A carefully crafted green value chain called Clear to Grow is being applied in areas around South Africa. It delivers multiple tangible benefits to the country such as reducing invasive alien plant (IAP) species, boosting local economic development, replenishing water table levels and grassland environments, creating micro industries, and providing entrepreneurial development.

Avocado Vision’s Green Business Value Chain (GBVC) is implementing the process that operates in partnership with the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), environmental organisations and corporates. They are currently working with 120 small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in seven selected locations around the country. In these areas they develop opportunities for effective clearing of invasive species and sustainable value-adding prospects.

What the green value chain entails

The value chain development programme entails the following:

  • Mapping locations in which vast forests of IAPs have resulted in rivers drying up, grasslands being destroyed, and livelihoods such as cattle farming being affected.
  • Working with local communities to identify, select and train local entrepreneurs to be efficient business owners.
  • Ensuring the effective removal of IAP species by the business owners and their trained workers.
  • Identifying the most suitable quality and value-added products that IAP biomass can be converted into – charcoal, timber, furniture, artwork, pulp, paper, firewood, mining and construction poles – and creating micro industries at the source to produce the products.
  • Working with local and international business partners to buy, market, and distribute the products.

Clear to Grow projects

Various Clear to Grow projects are currently at different stages of progress in various provinces. The Gauteng area includes Cradle of Humankind, Bronkhorstspruit, Diepsloot, Tembisa, and Pretoria. In the Eastern Cape projects are in progress in the Umzimvubu catchment and on communal, private and government land in Matatiele, Cedarville, Makhoba, Colana and Sibi, among others.

In the Western Cape, the Breede River and Riviersonderend catchments benefit from projects. In Limpopo projects are run in Polokwane and surrounds, whereas in the Free State you will find them in Ficksburg and the Clarens area. In North West, a project is underway in Rustenburg and surrounds, with several more in the pipeline.

Henry Sebata, managing director of Avocado Vision, says maintaining excellence throughout the value chain is an ongoing process of in-depth research as well as trial and error, with increments of success.

“We see tangible results throughout the value chain. This includes the restoration of grasslands, rivers flowing again, the opportunity for rural communities to increase their cattle herds, as well as real value-adding options for the invasive biomass that include eco-friendly charcoal, furniture, mining and construction poles, fencing, and other products. It’s early days in the process and there’s a lot more to be done.”

Invasive species unlock potential

The IAP problem in South Africa is huge. Around 200 species are regarded as invasive. These species severely affect water security in South Africa, which is a water-scarce country. It’s estimated that 6% of South Africa’s fresh water is taken by invasive alien plants, which suggests that had there been no IAPs in the Western Cape, the chances are good that most of the province would not have battled a severe water shortage during the three-year drought.

According to DEFF estimates, IAP species have invaded at least ten million hectares of land in South Africa. These IAPs have an annual water use of around 3,3 million cubic metres(3,3 billion litres) each year. IAPs also seriously damage ecosystems and the productive use of land.

Although removing invasive species has been a DEFF Working for Water programme since 1995, at a current cost of approximately R1,8 billion per year, challenges exist that have hampered progress, “many of which are directly related to limited or no training processes for small business contractors,” notes Sebata.

“Creating a value-adding chain where local rural and peri-urban communities benefit directly, combined with targeted and relevant training at every stage, are key steps to ensuring greater success throughout the value chain.”

Moreover, success stories increase each day. Sebata says these successes are only possible through partnerships. GBVC’s partners in the Clear to Grow programme include:

  • DEFF.
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a globally recognised organisation that offers forest management solutions and forest certification. The organisation also monitors the GBVC’s IAP clearing and value-adding operations.
  • CMO, which works closely with FSC. CMO audits Clear to Grow’s SMMEs and local tribal authorities in the areas where they hold responsibility for the land. They enable non-governmental organisations in the landscapes as well as the hardworking entrepreneurs and their workers.

Building a biomass economy

“These partnerships contribute to a move away from the silo mentality that has been prevalent in this environmental sector. Furthermore, these partnerships bring us closer to our aim of driving a strong IAP biomass economy by boosting demand for invasive biomass throughout the value chain,” Sebata says.

“This in turn will accelerate the eradication of invasive trees and encourage the growth of SMMEs that are part of the value chain. It will also strengthen South Africa’s water security. It’s a win-win situation at every level, and we cannot afford to miss these opportunities.”

Sebata says GBVC is constantly networking and building relationships with potential partners throughout the value chain, and particularly with corporates that recognise the value of using products manufactured from invasive biomass. Nando’s, for instance, has embraced the use of wood from invasive trees for furniture and artwork in its outlets. Furthermore, retailers are increasingly committed to selling only eco-friendly charcoal produced from IAP biomass.

“The wood of many invasive species is beautiful, functional, and extremely valuable in terms of what its usage means to the wider economy and ecosystems in South Africa. We welcome opportunities to work with organisations and businesses that embrace the value of a greener future,” Sebata says. – Press release, Avocado Vision