The Monitor (Kampala)

Uganda: After Hydropower, Depletion Threatens Wood Resource

Masindi — UGANDA is headed for a devastating shortage of wood by 2010 if the current rate of consumption is not regulated.

By 2010, the consumption of wood in the country is estimated to hit 100 million tonnes, likely to plunge the country into serious shortages, an expert warns.

Mr Robert A. Esimu, the Range Manager of Budongo System, said the country has less than 2,500 hectares of mature timber plantations and if the current rate of deforestation goes un-checked, the country is likely to face a wood shortage as demand for forest products increases due to economic and rapid population growth.

Budongo system comprises forests in six districts including Masindi, Luwero and Kibaale. "As we all know, the country is facing a terrible campaign of cutting down trees and the rate at which it is being done exceeds that of planting new ones," he said.

He added: "Considering the increasing industrial wood needs and the electricity shortage in the country, we are now worried that the country might face timber deficit in four years to come."

He, particularly, points out that the demand for charcoal, saw logs and poles is expected to shoot up more than the demand for firewood, due to increased urbanisation.

Since the electricity distributor, Umeme, announced a 12-hour load shedding up from the usual 4 hours, individuals and institutions that initially used electricity for cooking have now resorted to charcoal, firewood or gas.

Referring to the 2002 Forestry Plan, Esimu said the country annually needs over 25 million tonnes or approximately 1.1 tonnes per capita. He said 90 percent of the wood is consumed as fuel wood (16 million tonnes) each year as domestic firewood and 4 million tonnes as charcoal.

Loss of jobs

It is estimated that forestry creates at least 850,000 jobs in Uganda.

The majority of these are in informal labour (collecting domestic fuel wood) and more than 100,000 people are formally employed full time and earn wages in the more formal sectors (charcoal production, plantation management, forests, industries and institutions).

And if forests continue to be destroyed at high rate, scores of people might completely lose their jobs. He disclosed that about Shs66 billion is raised as incomes for poor households in forested areas through sale of items like bush meat, rattan, medicine, food and craft materials.

Challenge

Currently, the challenge facing the National Forestry Authority (NFA) includes encroachment and political interference in the NFA eviction process.

"We have seen cases where our staff have falsely been accused of committing criminal acts yet they are executing their duties. This is really demoralising" Esimu said.

While campaigning in Busoga region on January 19 President Y.K. Museveni ordered the ministry of Water, Lands and Environment to instantly halt eviction of over 180,000-forest and wetland encroachers countrywide until the government has met all stakeholders.

Since the president's pronouncement press reports have indicated that encroachers have descended on the reserves destroying trees and wetlands.

Democratic Party Presidential candidate John Ssebaana Kizito described Museveni's directive as a bad campaign strategy, which threatens the existence of forests and wetlands.

"We all know that he is struggling to retain the presidency but which kind of country will he lead when forests and wetlands are swept away?" Ssebaana said.

He added: "The existing forests and wetlands must be protected to have a clean environment for future generations."

Encroachment

Many of these encroachers force themselves into the forests because they (forests) are relatively rich and have virgin soils.

However, this forest soil deteriorates very fast when over used. Crop yields are promising during the first year but hastily become poor in later years.

The encroachers then open more land thus entering a ferocious circle of slash and burn, and shifting cultivation, poor methods of farming worsen the problem hence causing serious soil deprivation and exhaustion.

Way forward

Esimu believes that the task to re-green Uganda is enormous and cannot be borne by NFA alone. He asked the public to invest in forestry as a strategy of conserving the environment and eradicating poverty.

Esimu said that if one resorted to planting trees for transmission poles by putting 1,500 seedlings in one hectare, he would in 8 years would fetch Shs30 million selling each pole at Shs20,000.

He asked people to embrace the existing grant scheme that enables them to assess funds and promote tree planting.

The scheme code named Saw log Production Grants Scheme (SPGS) is a European Union project aimed at promoting commercial scale tree planting by private sector in Uganda.

Under the programme individual tree farmers are given subsidies of Shs600,000 per acre for commercial tree planting. The tree species SPGS chiefly supports are pines, Eucalyptus Maesopsis eminii (Musizzi), Muvule and Mahogany among others that also fall under timber species.

He said in the Budongo system, NFA has planted about150 hectares of pines in Masindi, 36 hectares in Hoima and in Kibale one hectare. On the side of private sector, 40 hectares of pines have been planted in Masindi, 50 hectares in Hoima and 200 hectares in Luwero.

According to NFA reports by mid-October last year 2,178 hectares of new plantation had been paid for and SPGP targets 5,000 hectares by the end of 2006.He said the country needs around 65,000 hectares of plantation just to meet its internal requirements by 2025.

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