International excellence with wide acknowledgement of the depth and relevance of our research, the exceptional quality of our education, and the usefulness of our service to agriculture and forestry.
The mission of the Faculty of AgriSciences is to be the preferred provider of world-class research, education and service to agriculture and forestry in southern Africa. We strive to use our knowledge, expertise and skills to the benefit of South Africa and the region, of its people and its industries, and of our clients in a manner that ensures the sustainable use of the region’s natural, physical and social resources and that gains the widest public recognition.
To this end:
The significance of the Faculty of AgriSciences
- our research forms a seamless continuum, from path-breaking fundamental investigations, through market-driven applied research, to technology development and transfer aimed at practical implementation;
- we ensure, through our modern, high-quality methods of learning and teaching and inspired by our research successes, that our students are the first choice of employers, that they are known as the shapers of opinion, and that they are ready to step into leadership roles whether locally or internationally;
- we provide a one-stop service to industries and clients;
- we work together in strategic alliances;
- every member is multi-skilled and of world class standard.
At present, agriculture and forestry are faced with several challenges, including job creation and the financially competitive provision of safe foods and fibre of adequate quality. Together with the nature conservation industry these sectors also have to consider the diversity of our country’s topography, soil variations, the divergence of our climatic regions, and the product requirements of sophisticated and fastidious buyers. The agriculture industry is involved with the conversion of raw materials into inventive, nutritious and tasty food products that can be sold in supermarkets. The forestry industry, again, is based on the fact that wood is a renewable and versatile product, with the result that there is a constantly increasing demand for a variety of wood products, for instance in the construction, furniture, paper and packaging industries. The Faculty of AgriSciences firstly equips entrepreneurs with an extended knowledge base to facilitate informed decision making with a view to different marketing aims, such as adding value with regard to niche markets. We are also aware, however, that agriculture and forestry must not be practised at the cost of our natural resources. South Africa possesses a distinctive variety of fauna and flora that must be respected, protected and conserved in agricultural and forestry practices. The Faculty of AgriSciences therefore also aims to direct its application and management of living organisms in a scientific and ethical manner in teaching, research and community involvement, so that everyone in the country can benefit from an improved quality of life.
Agriculture in South Africa contributes approximately 3–3,5 % of the gross domestic product, is important with regard to earning foreign exchange (R22 073 million in 2004), provides numerous employment opportunities (8% of formal employment opportunities) and makes provision for the basic food and fibre requirements of people. In addition, there is an increase in the popularity of agri-tourism, which offers an escape to city dwellers. Each R1 million increase in the final demand for agricultural products is accompanied by the creation of 83 new employment opportunities. The corresponding figure for job creation in the rest of the economy stands at a mere 29 opportunities. Agriculture is universally regarded as an important player in poverty relief.
Land is an important factor of production in agriculture, as well as in forestry. The Republic of South Africa extends over an area of 122,3 million hectare. Around 102,8 million hectare, nearly 84%, are utilised for agriculture and forestry. Approximately 16 million hectare of this area are under cultivation for crop production, approximately 1,5 million hectare are planted with trees, with 143 000 hectare being covered by natural forests. Natural pasturage covers about 83 million hectare, of which the greater portion can be classified as semi-desert.
Land with optimal physical and chemical features is scarce and only occurs here and there, although various unique soil/climate combinations do make it possible to provide products for niche markets.
South Africa has to deal with a shortage of water. Approximately 30% of the country has a rainfall of less than 250 mm a year; approximately 34% receives between 250 mm and
500 mm of rain, 25% has between 500 mm and 750 mm of rain and a mere 11% of the country has an annual rainfall of more than 750 mm. Rainfall patterns over the largest part of the country are erratic and droughts are frequent. Because of these and other factors, South Africa is primarily dependent on storage dams and underground water sources for its water supply. Just over 1,2 million hectare of agricultural land is under irrigation, and this provides approximately 30% of the total production. With its utilisation of almost 50% of available water, agriculture places the biggest demand on our country’s water sources. Increased pressure is brought to bear on the sector, though, to relinquish more water for industrial and domestic use. Without irrigation, however, only 10% of agricultural land can be utilised. Planting and management of forestry plantations in catchment areas have to be conducted according to strict guidelines to avoid disturbing the water flow. South Africa
has very high evaporation figures – in the interior this may reach 15 mm per day. Further, up to 75% of the annual rainfall can be lost due to evaporation, which further reduces the amount of water available for crop production. The management of water and irrigation in this country therefore requires particular expertise.
South Africa remains an agricultural country par excellence. Our varied climate and topography make it possible to grow just about any crop. We also are in the favourable position of being able to provide most of the primary food and fibre requirements of our country’s rapidly increasing population ourselves. Foods that South Africa is not able to provide fully, although it is produced in considerable quantities, include wheat, oil seeds, rice, tea and coffee. More than 33% of all horticultural products are exported. Deciduous fruits make up the greater portion of these exports. Other examples of South African export products include subtropical fruit, maize, sugar, vegetables, wine, cut flowers, flower bulbs, mohair and karakul pelts. Eighty-one per cent of agricultural land is under natural pasturage, which is mainly used for extended stock farming. This amounts to approximately 70% of South Africa’s total land area. Stock farming includes large stock, pigs, small stock and poultry. Aquaculture is another industry with considerable development potential that is coming to the fore.
Besides the production of fresh products for immediate use, much value is added to the industry by means of post-harvest handling, product processing, food processing, preservation, storage, packaging and product development. The quality of the product that eventually reaches the consumer’s table, however, is still determined on the land or in the herd. This necessitates conscientious and environmentally responsible pest and disease control.
The Republic of South Africa has beautiful indigenous forest and bushveld regions. Some
of our tree types provide wood that equals the best and most beautiful of woods from other world regions. Unfortunately the area where indigenous forests occur is limited and foresters were obliged to establish exotic forests years ago to make provision for the demand for wood. South African foresters at present own and manage 1,3 million hectare of commercial softwood and hardwood plantations, which cover 1,1% of the total land area, as well as at least 30 million hectare of bushveld. Compared to other countries, however, the wood-producing area of South Africa is relatively small. In the USA, 30% of the total land area is dedicated to the production of wood; in the European Union 29% of the land area is given to wood production, and in the Russian Federation 45% is used in this way. In South Africa, most of the wood is produced in KwaZulu-Natal and in Mpumalanga, while lesser amounts are produced in the Eastern and Western Cape and in Limpopo. In 2005, roundwood production comprised 9,2 million m3 of softwood and 12,8 million m3 of hardwood, of which 66,5% was sold as pulp wood and 24,9% as saw-timber.
Plantations, forests and bushveld are not created or utilised to only supply our need for wood; people are given opportunities for recreation and the enjoyment of nature as well. The country’s rapid population growth also increases the importance of such nature regions and most of these forests are accessible to the public. We must also not lose sight of the wider field of conservation ecology, namely the preservation of our fauna and flora, the management of nature areas for their aesthetic and scientific importance, and the restoration and protection of the environment to ensure that it remains habitable. Trees are also of importance in rural and urban areas for products like fuel wood, bark, dyes, medicine and other items that help to improve quality of life for people. Tons of non-wood products (thatching, ferns, fungi and flowers) are also removed from plantations, forests and the bushveld annually and large numbers of South Africans make a living by doing this.
The cultivation of trees involves a delicate balance between Mother Nature and hypermodern scientific techniques. Each aspect of this exercise, from the sowing of the seeds to the care of the trees to ensure full development, demands the expertise of specialists – the proud products of the Faculty of AgriSciences. With the present demand for wood being greater than the supply, our harvests need to be regulated with extreme caution to prevent the exhaustion of the supply. Scientific silvicultural management enables us to know the extent of our country’s supply of wood at all times, and how much we will need or should have at any given time, even in decades from now. The supply of wood can be increased through new plantations, increases in production in existing plantations and acting against harmful influences. We are currently self-supporting with regard to certain products, but not regarding all, which is why we both import and export wood products at present.
Wood has to be harvested as trees mature. This involves a difficult process, particularly where plantations are on steep mountain slopes, as is often the case. Road systems have to be planned with care and equipment must be acquired and employed judiciously. Wood harvesting is positioned on the boundary between engineering and forestry and therefore involves the blending of artistry and technique. Millions of rands can be made or lost during the process of removing the wood from the forest and delivering it to the processing plant. In plantations in which large and powerful machines make their way among the trees during harvesting, tiny new trees have to be able to survive within weeks – the conservation and cautious handling of forest land is therefore of extreme importance.
The wood processing industry comprises different sectors that manufacture a wide range of products. When wood is processed at processing plants, minimal loss of wood and the least environmental damage possible are of prime importance. Consumers furthermore expect the longest possible utilisation of products. Reducing losses and ensuring the durability of products therefore help to protect South Africa’s supply of wood against over-exploitation. The typical products of primary wood processing, e.g. pulp (fibre), paper and cardboard, sawn wood, wood veneer, mine timber, treated poles and charcoal, and compound products like laminated wood, plywood, chipboard, hardboard and wood plastic contribute considerably in adding value to this renewable raw material. When these products are also used as building materials in constructions designed by engineers and architects, are utilised in joinery for manufacturing furniture, or are used as packaging material or for the manufacturing of writing materials, the value of wood is further increased and essential employment opportunities are created. A unique side of the forestry industry is represented by the range of chemical products manufactured from wood. Some such products are even regarded in the same light as fossil fuel products. With “clean energy” as the current buzz word, wood, as a renewable raw material, offers various possibilities. It is therefore evident that thorough knowledge of the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of wood and wood-processing technologies is required in all processing stages to provide affordable quality products that can also compete on international markets.
Statistics show that South Africa had 211 primary wood processing plants, like sawmills, mining timber mills and veneer mills, pulp, paper and cardboard mills, and preservation and charcoal manufacturing plants in 2005. Total sales from these amounted to R15 milliard, with R9,5 milliard earned through exports. Over against this, total import of wood products amounted to R6,1 milliard. Imported wood products, together with locally cultivated timber, were processed further in the secondary and tertiary sectors of the timber industry.