Maputo — The South African company Komatiland Forests has been accused of failing to plant trees for the production of paper in its major forestry concession in central Mozambique, reports Tuesday's issue of the independent newsheet "Mediafax".
Manica Forestry Industries (IFLOMA) was privatised in 2004, and currently 80 per cent of the shares are held by Komatiland Forests, and the remaining 20 per cent by the Mozambican state. The "Mediafax" article complains that under South African management IFLOMA is concentrating solely on its sawmill, and has dropped plans to produce paper, on the grounds that the Mozambican market for paper is not large enough.
In fact, IFLOMA never produced paper. It was set up as a state company, with Swedish aid, in 1982, and at the time possesses the most modern sawmill in the country. It processed wood into sawn planks and particle-board.
But the dreams for a modern timber industry were cruelly destroyed by the war of destabilisation waged by the apartheid- backed Renamo rebels. Renamo attacks made visiting the logging areas extremely dangerous, and production collapsed.
The first attempt to privatise IFLOMA came in 1998, when 80 per cent of the company was sold to the Portuguese group SONAE industries. But the sale was cancelled when SONAE failed to meet the terms of the contract.
When Komatiland forests took over, in April 2004, it promised new investment of about 85 million US dollars. But the "Mediafax" claim that Komatiland Forests abandoned paper production is untrue, because IFLOMA never produced paper.
Clearly the company was thinking about branching out into the paper business, but the IFLOMA executive director, Jean van der Sidje, told "Mediafax", that the idea was dropped because the local demand for paper was insufficient.
Currently Mozambique depends on imported paper (mostly from South Africa) to feed its printing industry. The main consumer of paper should be the Education Ministry for school text books - although in the past tenders for producing the books have been won by foreign companies (for example. in Canada and India).
Mozambican newspapers alone could not sustain a paper industry, since their print runs are too small. The latest data from the main daily paper "Noticias" indicates an average print run of just 13,000. Sidje said IFLOMA is concentrating on planting trees (eucalyptus and pine) solely for timber processing.
The company is also using satellite imagery in an attempt to demarcate its forest areas correctly, and avoid conflicts with local communities (who have been invading parts of the IFLOMA concession to open fields, or cut down trees for firewood).
The IFLOMA concession covers 18,700 hectares, but only 7,000 have been planted - a decline from 25,000 hectares in 1984. The company was ruined by the war, and when Komatiland Forests took over, the new managers found that much of the industrial equipment was no longer operational, and the plantations had been largely abandoned. Sidje said IFLOMA has every intention of recovering the entire concession. "We have 7,000 out of 18,000 hectares planted, and we are concentrating on planting the other 11,000 hectares", he said.
"Our work requires a lot of investment", he added. "To plant one hectare implies an investment of around 8,000 rands (about 1,200 dollars)".