06 January 2011

A Biodiversity Issue: Goodbye mopaneveld?

Today I received an email advertising mopane roots. What next? The guy has 9 tons of mopane roots from Nambia and proudly attached a dozen pictures of how they are used - as decor objects.

Argh. Where does all this wood come from? What does the landscape look like once the roots have been dug up, loaded and driven away?

In his website, he states "we focus on braai wood, firewood, ... as well as mopane root sales. Our wood and products are ... sourced straight out of Namibia and South Africa. We are driven with big hearts and a will to please."

It is a pity is big heart does not extend to the environment. He is just one among many of unscrupulous vendors selling illegally gathered hardwood from Namibia and the northern Cape.

The problem is this practise is unsustainable: dead wood is food for termites and a host of other animals, fungi and microorganisms, which return nutrients to the soil - which in turn enables the trees and grasses to grow.It is a natural recycling system which has been going on for millenia. The mass export of hardwood (or any biomass for that matter) will have a severe long-term impact on these arid ecosystems.

Mopane veld

Camel thorn trees, western Namibia

If you want to do your bit to help save these landscapes, don't buy mopane or camel thorn. Be suspicious of anything sold as Namibian hardwood and ask where it comes from.

If you absolutely must have hardwood for your braai (*), ask for Sickle Bush (Dicrostachys cinerea) - a local but invasive plant which is being harvested to control bush encroachment in arid areas. Sickle Bush has become a serious problem in parts of Namibia - forming dense impenetrable thickets - and there are programmes to poison and harvest it, or to convert it into charcoal. The wood has a dark centre and pale sapwood, and is also heavy, making great coals. Bon appetit!

(*) braai - barbeque


  1. Marijke - you must write to him and post his answer!

  2. Marijke, Is this the guys who have a couple of containers on the main road at Lakeside, near the bottom of Steenberg Rd? My daughter lives near there and she stopped to have a look. They are selling what she described as very hard heavy wood at R15.00 a kilo! Not for braais but for home/garden decor.
    Is there not someone we could contact to put a stop to this?