The Biodiversity and Land Use Project (BLU) being implemented by SANBI supported the development and implementation of the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS), aimed at allowing all growers, including small and communal growers who were previously excluded, access to affordable certification and consequently markets for their materials.

The first Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) forest management certificate in South Africa is due to be issued after Sappi underwent a successful audit against the Sustainable African Forest Assurance Scheme (SAFAS) forest management standard. SAFAS is the Governing Body for PEFC South Africa and has taken great strides towards levelling the certification playing fields in the forestry sector.

With this ground-breaking approach, a system has been developed that will allow responsible plantation owners, communal and small scale growers, to access markets requiring certification in a credible and systematic way while addressing the key risks to sustainable forest management.

Sappi has certified all of their 394 000 hectares of plantation land across South Africa under SAFAS. Over 100 000 hectares of this land is not planted to trees and therefore reserved for biodiversity and ecosystem protection. Approximately 98 725 hectares of Sappi land is in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (uMDM), one of the areas that the BLU project is being implemented in.

SAPPI followed the SAFAS group certification model, which will allow them to certify private farmer suppliers and community produced timber under their certificate. This will greatly simplify and reduce the costs of certification for these suppliers.

The Sappi audit served as the accreditation audit for Soil Association, a UK Based auditing company that subcontracts the South African Bureau of Standards for its local audits. This means that forests in South Africa can be issued with a PEFC certificate and sell to processors that wish to label their products as PEFC. PEFC is the world’s largest certification system and has a proud track record for the certification of smallholders.

The BLU project has as one of its goals to reduce barriers to certification and ensure market access for small-scale timber growers. BLU funding has been invaluable in developing the SAFAS standards and policies and piloting innovative systems such as the Value Based Platform (VBP). The VBP is a tool that allows forest managers to identify and prioritise their risks to sustainable forest management and in the process focusses and simplifies certification. Approximately 33 Sappi timber growers have already assessed their farms against the VBP and are ready to be included into the Sappi group scheme.

The next step is to certify NCT Forestry, the biggest timber cooperative in South Africa against SAFAS, which will take place in February 2021. This will provide a route for their approximately 2000 members to get certified. Through Sappi and NCT there are approximately 90 000 hectares of privately and communally owned plantations in the uMDM that will be eligible to apply for SAFAS certification in 2021 and 250 000 hectares country-wide.

For more information, please contact Steve Germishuizen via email:

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