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Open Access Rethinking the role of value-added industries for invasive trees in South Africa

This article is Open Access under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY licence.

Invasive alien trees are a threat to sustainable development in South Africa due to their rapid propagation and negative impacts on water availability, fire risks, land productivity, and biodiversity conservation. Despite the ambitious three decades-long governmental Working for Water programme to clear and restore land, the problem remains. This paper questions the proposition that value-added industries can contribute to its resolution by providing value to the biomass and supporting upscaled control efforts with private investments. Their financial feasibility remains largely theoretical as most studies resort to ex ante assessments untested on the ground and are misleading due to the mix of tangible financial flows and hypothetical environmental benefits. Assumed perverse effects with further propagation remain theoretical or rest on anecdotical evidence. It is suggested that value-added industries and particularly bioenergy hold potential but require a more conducive policy environment. Three priorities are identified: an incentives framework that recognises environmental (dis)services and clarifies potential net carbon gains depending on the accounting system; the provision of updated information to the private sector on resource availability with improved coordination between investors and public programs in charge of land clearing; and innovative supply chain models with improved logistics. Thinking outside the box would help and novel land management options could be considered with natural regrowth and rotations in non-strategic sites, or crop substitution to sustain value chains – which would necessitate strict management rules in exchange for greater flexibility in resource accessibility. Overall, value-added industries for invasive trees encompass climate change adaptation and mitigation and their feasibility depends on their articulation.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School for Climate Studies, Stellenbosch University, 15 Victoria Street, Stellenbosch 7600, South Africa

Publication date: June 1, 2023

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