Socio-economic and environment impacts on the utilisation of umSimbithi Tree (Milletia grandis) in Eastern Cape : a case study of Mt. Thesiger Forest, Pondoland.
Obiri, John Angoro Festus.
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Wood products from Milletia grandis (E. Mey) skeels (umSimbithi), a prominent tree in the coastal scarp forests ofPondoland, form an important economic base for the craft workers in Urnzimvubu District ofthe Eastern Cape. The local carving industry draws considerable income in a place where employment opportunities are scarce, poverty is rife and financial burden and dependency is high. Despite the curio trade being perceived as important by the local communities, little is known about this craft work industry or its impact on the forest especially the sustainability of the wood resource base. Resource availability and impacts of harvesting were assessed at Mount Thesiger Forest Reserve (MTFR) through sampling plots and social surveys oflocal carvers and curio traders. Stem size-class distributions ofstanding trees and stumps were used to investigate the present quantity, past harvesting patterns and distribution ofM grandis within the forests. Line transects sampling confirmed umSimbithi as a forest margin species penetrating to about 50 metres into the forest from the edge and its. current use was found to be unsustainable. Current monitoring and management of most State forests in the Eastern Cape is inadequate, and although a harvest ban has been served, it has only led to and encouraged poaching. Social surveys indicated that the quality of monitoring and sustainability of wood stocks in the Headmen forests appear better than in State forests and this raises hope for successful comanagement structures in the area. Craftwood production and derived income varied from one month to another depending on wood availability, size and shape of stems, with straight stems being most preferred. MontWy income per carver was estimated between R960 to RIIOO while the annual yield for the estimated 100 carvers in the communities surrounding MTFR approximated RI.l million. It was observed that higher sales could be obtained if (1) the amount of wood wasted during harvests and carving could be minimised and (2) the craft products were marketed in the lucrative up markets such as Johannesburg, Durban and Maseru. Interviews with 30 carvers pointed to several problems most of them originating from the stoppage of harvest permits following the ban on umSimbithi. Various recommendations addressing carver's needs and promoting sustainable resource management are proposed. These include (1) establishing an appropriate land tenure system, (2) reviewing the permit system, (3) strengthening the institutional capacity ofthe Forest Department and (4) enhancing efforts on community forest outreach through the extension system. Above all, and to achieve sustainable forest management in Pondoland, tenurial rights needs to be addressed and the options of co-management, community management and privatisation are discussed. It was noted that for sustainable development to be realised in Pondoland, co-management ofnatural resources is important and this must be supported by introduction ofother economic activities that would alleviate pressure off the forests.