According to Hlengiwe Ndlovu, Sappi Forests Divisional Environmental Manager, Arbor Week (1-7 September) highlights the vital role of trees in our lives and their contribution to the achievement of a green, dignified and healthy environment for all human beings. This includes the benefits derived from making products out of trees such as paper, furniture and medicines and also emphasises the employment and business opportunities provided by trees and the forestry industry.
‘A practical way in which each person can play their role during this significant week is to choose certified woodfibre-based forest products over fossil-based products and then to also plant a tree in their own garden or community,’ he said.
Arbor Week also heralds the beginning of Spring and thoughts of rejuvenation and hope. Tying in with the fact that woodfibre is at the heart of its business, Sappi has taken to promoting the planting of trees as a source of hope, as it emphasises its focus on sustainability and its commitment to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): protecting life on land (SDG 15) and taking action to combat climate change (SDG 13).
At Sappi, the overarching theme for its 2021 Arbor Week celebrations is its #SappiTreesOfHope campaign; which encourages Sappi staff, members of surrounding communities, schools and the wider public to become active participants by planting trees. The theme of ‘planting trees of hope’ is particularly fitting at a time when we all need to look towards a brighter future where our lives are not defined only by our response to the global Covid-19 pandemic, but also how we respond to the global threat of climate change. So in terms of responding to SDG13 and ‘taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’, the company urge everyone to contribute by planting a tree. In addition to the carbon benefits, trees also improve water quality, air quality and soil quality, which all slow down the impact of climate change.
In celebrating the South African trees of the year, three species are highlighted and this year these trees include the common tree of the year, Vachellia karroo – the Sweet Thorn; and the rare tree of the year Portulacaria afra – the Spekboom. In continuation of its efforts to help rescue a tree that previously became almost extinct due to its widely popular medicinal properties, the Warburgia salutaris – the Pepperbark tree, Sappi also continues to shine a light on this wonder tree.
As part of its efforts to create awareness, Sappi has launched an educational programme among its staff, and has extended into surrounding communities by donating and planting 2000 Spekboom trees. The water-wise Spekboom has a highly effective ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air, making it a powerful tool in the fight against climate change, bringing hope in the midst of our climate crisis by helping fight climate change.
Warburgia salutaris, the Pepperbark tree or `isibhaha’ in isiZulu, is one with which Sappi has a long history of association. The Pepperbark tree is a highly prized muthi plant and is popularly used to treat many health problems. The strong demand for the species has placed pressure on wild populations, resulting in a scarcity of supply and naturally occurring populations are disappearing along its eastern distribution range of northern and eastern KwaZulu-Natal, northern and eastern Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Despite being formally protected under South African legislation, it is now listed as endangered.
Sappi came on board in 2014 with an initial donation, and then using its tree breeding and production expertise to start propagating Pepperbark trees from cuttings for distribution to rural communities. This project has been a huge success and by 2018 over 40,000 Pepperbark seedlings and cuttings had been distributed to neighbouring communities around the park.