Course:FRST370/2022/Community forest management and practices in South Africa: an assessment of socio-economic sustainability

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Summary of Case Study

South Africa rural communities live below the poverty line, a solution to this problem could be local communities utilizing plantations that are found throughout the countryside. Rossbach and Gaba plantations and their communities located in Limpopo province will be studied to determine how much of an impact the plantations have on the livelihoods of residents. The Tshikudini and Magangeni communities received timber and non-timber goods from the Rossbach and Gaba plantations, primarily firewood, medicinal plants, and poles which play a role in economic status of the community. Along with the provision of goods and services, engaging local communities in plantation-related income-generating activities is another very effective strategy. There are numerous job opportunities, such as those in honey production, sales of firewood and poles, thatch grass, and honey. A successful plantation can bring financial stability to all community’s members by providing different revenue streams.


Plantation, South Africa, Socio-Economics


South Africa is a large country on the southern tip of Africa with a population of approximately 60 million people. Within the country poverty is widespread; yet it is concentrated to indigenous populations found in rural areas. In this case indigenous populations are defined as the black population that maintains a traditional lifestyle. In South Africa, 32% of the population lives in rural areas and of those, 81.3% are below the poverty line[1]. In addition, 5% of those rural households report zero cash flow, 12% rely on state pensions, and 26% rely on remittance from urban centers. Data from South Africa shows that poverty levels are on the rise[2]. People from rural areas, females, black communities, and the Limpopo Province are the most affected[2].

The black population was moved to homesteads during the apartheid period (1948–1990). Black communities were given homelands during this forced relocation period in regions that the white farmers did not want. Historical government policies that supported and integrated the native rural population into the industrial economy further decreased land value. African farmers were forced to sell their land to mines and white farmers because of fiscal and economic policies[3]. The widespread effects of these historical policies are still evident today in rural communities' continued economic marginalization and unemployment[4].

Community forests are highly dependent on the local community's needs; they can provide land, energy, timber, and other nontimber forest products. Community-based Forest management was also identified as a requirement for local governments and communities to have the power and authority to manage forest resources. This appeared to hasten economic development, administrative efficiency, and natural resource improvement[5].

We will be concentrating on two distinct plantations (Rossbach and Gaba) located in the Limpopo province, South Africa.  Magangeni sub-village in the Makhado municipality is 7 km from Rossbach Plantation. The plantation is 112 ha in size and contains a variety of eucalyptus. The Tshikudini sub-village in the Thulameia municipality is 40 km from the Gaba plantation[6]. Only 300 ha of the plantation's total 1300 ha are planted with pine trees; the remaining 700 ha are entirely made up of natural forest resources. With an in-depth look at these plantations, they should provide information on if community forest can reduce poverty among small rural indigenous tribes by introducing a marketable product to sell or providing forest products directly[6].

Tenure arrangements

Land transfers are currently taking place in South Africa, including the redistribution of both public and private lands as well as the restoration of land lost because of Apartheid-Period legal policies to indigenous tribes. 40% of privately owned plantations and 70% of state-owned plantations are subject to land claims, however the government has promised to transfer 30% of the land to black owners[7]. This program aims to give security to people living in communal areas on state property. 13% of South Africa's land is held by indigenous peoples under a type of tenure that is based primarily on informal landholding rights and customary use practices called community lands. Despite being the government's property, tribes and other groups have exclusive rights to the land[6]. These are frequently found on the homesteads where people were assigned during the apartheid period. Although they do not have full ownership rights, residents do have a variety of rights to occupy and use the land and its resources[7]. This kind of tenure makes it possible for South Africa's rural indigenous peoples to maintain traditional livelihoods and cultural practices but limits the legal rights they have over the land.

Many plantations are on these community lands which have been established by national, provincial, and local government agencies. Although these plantations are leased to local chiefs, they are still considered publicly owned. Individual families can establish their own plantation; however, they have no title to the land. In cases where the production is large scale, groups have established a company or trust that owns and operates the forest enterprise. This can help secure land ownership rights on communal lands[8].


A plantation is said to be in a socioeconomically sustainable state when it maintains a good relationship with the surrounding communities. Therefore, socioeconomic sustainability typically entails a mix of societal acceptance of the plantation's functionality, financial success, and an overall rise in the standard of living in the surrounding areas[9]. OOne way the plantation can improve the quality of life is by supplying the community with forest products. These goods include commercial timber, medicinal plants and firewood, which can be used as an energy source for regular tasks[9].By opening a path for economic growth unrelated to the plantation, the plantation can also have a beneficial impact on the local communities. When plantations are successful, they can offer the local community full time jobs and sustainable management practices that will create a tree stand that is resilient. When the profit from a plantation is not high enough to support the full community, it can be used as a tool for other sectors in the community.

The majority of the Magangeni sub-village and Tshikudini sub-village's residence utilize social grants provided by the government based on their economic status. These grants provide around $166 USD monthly for households. There are high rates of unemployment in both sub-villages with Magangeni unemployment rate at 65% and Tshikudini categorized as very high levels[10]. The low levels of income in both communities can be exhibited by the low usage of modern amenities found throughout the villages. Although there is electricity in both villages there is a high number of households that utilize firewood for cooking (Magangeni - 38%, Tshikudini - 78%). In addition, both villages' households still have traditional mud houses[10].

Affected Stakeholder

Magangeni sub-village near Rossbach forest plantation

About 400 households live in the Magangeni sub-village near the Rossbach forest plantation[10]. Livelihood strategies include crop production, mainly maize, cattle, and goat production. The average income for each household is between US$ 37.6- US$166 monthly[6].

The community forest type of Rossbach forest is category B, primarily focusing on commercial timber production with medium to low productivity[6]. TThe Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) holds the current ownership of the Rossbach forest. Eucalypts are the main species planted within the 112-ha forest. The village is one of the most affected stakeholders, and its long-term welfare depends on the impact of the plantation. About 75% of the villagers are aware of the Rossbach forest plantation, and almost all of them collect their firewood and construction poles from the forest plantation. Hence knowledgeable villagers perceive the Rossbach forest plantation to provide sufficient wood products and the excess firewood can be sold locally. However, uninformed residents still buy firewood from shops and merchants[6].

Tshikudini sub-village near Gaba forest planation

Tshikudini sub-village contains 177 households with high levels of unemployment as well[6]. Livelihood strategies include crop production, mainly maize, cattle, and goat production. Most villagers in Tshikudini have monthly household incomes lower than US$ 37.52[6].

The community forest type falls under category C, with the primary objective of providing timber to local communities under the ownership of DAFF[6]. The main species planted are pines and Eucalypts in the Gaba forest plantation. Residents in Tshikudini are dissatisfied with the supply of products and the contribution of forest plantation to their livelihoods. Although 96% of the people know about the access and use arrangements of the Gaba forest plantation, most community members collect firewood from natural forests, and only 13% collect firewood from the forest plantation[6].The Gaba forest plantation has a poor provision of wood products and livelihood improvement, which can be attributed to the fact that the forest plantation is distant from the community, has poor access and lacks native trees close to the community[6].Other affected stakeholder groups

In the study that Munyanduki conducted[10], questions about participating in forest-related activities were only for those respondents who knew about the operation of forest plantations within their respective villages. The voice of people unaware of forest plantations is unknown and lacks sample groups focusing on minority groups such as elders and women.

Table 1. Comparison of Magangeni sub-village and Tshikudini Sub-village Plantation.
Magangeni sub-village Tshikudini Sub-village  
Plantation (size) Rossbach (112 ha) Gaba (1300 ha)
Distance   7 km 40 km
Population   400 177
Livelihoods   crop production, mainly maize, cattle, and goat production crop production, mainly maize, cattle, and goat production
Plantation category   B C
Plantation productivity Medium- Low Low
Management objective Commercial production Timber
Current Ownership DAFF DAFF

Interested Stakeholders

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)

Daff is the owner of both Gaba and Rossbach Forest Plantations, which is also the custodian of South Africa's Forest resources. The Forest sector employs about 165900 workers and provides around 92000 jobs currently (both direct and indirect jobs). It is also estimated that 652000 people rely on livelihood support from forestry in rural areas[11].

Firewood, construction poles, medicinal plants and edible fruits are vital to the livelihoods of the rural poor. Besides consuming resources, spiritual and aesthetic needs and employment are also benefits. However, access to these benefits among different communities needs to be more equitable. DAFF contributes to Forestry Livelihoods Programme, which develops human resources and promotes employment through commercial forestry activities such as forestation[11]. The programmes are integrated into municipal and provincial development plans. DAFF aims to realize sustainable forests in South Africa and manage all types of forests, including plantations, woodlands and indigenous forests, with different ownership[11]. Both Gaba and Rossbach Forest Plantations are state forests with beneficiaries to local communities. In addition, DAFF is also responsible for monitoring and reporting the rights and commitments of South Africa under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture[11].

The Government of South Africa

The government formulates legislation and policies, such as Participatory Forest Management and National Forestry Act, on community forestry and the use and access of state-owned forests. This provides a basic framework that DAFF and SAFCOL can follow. Specifically, it provides social grants for community members in both Magangeni and Tshikudini sub-villages, committing to creating employment opportunities and alleviating poverty at the expense of economic feasibility[10]. In addition, Magangeni community is full of confidence in cooperating with the government to manage plantations as joint management[10].

National Forest Advisory Council (NFAC)

The National Forest Advisory Council (NFAC) was established in the National Forest Act of 1998. The act reflects the future vision of forestry in South Africa, emphasizing sustainable forest management and explaining how people and communities can use forests without destroying them[11]. The act sets rules and ensures that the public has access to state forest land for cultural, recreational, educational, and spiritual purposes. NFAC develops local criteria and standards for sustainable forest management and puts forward suggestions on how to improve public access to state-owned forests[11].

Universities and post-secondary institutions

Universities can provide the knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of sustainable development in a community. 6% of members of both Tshikudini and Magangeni communities have attended post-secondary institutions[10]. The number will increase as the economy increases with more people who can afford tuition.

University of Pretoria, the University of Limpopo and the University of Venda have all carried out research on plantations and the local communities that depend on them. This kind of research helps the communities to make better decisions by using collected data and evaluation[11].

Assessment of Governance

South Africa uses a top-down exclusionary method, leaving most management decisions to those in DAFF or SAFCOL at the very top of the hierarchy. Local communities may be greatly impacted by this because their needs may not be taken into account or met by either new or existing management policies

South Africa uses a top-down exclusionary method, leaving most management decisions to those in DAFF or SAFCOL at the very top of the hierarchy. Local communities may be greatly impacted by this because their needs may not be taken into account or met by either new or existing management policies[12]. The government is looking at alternative management practices which could include local emerging investors, community oriented entities, local communities, or community-private partnerships[6].

In the cases of Magangeni and Tshikudini communities, DAFF has high importance and strong influence in decision-making under the policies set out by the government. Additionally, other forestry agencies, such as NFAC, provide indirect support and suggestions on improving access and use of state-owned forests, which is also a key component in the management process. Communities near the Gaba and Rossbach communities have high importance but low influence in decision-making. Due to the lack of experience and possible out-of-control situations, local communities have no confidence in their management of plantations[10]. Universities can do research and provide suggestions for improvement in the communities. However, they have low importance and low influence.


State-owned forests open opportunities for communities to access and use goods and related services provided by plantations. Also, plantations should play a significant role in promoting socioeconomic sustainability and reducing poverty. However, there is significant room for improvement for the livelihoods of the Magangeni and Tshikudini residents.  

Using goods from forest plantations

The Magangeni and Tshikudini communities received firewood and poles from the Gaba and Rossbach forest plantations[6]. Specifically, the Rossbach forest plantation provided the Magangeni community with plenty of wood products. However, the Gaba forest plantation has low efficiency because of the great distance and difficult access from the Tshikudini community.

Communities were able to save more than R300 (US$24.90) a month by using products from the two forest plantations[6]. This is a sizable sum given the high rates of unemployment and low wages in these communities. Using forest products and services can help people save money that they can use to pay for other necessities of their way of life[13]. The Magangeni community members have more savings than the Tshikudini community because more people obtained higher-quality wood products from the Rossbach forest plantation. The Tshikudini community also has a native forest which is closer that can provide more materials than the plantation does.  

Activities that bring in money for local communities

Both communities have an involvement with their corresponding plantation. Activities such as collection of products, fire control, fire incidences, and reporting illegal harvesting were reported.  Communities had little management control over the plantation but could reach the plantation manager for matters that regarded access and use rights. Three of the residents between both communities have reported being employed at either plantation, although the communities have stated that they have employment preferences.  

Although both the Magangeni and Tshikudini communities acknowledge the existence of forest-related income-generating activities, only 2.7% and 2.1% were employed by the plantation respectively[6]. This could be due to the difficulty in accessing markets outside the community level and the need for more capital. The optimization of economic returns needs to be supplied to the commercial markets, which means that capital investment is needed to fund the establishment of processing mills to realize value-added and transportation logistics[6]. In the Magangeni community residents were also employed for Firewood/ pole retail, honey production, thatch grass retail, and medicinal plants.  

The Madandla Forest Plantation is known as one of the most successful in South Africa, and the profit received from the plantation is used to fund and establish other businesses in the community[14]. Among these companies are a sawmill, a livestock operation, an ecotourism and conservation initiative, and a training institute[14]. The plantation has produced a greater number of jobs than would have been possible with the plantation alone by creating an avenue for job creation.


The ownership and management of Category B and C plantations have been planned to be transferred from state ownership to local entities. The most efficient method of managing forest plantations was thought to be joint forest management (JFM) between local communities and the government. More specifically, the government and local communities share roles, responsibilities, and benefits under JFM. Through government assistance in the form of technological, economic, and governmental support, this forest management regime gives communities power. The success of earlier community projects in South Africa, which provided communities with technical and financial support, serves as evidence of this[15].


  •  In situations where there is a severe shortage of firewood from plantations (such as Gaba), there should be a structured harvesting regulation through an allowed cut that allows firewood and poles to be shipped and shared among community members. As non-compliance with regulations is unavoidable when communities believe there are few opportunities to participate in lucrative activities [16].
  • Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are crucial for livelihoods, development, and the fight against poverty, and community forests cannot ignore their significance. Unfortunately, timber has received a lot of attention due to the need for settlement and the expanding population. Market fluctuations, the seasonality of the wood harvest, and other external and internal shocks can all affect non-diversified CFEs[17]. Therefore, developing NTFP value chains and exploring them are crucial. Diverse market operations entered into concessions as a result of the development of the NTFP value chains.
  • Form some government branch agencies who’s main responsibilities on one specific region or community, and those agencies act like the communication bridge and monitors for all stakeholders, such as government and communities. The Trinity county Resource Conservation District (TCRCD) in the Weaverville community is a good example. TCRCD serves as a liaison between the community and government authorities[18]. Furthermore, TCRCD operated as a regional branch of federal agencies administering federal lands. Its goal also focuses on the needs of rural communities. TCRCD plays a significant role in the success of the Weaverville community.
  • The timber industry and NGOs are missing in these cases, which can be role players in the future in implementing alternative forest management.


This report discusses the history, tenure arrangements, and poverty situation in Limpopo, South Africa. Plantations play an influential role in South Africa's socioeconomic development. To analyze the impact of plantations on communities' socioeconomic sustainability, we examine two distinct plantations, Rossbach and Gaba. Afterward, we describe the affected and interested stakeholders within those plantations with their relative power. Our discussion further explores the use of goods from forest plantations, income-generating activities that bring local communities, and the future forest management approaches. Lastly, we offered several recommendations to ensure future socioeconomic sustainability in those communities.  


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