Weathering climate change

Weathering climate change in South Africa

Sappi Forests owns and leases 390,000 hectares of plantations in South Africa which are under increasing threat from pests and diseases, as well as climate change. We’re harnessing decades of leading-edge expertise built up through our tree improvement programmes to ensure a reliable, high-quality supply of woodfibre to our operations.

The challenge

Our plantations encompass a wide diversity of environments, ranging from warm, year-round growing conditions to cold temperate areas with winters exposed to both frost and snow during the winter season.

Our response

To deal with this challenge, Sappi tree breeders have focused on developing and testing a large range of new varieties with species sourced from around the world. We have shifted from planting pure species to more productive, better adapted, and more pest and disease resistant varieties (hybrids) of both hardwood and softwood trees.

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The benefits

Developing new varieties means that breeders can combine the benefits from two or more species and develop varieties that have improved fibre yield and quality as well as better disease/pest tolerance. What’s more, our tree breeding programme is producing and selecting the most optimally suited hybrid varieties for each climatic zone. We’re making use of genetic tools, like DNA fingerprinting, to enhance and accelerate the hybrid varietal breeding and selection process.

Enhancing productivity and profitability

We’re using Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) to develop baseline models representing a range of wood chemical traits. This allows us to predict the wood property of large numbers of genotypes in tree breeding trials. The technique is also being investigated as a tool for scanning chips in our pulp mills for rapid assessment of important traits such as moisture and wood density. This will enhance productivity and profitability, thereby enhancing our overall viability as a business.

Sappi Forests