Thousands of jobs will be lost if Grabouw doesn't plant trees now

Grabouw residents in the Western Cape have warned of huge job losses and the closure of sawmills if the national forestry exit policy is not reversed.

They handed a memorandum on their fears to Theewaterskloof mayor Chris Punt and municipal manager Stan Wallace on Wednesday.

The document was compiled by the Grabouw Deforestation Crisis Campaign, supported by the Grabouw Development Forum (GDF) and the local ratepayers association.

The forestry exit policy is having dire consequences on the local economy, including the loss of some 12,000 jobs in the Boland and Outeniqua forestry regions.

Grabouw is one of the towns in these regions most severely affected, said Alex Rowe, chairman of the town's ratepayers association.

The association is tasked with leading the Deforestation Crisis Campaign for a change in the forestry exit policy.

The campaign is being driven on local, provincial and national government level.

The memorandum reads: "Grabouw's 100-year-old forestry industry will be terminated through bureaucratic bungling if replanting of our pine trees cannot begin within the next 18 months."

A document to allow replanting has sat with government since 2008 with no action taken, says the memorandum.

"This industry, which employs more than 12,000 people and thus supports some 48,000 people in our town and surrounding regions, cannot be revived unless action is taken immediately."

Businessman Pieter Silberbauer, who is involved in the Grabouw Sustainable Development Initiative (GSDI), said the negative impact would be felt across the entire region.

"If the forestry exit strategy is not reversed within 18 months, there will be so little timber to process that remaining sawmills will close," he said.

"The region will then have also lost the supporting infrastructure such as forest roads, fire fighting capability, skilled foresters, education and research."

The GSDI was launched in 2006 by former finance minister Trevor Manuel and the Development Bank of South Africa as one of only six pilot projects in South Africa.

The memorandum, signed by some 2000 national and international supporters, is similar to one received by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in 2014.

A spokesman for Motlanthe's office, Thabo Masebe, confirmed that the matter had now been referred to the ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

The ministry's response was being awaited, Masebe said.

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Image: Gavin Schneider Productions

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