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A group of lecturers in Forestry and Wood Technology from NMMU’s George Campus at Saasveld thought it wise to leave the comfort of George and set out on a field trip to one of the epicentres of the forestry industry - Pietermaritzburg.

The NMMU George team included Prof Jos Louw, Director of the School of Natural Resource Management (NMMU Faculty of Science); lecturers Dr Jaap Steenkamp, Messrs Willie Louw, Tiaan Pool, Richard Muller, Andrew McEwan and Barry Muller.

This opportunity opened up when it was decided to schedule the annual NMMU Forestry and Wood Technology Advisory Committee meeting at MONDI’s head-office in Pietermaritzburg instead of hosting it in George prior to NMMU’s annual graduation ceremony in George.

The first visit was to Thornville Sawmill, part of the Tekwani Normandien Farm (Pty) Ltd, which is the largest privately owned sawmilling group in South Africa. That they have every reason to boast with their beautiful timber frame offices, as well as innovations imported from New Zealand, is evidenced by this photograph (Figure 1) which features a magnificent round table green-chain suited for medium size mills.  

An overview of the company presented by the General Manager, Sean Hoatson, provided further evidence of a growing enterprise despite tough economic conditions.

Figure 1: Round table green-chain, Tekwani

Figure 1: Round table green-chain, Tekwani

The Advisory Committee meeting on day two of the visit was well attended by the local industrial role-players and decision makers. The feedback from NMMU to the committee proved valuable as some important issues were raised, amongst others relating to the growth of the Forestry and Wood Technology programmes and curriculums.   This good working relationship was reciprocated by members of the committee, representing industry, who updated NMMU on the challenges for the future forester.

Morning on day three took the team to infield mechanized harvesting operations near Howick where shovel yarding was used to extract pine saw-logs and a harvester (Figure 2) was used to fell, crosscut, de-branch and debark Eucalyptus nitens for pulpwood.

This visit underlined the range of skills that a forester must have to ensure success - from highly technical skills to people skills, all balanced with sound financial management.

Figure 2: The NMMU team at a tracked harvester

Figure 2: The NMMU team at a tracked harvester

The MONDI staff at Howick nursery were keen to expose the NMMU team to their state of the art research nursery.  Sophisticated climate control systems (Figure 3) and seed harvesting operations were demonstrated by enthusiastic staff.

Figure 3: Lecturer, Richard Muller

Figure 3: Lecturer, Richard Muller was visibly impressed with the automated climate controlled research nursery at MONDI, Howick.

Next on the itinerary was the Regional Fire Control Centre outside Howick. The manned control room (Figure 4) is equipped with state of the art weather data systems, linked to strategically placed camera systems that scout large areas of forestry and farmlands, serving as an early warning signal in detecting smoke and fire.  All of this is proof that the forestry industry is indeed leaders of innovation and community caretakers.

Figure 4: The Fire Control Room

Figure 4: Mr Bobby Hoole, managing the fire control room at the Regional Fire Control Centre in Howick.

The last and equally impressive stop was Fires stop, a company that specialises in aerial fire fighting with water bomber planes.

The overriding sentiment as the inspired team touched down at George airport, was summarised as follows by lecturer, Barry Muller: “I once again realised how fortunate I am to be part of a team of dedicated staff who train professional Foresters and Wood Technologists for this exiting career. We are privileged to work with an industry that supports and guides our training so that we as lecturers can stay in tune with best practice and continue to deliver well-rounded professionals for the future”. 

All photographs by Tiaan Pool