South Sudan Embraces Long Term Teak Replanting to Become the Timber’s Powerhouse

A massive replanting of Teak is underway in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria as the region seeks to become one of the biggest exporters of the highly valued timber.
Ian Paterson (eyes to camera) shows off infant teak planted in Nzara. Photo by Okech Francis.

By Okech Francis

A massive replanting of Teak is underway in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria as the region seeks to become one of the biggest exporters of the highly valued timber.

Teak is a hardwood tree species known for making high-quality outdoor and indoor furniture. It has a great appearance and natural insect and decay resistance properties and is in demand and used worldwide for external and internal applications.

Communities in the Nzara County of Western Equatoria, in their tens of hundreds, have joined up with Equatoria Teak Company to ensure the region becomes Africa’s biggest producer by 2050, and the world’s top exporter.

Seme Alfred, a local resident of Nzara usually takes contracts to weed the plantations.

The 30 year old father of five children has a team of 182 community members he works with.

“The communities are happy because the work is not applied for. Even youths are getting salaries from this work here, and as well other groups who want money to run their groups, come to the plantations so that they can meet their financial needs,” Alfred told The Dawn.

Alfred himself has started planting Teak as an out-grower and already owns 2.5 hectares.

He recalls how tough it was for him during the height of the conflict in Western Equatoria, when business stalled, movement was risky and livelihoods were destroyed.

“Since those things stopped, I have changes in my life and since this company started operating, I started to build my house with the contracts. My children study in Rimezi and I pay each child $150 per term,” Alfred said.

ETC is a subsidiary company of Maris Group, a frontier market investment group with 18 investments in 9 countries in Africa.

“This is one of the best growing areas in the world for teak but one of the problems is the perception of the international community that South Sudan is not a good place for investment,” Charlie Tryon, the Chief Executive Officer of Maris Group, told The Dawn in an interview in Nzara.

“We started with a harvesting program when the plantation was 1200 Hectares. We developed this plantation to 3000 hectares today,” he said.

“We planted an additional 1800 hectares of teak, we also coppiced 1200 hectares and we have rehabilitated these plantations. They are actually some of the best plantations that we have today.”

Charlie Tryon looks up at five year old teak trees in Nzara. Photo by Okech Francis

Long-term Investment                                                                                     

The new plantations will be left to grow to maturity for about 25 years to produce some of the world’s best teak that is 100% sustainable” Tryon said.

The benefits will be in patience over a long term investment, yet funding will be needed to maintain progress over the wait, he said.

Tryon said maintaining the plantations will need up to $14 million of investment over the next 10 years to enable expansion of the teak plantation to 5000 hectares.

“Now our program on teak is to continue to develop these plantations and we want to create a plantation of a minimum of 5000 hectares and ideally 6000 hectares but this is dependent on capital,” Tryon said.

“In this program we want to continue into the long term. The ideal model is that we want to create a situation where each year we are harvesting about 200 hectares and rotating around the plantation in a circle, for about 25 years,” he said, adding, “by the time we finish harvesting, we come back and restart. It’s a fully sustainable model that will benefit everyone, the shareholders, the communities, our workers and the government.”

Developing high quality timbers carries a lot of work on the plantation. There is a constant battle against weeds and wild fires and the trees are periodically thinned in order to make them grow straight and thick, Ian Paterson, the Managing Director for ETC told The Dawn while touring the Teak plantations in Nzara.

Local Inputs

Communities also join the work by weeding and planting crops like groundnuts which out compete the weeds and as well as fixing nitrogen into the soil, a very healthy component for the successful growth of teak, Paterson said.

“We clean the land and plant the trees and then the communities and those who are working for us come and plant their groundnuts so the company gets help with the weeding, the communities get their groundnuts and the groundnuts also put nitrogen back into the soil which enriches the soil,” he said.

According to Ramadan Uko Sasa John, the paramount chief of Nzara County has expressed high optimism in the production of teak to the development of the area.

“If you look around Western Equatoria or South Sudan, you will see there is no other place as peaceful as Nzara with people busy and thinking of their livelihoods because of this teak,” Uko Sasa told The Dawn.

Already some, he said, have recovered their economic muscles by engaging in the teak business.

“It helped us a lot, even our contractors, some of them have built houses, bought cars, trucks, during the time of harvesting of teak.”

The teak plantations were first established in the 1960’s, but abandoned when the region went to war, a liberation struggle which gave birth to South Sudan.

Equatoria Teak Company is currently on a campaign to replant 400 hectares of teak every year. The coppicing program is also in high gear. The plantations consist of five separate blocks within a radius of 40km from the town of Nzara in the state of Western Equatoria.

The total planted area of teak is now 2,900 hectares. And like Alfred the local community members have also been involved in teak planting, which at maturity, will have a ready market with Equatoria Teak Company.

After acquiring a new, 32-year concession in 2018, ETC currently manages five teak concessions in Western Equatoria State and along with its sister company, GETC, manages over 25,000 ha with 2,500 ha of planted teak. South Sudan has received $49 million already in taxes, royalties and wages for local staffs, and community development, from teak alone.

ETC also runs a nursery with a capacity to produce 800,000 teak stumps for the development of the plantation and to support local out-growers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *