About 9% of Swaziland is now under timber plantations (eucalyptus, pine and acacia). In December 2004 Wally Menne, a member of the South African Timberwatch Coalition made public his research: “Timber Plantations in Swaziland: An investigation into the environmental and social impacts of large-scale timber plantations in Swaziland” (available at http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Swaziland/Plantations.pdf ).
Menne’s study also covers the certified tree plantations of Mondi Forests (a subsidiary of the giant Anglo-American Corporation), which operates in Swaziland through its associated company Peak Timber Ltd, and its South African owned sister company Mondi Timber.
Mondi Forests (also known as Mondi Peak) owns almost 32,000 hectares of land at the village of Pigg’s Peak, in northern Swaziland, of which about 20,000 hectares is under plantations (about 90% of the plantations in the Pigg’s Peak area). These consist of nearly 6,000 hectares of pine and 14,000 hectares of eucalyptus and there is a small area of about 30 hectares under Blackwood Acacia. Most of the eucalyptus is exported for pulp production and about 75% of the pine is exported. Over the past ten years there has been a systematic conversion from pine to eucalyptus, which is believed to deliver greater returns due to the quicker rotation, and now makes up 75% of the Peak plantations.
FSC certification of the Mondi Peak plantations was first awarded in 1996, as part of the Mondi owned plantations in South Africa. From the FSC website, it appears Mondi has no certified plantations in Swaziland, because they are included in the total area certified for Mondi in South Africa. The certification is reviewed every 5 years and will come up for review again in 2007. Annual inspections are conducted by FSC-accredited certification company SGS.
The field research tried to determine whether those tree plantations had benefited the local communities, and what follows are some of the answers received:
Nhlanhla Msweli, from the social organization Swaziland Campaign against Poverty and Economic Inequality (SCAPEI), recalls that around 1997 there were major retrenchments in the timber industry --including Mondi. Economic hardship was raised as the reason for reducing staff, but at the same time the work was “outsourced” to contractors, who were often ex-employees who had been assisted in establishing their own “contract businesses”. This has led to an extremely competitive labour market. Outsourcing of activities by companies has not benefited many people, because it is really a way of passing on risks and costs to the new companies that are established. When they eventually fail, and investments made with retrenchment payouts are lost, poverty becomes greater.
Mrs Duduzile (Matilda) Zwane, a School Principal of the Primary School of Ekuthuleni (Mondi Peak main sawmill worker village), held a negative view of timber plantations. She believed that the community had not benefited much from their establishment, either from the point of view of people working in the industry or living in the area. Labourers received low pay although some rations were also received. There had been a strike at the sawmill recently and while the strike was in progress an accidental fire, started by a spark from a welding machine, had ignited sawdust and caused serious damage to the mill. Although the strike had ended, workers were retrenched afterwards. The sawmill was to be upgraded and new technology equipment would be installed. It was an issue that the company used big machines to do work instead of giving more jobs to people.
There was very little done by the company to help the community. Only bona fide employees and their direct family could use the Mondi health clinic facilities. Others had to use the government hospital at Pigg’s Peak. The poverty in the community was causing young girls to become prostitutes. They would accept as little as 2 Emalangeni (One US Dollar is equal to 6 Emalangeni) for sex, usually from older men who had jobs at the mill. She added that most girls in the area became pregnant before they reached the end of Standard 5 (the seventh year of school).
No bursaries were offered, and assistance with building a community church had not been forthcoming. The school was in desperate need of more classrooms and teacher accommodation. There is no playground at the school and the roads in the village are in a very bad state. The general condition of workers homes is very poor.
Mrs Zwane stated that she had noticed that rivers in the timber growing areas had dried up over the years. She could remember places where people could swim when she was a child, that are now dry.
The above is in line with what Rex Brown –from Environmental Consultancy Services- replied during the research. He stated that the establishment of the three main plantations in the country (Shiselweni, Usutu and Mondi) happened with little consideration given to their short and long term impacts on the environment, livelihoods, water and pollution. Regarding water, Brown said that the plantations appear to act as sponges and partially as a result of their species composition, absorb great quantities of water that is not released into the rivers and streams. This combined with ever increasing water demands within the catchments, leads to annual shortages of water.
As a final conclusion the author of the study says: “The plantations in the Pigg’s Peak area could at best be described as very poorly managed, and at worst – absolutely disgusting. It is unbelievable that these plantations that in some areas are a totally unmanaged mix of species, heavily infested with alien invader plants, could have been given FSC certification.”