Celebrating 40 Years of Success for Sappi Khulisa

For a company to support a venture that started out as a straightforward CSI programme and to nurture it through the decades to become an integral, thriving division in its supply chain, is both remarkable and commendable.

Sappi Khulisa - Sappi’s flagship enterprise supplier development programme - is such a programme  and it  celebrates its 40 years ruby anniversary in 2023.

For people, turning 40 signifies reaching an accomplished maturity and this also holds true for Khulisa. First known as Project Grow and starting with only three beneficiaries in the  Zululand South (Mandeni/ Dokodweni) area, the project has grown from strength to strength and today provides support to more than 4,000 growers through the services of a permanent Sappi staff complement of 29 employees experienced in responsible forestry management. The maturity of the programme can be witnessed by the hundreds of success stories from participants in the programme, many who have been suppliers to Sappi over several generations.

Stretching from the far north of the KwaZulu-Natal province to the far south and into Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, today the total area managed is over 37,000 ha. Since 1995 a grand total of 4,908,850 tons of timber to the value of R3.03 billion has been purchased from Khulisa growers.

In addition to providing a market for these growers the value chain extends to a further 871 small, medium and micro enterprises who are involved in silviculture, harvesting, loading and short and long-haul activities supporting the programme,

The Sappi Khulisa programme enhances the security of fibre supply to Sappi, whilst also creating shared value by uplifting rural communities through equipping them to become sustainable participants in the forestry value chain.  With steady timber supply threatened by land redistribution projects, an ageing grower population, crops with a long growing cycle and poverty levels leading to early harvesting and low crop yields, it has become essential for growers to understand the benefits of participating as self-sufficient suppliers to Sappi.  

The Khulisa Enterprise and Supplier development programme is  designed to take the growers to new levels and provides training and mentoring, needed to equip growers with skills to manage their farms productively.  Training is offered to all value chain participants, including land reform beneficiaries and covers all aspects of forestry, including core operational skills as well as safety, legal compliance and business management. Since establishing the Khulisa Ulwazi training centres in 2015 a total number of 5,857 individuals have received training in various aspects of sustainable forestry practices.

Growing in the Eastern Cape

The expansion of the programme over the years, to include new value chain participants elsewhere in the country is another of its successes. Since expanding to the Eastern Cape in around 2010 and with the assistance of our ECRDA (Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency) partner, a total of 5,214 hectares have been planted, yielding a volume of  465,409 tons valued at  R300 million. Two communities whose timber businesses are thriving here under the Sappi Khulisa banner are the Izinini Trust and Mkambati Land Trust (MLT).

The Bizana area is ideal for the establishment of commercial timber plantations and it’s here where the Izinini Communal Property Association (CPA) was formed in 2012, with over two hundred households as beneficiaries. CPA Board member Mrs Nozuko Sukude says  the community is reaping the benefits.  "Sappi Khulisa equips us with business and technical skills; we now know the importance of cash flows and planning ahead of time and our grower agreement guarantees us a market at the Sappi Saiccor Mill”. Besides that, she also explains that the programme has put bread on their tables and has provided a beacon of hope for the youth in the area, that look towards the CPA as a means for future employment.

The Mkambati Land Trust, represents seven communities comprising more than 5,000 households. Managing the plantation is a highly motivated team of five ladies who are in charge of weeding and maintenance, planting, harvesting, and managing the truck-loading schedule. A forestry committee oversees the forestry operations that currently employs about 60 local people.

“The Khulisa programme is a jewel in Sappi’s crown. As we celebrate its ruby anniversary this year it makes us appreciate the shared value it has created for us as a company, and for the thousands of Khulisa  beneficiaries that have been part of this success story over the years”, comments Alex Thiel, Chief Executive Officer of Sappi Southern Africa.


As we celebrate International Day of Rural Women annually on 15 October,  we also applaud the many women who work tirelessly as part of the successful Sappi Khulisa programme – putting bread on the table for their families, paying for the schooling of their children and building a brighter future by being part of the valuable forestry value chain. Khulisa celebrates 40 years of existence this year and we salute the many women who have been part of this success story over the decades. See what Nozuko Sukude from the Izinini Community Trust in the Eastern Cape town of Bizana has to say about what forestry has meant to her in this short clip.  Updated International Day of Rural Women_2nd Cut.mp4

International Day of Rural Women is meant to recognise the critical role and contribution of rural women in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security, and eradicating rural poverty worldwide. It highlights the resilience, hard work, and challenges faced by rural women everywhere. The fact that it precedes World Food Day on 16 October further shines a spotlight on the pivotal  role they play in society.