By Leon Louw

South Africa needs to capitalise on the favourable public opinion about the forestry, sawmilling and timber sectors, Roy Southey, executive director of Sawmilling SA (SSA), tells Timber iQ.

Roy, you have been involved in the sawmilling industry for many years. Where did it all start, and how did you become executive director of the SSA?

I graduated from Saasveld in 1976 and after a short stint as a forester moved into the sawmilling sector. So, like many of the sawmilling managers across South Africa, my career started as a forester. My involvement in the sawmilling sector stretches over a period of more than 40 years. However, I have only been involved with Sawmilling South Africa (SSA) since 2008.

After the disbandment of the South African Lumber Miller’s Association (SALMA) in 2004 the industry realised that it needed a voice to communicate with government and on all other matters peculiar to sawmilling. The result was that we established SSA and I became the Executive Director of the organisation.

What are the most important goals of the SSA?

Roy Southey, executive director of Sawmilling SA (SSA) spoke to Timber iQ recently. Photo by SSA

Roy Southey, executive director of Sawmilling SA (SSA) spoke to Timber iQ recently. Photo by SSA

One of our most important objectives at SSA is to promote the interests of all sawmillers, big and small, in the Republic of South Africa, and to create unity of purpose and identity amongst its members. Furthermore, we promote and foster the sawmilling industry for the benefit of its members, especially by way of providing a formal voice on behalf of the sawmilling sector in respect of any issue which bears upon the interests of sawmillers, individually or collectively. SSA promotes the sustainable growth, development, and well-being of the South African sawmilling industry and in particular emergent sawmillers from groups previously disadvantaged. Other goals are as follows:

“One of our most important objectives at SSA is to promote the interests of all sawmillers, big and small, in the Republic of South Africa.”

  • To promote policies and operating practices which support free competition in all spheres of activity, and which foster and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation and the development of sustainable standards and codes of conduct and ethics;
  • To promote and encourage education and training in the industry;
  • To collect, analyse, exchange, and disseminate information, literature and statistics of whatsoever nature as may be relevant to the needs of its members including an understanding of relevant law;
  • To represent the interests and views of its members to Parliament, Government, Provincial and other Public or Private Bodies and Officials in the Republic of South Africa, and elsewhere, as may be necessary;
  • To seek affiliation or enter into any working agreement or arrangement with any other sawmilling, forestry, and other industry bodies already in existence as well as with any organisation or persons having objects similar in whole or in part or closely related to the objects of the Association both locally and internationally;
  • To do all such things as may be necessary, incidental, or conducive to the attainment of the above objects or any of them.

Covid-19 had a significant impact on all sectors of the economy. How has it affected the sawmilling industry and what is the outlook?

Covid-19 was a big shock to everybody, including sawmillers. Like most other businesses in South Africa, we had to close during the first hard lockdown. To make things worse this all happened in the wake of a significant two-year economic downturn. These measures had sawmillers very concerned. Fortunately, however, sawmills were then declared essential business operations and allowed to reopen under lockdown regulations level three, and immediately things started looking up. Now, after being in production for at least a year or more, the market has recovered, and sawmills are experiencing improved trading conditions. One or two mills remained closed after the initial Covid-19 lockdown, which amongst other factors, contributed to the improved situation.

What are the major challenges for the sawmilling industry in South Africa?

There is no doubt that the greatest challenge to the long-term future of the sawmilling industry is the dwindling log resources. This is a problem for the entire forest processing sector and an issue that is being seriously addressed by all associations in the sector, especially Forestry South Africa (FSA).

Are we looking at solutions to these problems and what would your suggestions be to operate an efficient and effective industry?

Other than the resource challenge mentioned above issues like the modernisation off mills with regard to technology, product development, promotion and culture change in South Africa are all challenges that are within the sawmilling industries capabilities. They will take some effort and considerable expense but are obtainable.

 How difficult is it to operate in South Africa? What are the specific constraints?

As we all know South Africa is in a difficult economic position right now and the future will depend much on what happens in political and government decision making in the near future. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to get things done at the moment. Issues like environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are cumbersome, expensive and time consu

What is SSA’s relationship with the South African government and are current regulations sufficient to nurture a functioning sector?

SSA currently enjoys a good relationship with all government department especially the Department of Trade Industry and Competition (DTIC) and we do a lot of work with them.

What, in your opinion, are the opportunities and the future outlook for the forestry, sawmilling and timber sectors in South Africa?

Forestry, and especially sawmilling, is experiencing a revived status across the world on the back of an eco-sustainable green wave as it is an environmentally friendly industry that mitigates climate change. The challenge for us in South Africa is to capitalise on the good public opinion. Issues like resource expansion in the country is critical to the future of not only sawmilling but all forestry products.