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Eucalyptus plantations in South Africa are nicknamed “green cancer” because the spread uncontrollably and destroy everything they touch. South Africa is one of the countries looking into the possibility of GE tree plantations in the future. (2003) Photo: Petermann/GJEP

Big timber accused of unauthorised tree switch

New Frame 16 April 2020

Tony Carnie

Vast tracts of the Mpumalanga highveld are home to about 494 004 hectares of commercial tree plantations, most of them pine. It is an industry regulated by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and the Department of Water and Sanitation, among others. Forested areas, some of them catchment zones, are regulated, too. This includes specific areas and the species of tree with which they are forested.

Now, environmental activists in the province say local timber growers have been converting pine plantations to eucalyptus species without authorisation from relevant officials and institutions, resulting in them using more than their fair share of catchment water.

Long history of conflict

Complaints about the timber industry “stealing” water from farmers and other communities go back a long way.

As far back as 1915, concerns began to emerge that exotic timber plantations were sucking up significant volumes of water from some of the country’s richest mountain catchment areas, thereby drying up river flow and depriving downstream users of scarce water resources.

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