South Africa’s Eco-Furniture Factories are creating jobs and delivering quality products that equip schools across the country with new desks.

The MTO Group recently assisted SANParks in providing desks to schools as part of an empowering project that helps the environment, creates jobs and skills, and gives future generations a better chance at a brighter future.

The MTO Group, SANParks and the Eco-Furniture Factories are giving back to community and sustainability through the donation of wooden school desks. Credit: Creative Commons

Each desk was manufactured at one of the Eco-Furniture factories, a project of the Department of Environmental Affairs. These factories, managed by SANParks and supported by municipalities and private companies such as MTO, create quality wooden products including the school desks, using material harvested from alien invader trees.

“The Eco-Furniture factories create a great environment for collaboration,” says Amelia Maree, operational support manager at SANParks. “We have the support of industry such as MTO, and SANParks acts as the agent for the project. It shows that everyone can win, including our natural world. By removing alien trees and converting them into school desks, the eco factories are encouraging change across several spheres in South Africa. It’s something the country can be very proud of.”

One core part of this network is the Graskop Wet Mill located in Mpumalanga. An MTO site, the mill is now being used free of charge by the Eco-Furniture Programme. Here alien invader trees are brought in and cut, after which the wood is dried with kilns located at Ga-Rankuwa, Gauteng.

Currently, there are seven factories, with some possible extension of the programme to support the other value-added industry initiatives such as the construction of houses from alien invasive material. Each contributed significantly to skills development as well as job creation.

Hired and transported from nearby communities, workers at the factories are being trained and skilled in a variety of trades, including tree harvesting, mill operations and carpentry. While the project currently focuses on school desks, it also produces other products such as eco-coffins.

The project has been instrumental in helping indigenous vegetation claim back their environment from invader plants. Water-hungry invaders such as eucalyptus or bloekom trees are targeted for removal. Teams are trained to cut and transport the trees, as well as process them at the mill. This helps to expand the skilled workforce for the forestry sector, one of South Africa’s major contributors to GDP.

Since its initial involvement in 2014, MTO aims to continue to support the programme, notes Jan Huyser, environmental manager at MTO Forestry. He continues, “We mainly supply the wet mill that is used in Graskop and the invader trees are supplied from our adjacent plantations and private land. It’s been a fantastic relationship and the level of overall quality and benefits in what these factories create is excellent. The eco factories are an amazing project that deserves our support and patronage. Today it’s about school desks, but in the future, we can expect even greater things.”