A multi-pronged response to climate change

Acting on climate change in South Africa

Climate change can stress forests and plantations through higher mean annual temperatures, altered precipitation patterns and more frequent and extreme weather conditions.

It’s already impacting our operations in South Africa, where we own and lease 390,000 hectares of plantations. However, we’re mitigating the impact with a multi-pronged approach to climate change.

Replacing pure species with hybrids

On the Mpumalanga highveld, Sappi experienced Eucalyptus (E.) nitens becoming unsuitable due to pest and disease issues on plantations with the highest risk of climate change. E. nitens has a very narrow ideal temperature range and is very sensitive to changes in temperature. Subsequently, after evaluating management options and associated risks across the entire value chain, the decision was taken to replace E. nitens in KwaZulu-Natal by replacing it with E. grandis x E. nitens hybrid varieties.

Adjusting and directing our tree breeding strategy

Traditional tree breeding is a relatively slow process and in order to keep up with environmental changes, Sappi’s tree breeding programme is producing and selecting the most optimally suited hybrid varieties for each climatic zone. Our tree breeding division has a target of developing a hybrid varietal solution for all our sites by 2025. We’re also making use of genetic tools, like DNA fingerprinting, to enhance and accelerate their breeding and selection process.

DNA fingerprinting accelerates our breeding and section process.

Facilitating the production of more rooted cuttings

As pine and eucalypt hybrids are more successfully propagated through rooted cuttings rather than seed, a strategy is being rolled out to meet future requirements. In addition to the construction of Clan Nursery and the rebuild of the Ngodwana Nursery, we plan to upgrade Richmond Nursery in 2023 to enable the production of additional hybrid cuttings in addition to seedlings.

Expanded nursery facilities will enable the production of rooted cuttings, thereby enhancing the security of supply.

Implementing rapid detection techniques

Together with a rapid understanding of the relative tolerance/susceptibility of our growing stock to newly introduced pests or disease, these techniques are critical in successfully managing the viability of our woodfibre base. Accordingly, we have instituted a series of Sentinel trials across various climatic regions. These trials are made up of many genotypes – both currently commercially planted and also pre-commercial varieties. In addition to different genotypes, different ages (life stages) of trees are also represented. Using these trials, our objective is to rapidly identify a new pest or disease, and immediately determine which genotypes are susceptible or tolerant, and also which life stage of the tree is impacted. This puts us in a position to react very quickly to climatic changes.

Long-term soil monitoring

Under hotter and drier climatic conditions, the importance of soil organic matter will increase

because of its ability to reduce soil temperature, and also to increase the soil water infiltration rate and soil water holding capacity. A major barrier to monitoring slow-changing soil attributes is the scarcity of long-term data sets. Against this backdrop, in 2018 Sappi Forests established long-term soil monitoring plots through a collaborative research project managed by the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research. These monitoring plots will form part of the current inventory plot network (permanent sample plots) and will be used to interpret and relate changes in soil quality parameters to stand productivity and site management.

Soil research will help to determine stand productivity and enable site management.