8 March 2006

Uganda: Tree Growing Can Make a Good Source of Income

'At the moment one hectare of pine trees is worth between Shs32m and Shs48 m in the present market price and it is likely to rise because of the ever increasing demand.'

Do you know that tree planting could relieve you of the burden of paying for your children's education?

Robert Esimu, the Range Manager of Budongo System, which includes Budongo Forest Reserve, says that tree growing could actually enable Ugandans to foot their children's tuition fees even up to the university level.

"Besides bringing about a number of ecological benefits to the environment, tree growing is also a good source of income. Timber continues to be a hot cake everyday in the market," he says.

At the moment one hectare of pine trees is worth between Shs32m and Shs48 m in the present market price and it is likely to rise because of the ever-increasing demand, he discloses.

"If Ugandans undertake tree planting, especially pine trees which grow fast, most will be able to educate their children all the way to university under private schemes," the National Forestry Authority (NFA) official explains.

Pine trees are expected to be ready for harvest for timber or poles, from ten to fifteen years though for other products such as firewood or charcoal the trees could be harvested from the third year since planted.

The bad news

According to him the idea for growing trees countrywide has never been so important and urgent.

"Uganda is about to face an acute shortage of timber in the near future due to rampant deforestation. This is real. The shortage is looming and in about 10 to 20 years to come we'll run out of timber for construction," he warns.

Esimu says that currently Uganda consumes over 25 million tonnes of timber every year as firewood and charcoal in households, commercial and industrial firewood, poles and raw material for wooden products.

The supply is now dwindling due to economic development and the ever-increasing population growth rate, which exerts more pressure on the country's forests, he points out.

The Uganda Forest Policy states the country's forestry sector vision as: a sufficiently forested, ecologically stable and economically prosperous Uganda.

However there has been a long period of upheaval and considerable damage to forests especially those owned privately.

About 70 percent of all the forests are owned under private or communal ownership and the remaining 30 percent are protected areas under the NFA Central Forest Reserves and Uganda Wildlife Authority respectively.

The Budongo System Range Manager attributes the high deforestation rates in private forests to weakness in the enforcement of the country's laws.

He says though the Land Act of 1998 stipulates that the use of the land and trees thereon in private lands should be in accordance to other laws, there is no effective mechanism to enforce the same.

The Act vests ownership of land and the trees thereon in private or communal lands to the owner(s).

However he says that it's hard to dictate to the owners what to do with the trees thereon, as they consider them their private property and that they can deal with them at their pleasure.

"Enforcement of such laws in private lands is a big problem and consequently we now witness massive deforestation in the private and communal lands," he says adding:

"As a result, the depletion of such private forests has now shifted the pressure to the protected reserves where in recent years encroachment has become more of a common phenomenon."

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 18.4 percent of Uganda's land area or about 3,627,000ha (8,962,512 acres) is covered by forest.

In its 2005 Forest Resources Assessment Report, FAO reveals that between the year 2000 and 2005, Uganda lost about 432,000ha of forest due to deforestation.

The total deforestation rate was about 2.2 percent per year meaning that the country lost an average of 86,000ha of forest annually.

The statistics show that the deforestation in question was higher compared to the one between 1990 and 2000 whereby an average of 91,000ha of forest was lost at the rate of 2.0 percent per year.

The trend if left unchecked, will pose a great risk to the country as far as the benefits derived from the forests are concerned.

Services provided

Besides contributing to the national welfare and gross domestic product (GDP) estimated to be between 2 to 6 percent, forests perform a number of environmental services.

These are in terms of climate regulation, soil conservation, and protection of biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Uganda's Forestry Sector Vision also lists, among many others, employment, raw materials for construction and furniture making, energy, food security, cultural and spiritual values as social functions of forests.

Esimu admits that previously private tree farmers in the country faced a number of difficulties ranging from lack of proper technical advice, poor market information, and inappropriate royalty rates.

It's from the same spirit that the government through NFA had to come up with a number of initiatives to address the problem, which according to him, was almost out of hand, he says.

One of such initiatives was the replacement of the defacto Forestry Department, which had to a large extent failed to protect the country's forests, by NFA.

"NFA is well equipped with competent workers who are better paid and well facilitated. Even funding of the Authority is now better than before, hence smooth and efficient discharge of duties," he reveals.

According to him, NFA has a systematic procedure for harvesting forests, which takes stock of all the trees before identifying those that are ready for harvesting or those to be reserved for future utilisation.

Involvement of local communities in the protection and management of the forests through collaborative forest management is also among such strategies.

He adds that the Saw Log Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) that is funded by the European Union (EU) in collaboration with the Uganda government is another such initiative.

The aim of the scheme is to finance all Ugandans and non-Ugandans who are interested in tree planting especially those for timber production at least from 25ha upwards.

Apart from being allocated with land in the Central Forest Reserves, 50 percent of the costs incurred in establishment and maintenance of the plantations, is to be reimbursed by the scheme.

The government has given access to the land in the Central Forest Reserves whereby interested people apply for a 50 years' lease from NFA for that purpose.

Small-scale tree farmers don't enjoy the above reimbursement but they get free seedlings and technical advice as a way of encouraging them to join hands in the whole process of tree planting countrywide.

These, Esimu says, are among incentives that the government through NFA has put in place with the aim of encouraging the tradition of tree growing among Ugandans.

The forest expert cautioned that tree growing just like any other business undertakings needs commitment and creativeness, as it also involves some risks.

He mentions droughts, forest fires and diseases as some of the hurdles that are likely to face farmers.

However he is of the view that if properly planned and well looked after as advised by NFA tree experts, the forest plantations give good yields.

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