The Mabandla community in the Umzimkhulu Municipality in southern KwaZulu Natal are the owners and managers of a successful 1300 hectare commercial plantation business. The business provides over 100 full time jobs, 30 part time jobs and an annual turn over of R12m. The business takes its name from the Umgano mountain, the lower slopes of which were identified as a suitable area for plantation establishment back in 1995. Peter Nixon and Themba Radebe, who later formed Rural Forest Management (RFM), have been providing the Mabadla Community Trust (MCT) with technical and managerial support since that time. The plantation is now in full rotation and is FSC certified, assuring the community of a continuous source of income from the sale of timber. The commercial plantation business has served as a springboard for a range of other businesses that provide additional jobs for community members and revenue for the MCT. These include a cultural tourism business, a cattle business and a conservation and development initiative.
The conservation business falls under the auspices of the Ezimvelo Wildlife Bio-Diversity Stewardship Programme. A small Nature Reserve of 1 500 hectares, bounded by two major rivers, provides an ideal platform for tourism activities including fly fishing, kayaking, river rafting, abseiling, mountain biking, birding and hiking.
The MCT holds a majority shareholding in all businesses and companies operating on the project land, in order to generate funds to satisfy the main objective of social and economic development amongst the greater community. The business models focus on entering into joint ventures with businesses or persons able to offer a high degree of expertise, experience and business skills to ensure the success, and profitability, of any new business venture, together with the Trust.
Additional business opportunities, in the short term, include;
- Livestock association or Company
- Sawmill Company
- Tourism Company
- A Vegetable farm/Company
- A commercial Nursery
Future business opportunities include;
- Hazel nut orchard
- Dairy farm
- Spring Water production Company
Timeline of Notable Achievements
- DATE: Obtained a government grant of R11 m to establish the commercial plantation.
- 2006: Established 1300 hectares of plantation, including 134 km of plantation roads
- 2007: Commenced harvesting, now in full rotation harvesting 90 hectares Eucalyptus per annum
- 2008: Five men receive 5 weeks detailed field ranger training
- 2009: Applied for and obtained a R6m CWP grant from DOA to clear over 500 hectares of alien plants over a 4 yr period to 2013.This grant included 50 km’s of peripheral fencing to be constructed, in order to contain and manage the proposed commercial beef cattle herd.
- 2010: The conservation organisation (TNC) conducted an evaluation of the Umgano project, see findings below
- 2011: Commenced thinning of 440 hectares of Pine. Established own small sawmill to process own timber from pine thinnings
- 2011: SANBI, through the Grasslands association, conduct an in depth study of the grasslands and bio-diversity of the Umgano project, producing recommendations for the management of the grasslands and stocking rates to assist the management of the commercial cattle herd
- 2012: Commenced construction of “Vertical Pine Log” cabins using own Pine trees.
- 2012: Field ranger mentoring in Plant & Bird identification commences
- 2012: Cleared over 300 hectares of jungle wattle and applied for permit to establish a further 290 hectares of commercial Pine timber.
- 2013: Commenced basic tourism activities, planning to build 2 camp sites and a fishermen’s cabin by year end, from timber cut at Umgano sawmill
TNC evaluation of Umgano
- In 2006 Ezimvelo Wildlife commissioned a social and economic survey of the Mabandla community and the Umgano Project. The survey was conducted by the National Conservancy (TNC). TNC made use of household surveys and key informant interviews to assess the socio-economic impacts of the Umgano project. Key findings were as follows.
- The community-based spatial zoning of the project area was simple and effective, with three clearly defined zones and basic rules for resource use in each. The limited number of zones, the clearly delineated boundaries of the zones, and the shared social norms of the community are factors that have helped avoid community conflict over local resource use.
- Local chiefs had the vision to take a longer-term approach, the skills to resolve local conflicts, and the willingness to partner with people outside the community. This was critical to the project’s genesis and sustainability, and dovetails with findings by others that strong local leadership is crucial for effective local resource management.
- The establishment of a Community Trust provided a financial mechanism to ensure accountability and professional management of fiduciary responsibilities and the distribution of benefits to the community. The community has received a number of grants and loans, suggesting that the creation of the Mabandla Community Trust with its legal structures and competent financial management are attractive to funders.
- The Community Trust sought outside expertise for help with project financial management, nature conservation, grassland and livestock management, and tourism. Several of the project advisors have worked on the project since inception. Other studies have also noted the catalytic effect of outside expertise on a conservation initiative
- The high level of community commitment to the proposed plantation enterprise was a key factor in securing the initial funding. Over 80% of the community formally supported the initial business plan. Ongoing community support ensured the project had time to generate benefits.