This year (2022) marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research (ICFR), situated on UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus where it was first established in 1947 as the Wattle Research Institute in the heart of South Africa’s most cultivated forest region of KwaZulu-Natal.
In 1984, it was renamed ICFR to reflect the broader research focus encompassing all three commercially planted genera, namely Acacia, Eucalyptus and Pinus.
The ICFR was the first forestry research centre in the country, with a major accomplishment being the development of tree germplasm for commercial farmers.
As a non-profit organisation, the ICFR provides project-based research solutions and related services in support of forest management in southern Africa. A dynamic institution, the Institute has evolved to meet the needs of the changing South African forestry sector and focuses on providing research capability and applied research solutions to various funding consortia, addressing sustainable production and tree improvement objectives. The ICFR works closely with other research institutes, universities, and research partners to achieve its goals.
Staffed by five scientists, six technicians, and three business support staff, all under the guidance of Acting CEO, Ms Karin Nagel, who has been with the institute since 1996, the ICFR is also supported by several key experts appointed as research associates collaborating on projects. They also rely on specialist advice and support from consultants in the forestry sector.
The ICFR’s research focus is characterised by multi-year research projects and platform funding, which creates an environment that enables various short-term value-adding projects and pilot studies.
The ICFR focuses on several tree crops used mainly for the production of pulp, woodchip and sawtimber and grown by large and medium size corporates, private medium and small growers, and communities. Traditionally, the ICFR has predominantly served the forestry industry, however, more recently there has been a concerted effort to support the whole sector. An important part of the ICFR’s future plans is to develop projects specifically directed to the needs of small, non-integrated growers.
An important aspect of the ICFR’s research and development is student and intern development – scientists in the institute collaborate with academic institutions and research partners to mentor and supervise postgraduate students, with the ICFR also hosting interns from the Department of Science and Innovation and conducting seminars for students. The institute and the sector it feeds into have recognised this as important, both for the development of skills and capacity, and to enhance the value of research projects.
Several UKZN staff, students and alumni have associated with the ICFR over its many years based on the Pietermaritzburg campus – the ICFR’s independently chaired board includes representation from UKZN, FSA, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, and member representatives. With the ICFR, UKZN is also exploring the establishment of a postgraduate qualification in forestry.
The ICFR applies its expertise to research on tree breeding for wattle and eucalyptus, integrated pest management, spatial technologies, and analytical laboratory analysis. In addition to its skilled technical team, the institute boasts an on-site research nursery, a well-equipped analytical laboratory, and a library with a comprehensive collection of forestry-related publications, a valuable resource for researchers, practicing foresters, academic partners, and students.
It prioritises both long- and short-term research, from tree improvement and tannin properties to the use of harvesting residue for bioenergy production and more.
The College of Agriculture Engineering and Science congratulated the ICFR on reaching 75 years of successful existence and credited Nagel and the Institute’s management for cultivating a strong relationship with the University as they work together towards a new degree for meaningful employment of graduates and the expansion of forestry research opportunities for the industry.
Words: Christine Cuénod