Wood and water: An historical assessment of South Africa’s past and present forestry policies as they relate to water conservation

Fred J. Kruger, Brett M. Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Finding ways to conserve limited water supplies while promoting economic development has been, and will continue to be, one of South Africa’s most enduring environmental challenges. South Africa’s forestry sector has sat – often controversially – at the crossroads of policy debates regarding both water conservation and economic development. This historical analysis examines how conflicts surrounding exotic afforestation led to the establishment of the Jonkershoek Forestry Research Station in 1935. It demonstrates how research findings from Jonkershoek formed the basis of a comprehensive national catchment management strategy that tried to harmonise the afforestation of exotic forests, the preservation of indigenous vegetation and the rights of downstream water users. This framework dominated water conservation policy discussions and outcomes from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. This programme fell into decline when catchment management was handed over to provinces in the late 1980s and a raft of new post-apartheid legislation and plans – the centrepiece being the National Water Act in 1998 – redirected research funding and forestry policies established between 1935 and 1994. In conclusion, we suggest that South Africa’s water policies, as they related to exotic forests, should be reviewed in light of broader historical, scientific and economic findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-174
Number of pages12
JournalTransactions of the Royal Society of South Africa
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Catchment management
  • Environmental history
  • Forests
  • Hydrology
  • Policy
  • South Africa
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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