At least 200 000 m3 of timber is harvested annually using semi-mechanised harvesting systems on the Viphya
forest plantations in Malawi. Although these systems have long been used on the Viphya, no investigation on
their productivity has so far been reported. Additionally, the absence of localised productivity analyses in Malawi
has created a paucity of information on appropriate timber harvesting systems for production maximisation and
cost minimisation. The objective of this study was to compare the production rates and operational costs of
chainsaw/grapple skidder (semi-mechanised) and feller-buncher/grapple skidder (mechanised) harvesting
systems in order to determine the economic feasibility of mechanised systems in the Viphya forest plantations.
The study was conducted in Pinus kesiya compartments at the Kalungulu and Champhoyo forest stations of the
Viphya forest plantations. A work study approach was followed to capture harvesting time and volume data for
the semi-mechanised system. Secondary work study data were used to simulate productivity of the mechanised
system on similar compartment conditions. A timber-harvesting costing model was used to analyse the results.
The study showed that the simulated mechanised system was associated with lower operating costs and
inventories with higher production rates than the semi-mechanised system. The cost marginal difference was
US$0.89 m−3. It was therefore established that migration to mechanised systems could optimise timber harvesting
productivity on the Viphya in future, if optimal volumes are available to ensure the efficient application of the
mechanised harvesting system.