The International Day of Forests is celebrated on 21 March and this year, Forestry South Africa marked the day hosting a webinar with the theme “Looking to the future”. The webinar brought together nine of the forestry sector’s leading researchers and industry representatives to present the innovative FSA-funded research programmes and projects, initiated through Sector Innovation Fund funding, to navigate global challenges. These talks focussed specifically on the impact of their research and new technologies on the forestry sector. FABI Director, Professor Bernard Slippers, was one of the invited speakers that also included research collaborator Prof. Ilaria Germishuizen from the ICFR.

The webinar was opened by Dr Ronald Heath, Forestry South Africa Director of Research and Protection. In her keynote address, Ms. Felicity Blakeway of the National Forestry Advisory Council urged Government Departments to prioritise investment in Research and Development to encourage growth but equally urged researchers to make science communication exciting as the threats to forestry by pests and diseases as well as social pressures are significant. She describes the South African forestry sector as being vibrant and research findings should therefore be shared with passion to make the public and government leaders aware of its significant impact on the South African economy.

Prof. Bernard Slippers’ talk “Tree protection (pest and disease) platform” showed how new technologies and big data are being harnessed in FABI to create powerful new tools for Precision Pest Management.  One such example is the Information Hub, a locally-developed platform for data management and integration. He said that this new platform ‘connects the dots’ for early warning pattern analysis and decision making and produces powerful, collated real-time data maps of insect pests, pathogens and diseases. He also explained how technology is transforming the Institute’s extensive fungal culture collection. The collection is being digitised with a focus on the development of a high-throughput, high-accuracy molecular diagnosis, a ‘frontier tool’ for diagnostics. Similarly, technologies are driving more precise and impactful biological control programmes.

The webinar gave an insightful look at the impact research and new technologies is having on the South African forestry sector to better ‘future proof’ it in the face of challenges posed by climate change and pests and diseases.


Webinar presenters:

Dr Yolandi Ernst (Global Change Institute, University of the Witwatersrand) - Climate change: Risks to the forestry sector.

Dr Nkosinathi Kaptein (University of Mpumalanga) - Water use and water use efficiency of Eucalyptus species in the Mpumalanga province.

Prof. Ben du Toit (Department of Forest & Wood Science, Stellenbosch University) - Sustainable forest management under climate change: Conserving soil and carbon in plantation systems.

Mr Johannes van der Wath (Sappi Southern Africa) - Development of regional non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions from open areas management.

Prof. Ilaria Germishuizen (Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR)) - Long-term soil monitoring network: A flagship sustainability project for better forest management.

Prof. Bruce Talbot (Department of Forest & Wood Science, Stellenbosch University) - Forest management and remote sensing.

Ms. Jacqui Meyer (Timber Industry Pesticide Working Group (TIPWG)) - A precision forestry approach to modernising pesticide testing, availability, and sustainable use across the forestry sector.

Prof. Bernard Slippers (FABI, University of Pretoria) - Tree protection (pest and disease) platform.