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An innovative programme in forestry management is not only creating jobs in some of Knysna’s most vulnerable communities, but also teaching locals about plantations and indigenous forest.

PG Bison, South Africa’s leading diversified timber company, is currently offering the programme to 28 learners, who will be given an opportunity to advance through four forestry qualification levels. They are paid a stipend during their training, and the company has committed to helping them find employment either at PG Bison or at a sub-contractor, once the learners graduate.

The learners will develop a broad skills set in theory and practice. This includes basic mathematics and communication, financial management, as well as subjects specific to forestry like weed control and tree planting.Innovation in vulnerable communities
The community of Brackenhill who live on company-owned land, is one of the communities benefitting from interventions by PG Bison.

The forestry management programme is the latest effort to create employment by focusing specifically on the plight of unemployed youth.

The company also offers a housing subsidy to qualifying residents, and often lends a hand to upgrade community buildings or clean the local graveyard.

Mr Davey Carelse, HR and Risk Manager, said that forests, be it plantations or indigenous, can best be protected by the people who love it most.

“It makes a lot of sense to teach the local community, the people who grew up in the forest, about how to protect this precious resource. They know the look, the feel and smell of the land and have an instinctive urge to care for our natural environment.”

Getting serious
Baren Saayman (34) is a very committed young man. He has his sights set on becoming a foreman quite soon, or joining educational programmes in the area to help educate residents on their responsibility to care for the land.

“I am on the course with people much younger than I am. In the beginning they were very playful, but once they realised the meaning of the door that is being opened for them, the seriousness set in. We can’t wait to dig in and dedicate ourselves to this.

“I know what I want, I am here on a mission. I want to build towards something.”

Caring for a garden

For Saayman, forestry is like caring for a garden, be it natural or human made.

“I walk into the forest and it takes me to entire new world; another galaxy where I am free just to be myself. My brain opens up. It inspires me to make a difference; to care for my garden by managing the plantation, or removing litter from the indigenous forests to save the animals that live there.

“We need to get back to the basics of caring for our environment. So I am here to make a difference.

“I was born in the bush. And if you were born here, you develop a love for the place. I have always wanted to contribute something. You can never run away from your roots. In some way or another the forest will call you back.”

Ladies in a forest

Jacquelene Botha (26) is one of 17 female learners out of the group of 28. She explained that she finds handling large trees in a highly mechanised environment exhilarating. But the best part is knowing that her handiwork makes its way into South Africa’s economy in the form of roof trusses and poles used in agriculture.

She has spent long hours working in plantations with her father.

“The forest is like my own home. Yes, it is a challenge. But I am learning things that I knew nothing about. You do your part and in the end you feel proud. You can stand back and see what your hands have accomplished for the day.

“You can see a piece of work that would not have been done if you had not been there.”

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