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18 Eco-Furniture Factories to be established!

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South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is tackling the critical challenge of natural resource management, environmental protection and infrastructure through Environmental Programmes (EP). Over the past decade, EP’s Working for Water programme has piloted value-added industry projects in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Invasive Alien Species Programme (KZN IASP).  These initiatives have shown the viability of the approach of utilizing invasive alien biomass to create jobs, in making value-added products relevant to Government’s needs and, thereby, reducing the cost of clearing the invasive plants.

eco furn

In 2004, a value-added industry factory in KZN was established after exposure to the exploitation of the poor by some in the funeral industry, at the time of bereavement.  The concept of making “Eco-Coffins” from the invasive wood won the 2005 World Bank’s Development Marketplace prize for innovation, and the approximately R1 million grant was used to buy the necessary machinery.

The Eco-Coffins pilot project initially provided work for 89 people trained in woodwork and other relevant skills. Since then, coffins have been produced for a fraction of what people are being asked to pay for basic coffins from commercial funeral houses.

Establishing 18 Eco-Furniture Factories in 2013

The purpose of the project is to establish viable eco-furniture factories which will produce products needed by Government and marginalised communities, using wood harvested from invasive alien plants, creating jobs for approximately one hundred and sixty workers per factory, working at competitive EPWP rates and producing high-quality products.

  • 18 Value-added industry Eco-Furniture Factories will be established across the country by Environmental Programmes.  Approximately R383 million shall be invested in the project over a 3-year period.
  • Each factory will make products that help to address the needs of South Africa, with an initial focus on school desks, benches, eco-coffins and other furniture.
  • The products will be made from wood from invasive alien plants cleared as part of Government’s drive to restore proper ecosystem functionality.
  • Approximately 160 jobs will be created per factory, when fully operational, within the framework of the Expanded Public Works Programme, in this process.
  • These jobs will focus on the marginalized, in terms of race, gender, disability and age.
  • The intention is to sell eco-products to non-government organisations, faith-based organisations, government departments and schools across the country to meet their needs.
  • The factories are to be situated in areas where suitable stands of accessible and utilizable invasive alien plant biomass are available.


There is an estimated shortage of 6million school desks in the South African educational system.  High-quality, durable, steel-framed desks with wooden seats and tops (made from invasive alien wood) are planned to be manufactured at affordable and competitive prices.

Eco-Desks include the full costs of harvesting the wood and it is envisaged that the cost would be less than R500 per desk. It is also hoped that damaged steel desks could be collected from schools and refitted with new tops and new seats thus ensuring further efficiencies through recycling.

The collection of damaged desks – and recycling/ renovating them in Eco-Furniture Factories – is expected to make up a large percentage of the production going through the factories in the early stages of the venture.  Any damaged Eco-Desks can be collected from schools within an 80km radius of each Eco-Furniture Factory.

It is envisaged that Eco-Desk production units will be set up across the country, where invasive alien timber is accessible, to meet the backlog and future needs for school desks, including the repair of desks.  The relevance of setting up the Eco-Desks factories across the country is to reduce the transportation costs, even allowing for the fact that the desks are produced in kit form, and then assembled at the receiving schools.

The first five of eighteen factories are either in production or gearing up for imminent production:

  • Durban
  • Farley (Knysna area)
  • Heidelberg
  • Graskop, Mpumalanga
  • Makhado, Limpopo


Several simple sizes and designs of Eco-Coffins have been created for this initiative. Eco-Coffins will be sold and distributed to non-government charity organisations and faith-based initiatives involved in social responsibility programmes.

Originally posted HERE.

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