sabie, South Africa. Unfortunately, there has been no attempt from any of the FSC representatives to address our concerns. I copy this (slightly revised) letter below. I ask that you consider the statements and inform as to if our concerns are legitimate, and if FSC could be the vehicle to instigate the drastic changes needed to move towards ‘sustainably’ managed plantations.


Philip Owen – GEASPHERE

To the Members of the FSC Board and Others

After your recent visit to South Africa and having viewed the industrial timber plantations you must be wondering how a million hectares of these alien plantations can possibly carry the FSC label, and how 80% of South Africa’s high impact timber industry could have been certified within such a short period of time.

By certifying industrial timber plantations the FSC is in effect misleading consumers who choose to buy product produced in an environmentally sound manner.

I have no doubt that FSC contributes to better forest management and the protection of forest systems world wide, but certifying South African Industrial Timber Plantations with a ‘green label’ is irresponsible and undermines your credibility. It is not responsible to promote the protection of one biome (indigenous forests) even when this sometimes occurs at the expense of others, especially grassland. Is one more important than the other?

The true costs associated with industrial timber plantations, including loss of biodiversity resources and services provided by grassland (such as flood prevention and carbon sequestration) have never been quantified, so we are unable to make informed decisions about the extent to which the industry can be called ‘responsible’. I support Wally Menne (TimberWatch Coalition) when he writes – “there is a need to establish the legitimacy of existing certifications in South Africa, and to urgently undertake an immediate and complete review and reassessment of such certified plantations”.

The FSC should: * Suspend certification issued to industrial plantations until such time as a national FSC initiative has developed criteria and standards applicable to local conditions which promote the protection of grassland and other natural / semi-natural areas.

  • Incorporate certification standards applicable to Industrial Timber Plantations, designed to facilitate a change towards organic, diversity-based, agro-forestry practices in an effort to maximize soil micro-life.
  • Not consider certifying any mono culture plantations established post 1994 in any natural area, so as to ensure the FSC does not contribute to the destruction of other more threatened – biomes, such as grassland.
  • Follow through on your promise to review principle 10 It is clear that FSC Principle 10 does not contribute much to the principle of ‘sustainability’ – as surely it should. In example, diversity of species is encouraged, but it would only contribute to increased biological activity if the diversity is encouraged WHITHIN plantation compartments. Principle 10 in fact, endorses the destructive and unsustainable industrial timber plantation model, and need to be revised urgently. The proposed notion of stretching FSC certification even further, beyond industrial timber plantations to certify savanna game reserves is to say the least, ludicrous. It begs the question whether the FSC label has become first and foremost, a commodity to be sold to anyone willing to pay for it?

Certification can contribute towards better plantation management, most notably aiding the local regulating authorities in executing their mandate. However, it would appear from viewing the unsatisfactory impacts that still exist on the ground in many or most of the plantations that bear the FSC label, that the standard is not rigorous enough and that there are significant shortcomings with it.

Invasive alien plant control is a critical issue within the ‘forestry’ sector. How has the invasive alien plant situation in FSC certified timber plantations changed since certification? Is weed control measures functional, (are there more weeds? or less weeds?) and do you have statistical data to provide proof? Please supply me with relevant data, if available to yourselves. By certifying Industrial Timber Plantations as responsible forests, the FSC is undermining the work done by concerned individuals, communities and environmental organizations such as the World Rainforest Movement, FASE, TimberWatch Coalition, GEASPHERE and others.

Please circulate this letter to other members of the FSC board.

I look forward to your response.



Statement from Southern African NGOs, July 2006

South Africa – Letter for the de-certification of FSC certified plantations in South Africa

We the undersigned wish to register our concern over the certification of tree plantations by the FSC, which has granted a green label to monoculture plantations that have proven to be socially and environmentally destructive.

We are aware that the FSC is carrying out a review of its plantation certification policy, and it is our hope that the result of this process will be an end to the certification of these types of plantations by the FSC in the future.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that the FSC has already certified large areas of monoculture tree plantations in South Africa, and we believe that their certification should be re-assessed as part of the current review process in order to determine whether they deserve to keep the FSC label.

There are well-documented cases of plantations that never should have received this label and clearly merit de-certification.

As proof that the current review process is genuinely aimed at a profound change in plantation policy, environmental and community based organizations world wide are calling for the immediate de-certification of industrial timber plantations that blatantly violate the FSC’s mission.

We therefore demand the immediate de-certification of all industrial timber plantations in South Africa which have been inappropriately certified by the FSC.

There are 24 FSC certificates in South Africa, and a total area of 1.665.418 ha certified. Some of the largest certified companies include Global Forest Products, Komatiland Forests, Mondi, NCT Forestry and Sappi Forests. For a complete list visit


Philip Owen GeaSphere S,A,

Glen Ashton Ekogaia Foundation Cape Town, S.A.

Patrick Bond Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Development Studies and Director, Centre for Civil Society Durban, S.A.

David Hallowes Grahamstown, SA.

Francis Darvell Five Assegais Country Estate Machadodorp, S.A.

Wally Menne TimberWatch Coalition Durban, S.A.

Desmond D’Sa SDCEA Chairperson Durban, S.A.

Prof. A.E. van Wyk Department of Botany University of Pretoria, S.A.

George Dor Jubilee S.A. Johannesburg

Eben Cilliers GeaSphere Nelspruit, S.A.

Dr Bob de Laborde Hilton, S.A.

Nicole Hemphill GeaSphere Nelspruit, S.A.

Bobby Peek GroundWork Pietermaritzburg, S.A.

Vera Ribeiro GeaSphere Mozambique Maputo, Mozambique

Sandile Ndawonde Green Network PieterMaritzburg, S.A.

Owen Wiggins Nelspruit, SA

David Fig Johannesburg, S.A.

Liane Greeff Environmental Monitoring Group Cape Town, S.A.

Fred Daniel Nkomazi Wilderness Badplaas, S.A.

Bryan Ashe Earthlife Africa eThekwini Durban, S.A.

Jean Moore AlienPlantWatch Durban, South Africa

Cecil Moore WESSA Durban Branch Durban, RSA

Christina Potgieter NU Herbarium, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, S.A.

Peter Hitchins Meerensee, S.A.

Harald Witt (PhD) University of KwaZulu-Natal Durban, S.A.

Stephan Schoeman Nelspruit, S.A.

Rose Williams Durban, S.A.

John Blessing Karumbidza Timberwatch Coalition KZN S.A.

Leigh Voight Schagen, S.A.

Philip and Laura-ann Keates Kilmorna Manor Schoemanskloof, S.A.

Muzi Mdamba Empangeni, S.A.

Anabela Lemos Director, JA! Justica Ambiental Maputo, Mozambique

Patrick Dowling WESSA:WC Cape Town, S.A.

Prof Ben C W van der Waal Department of Biological Sciences University of Venda, Thohoyandou, S.A.

Helen Duigan Rhenosterspruit Conservancy Gauteng, S.A.

J.W.Hayward Parkmore, S.A..


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