Kampala — A British forest company has established the largest commercial tree plantation in Uganda. The New Forests Company (NFC) leased Namwasa Central Forest Reserve, an area of 9,000 hectares from National Forest Authority (NFA) 18 months ago. However, only 6,000 hectares are plantable.
"Every rainy season, 400 hectares will be planted with pine and eucalyptus. Each hectare will take up 1,100 seedlings making a total of 880,000 seedlings per year," said Julian Ozanne, the managing director of NFC.
The indigenous and riverine forests that fall in the 3,000 hectares will remain intact or improved upon. Fifty metres on each side of the riverine forests will be left in one piece.
By the end of this year, the company will have invested about sh4.6b. The project is estimated to cost sh90.7b.
"Commercial forests will help us deal with shortage of timber and electric poles. We have licensed more than 100 commercial tree plantations," said Olav Bjella, NFA's executive director.
The NFC will undertake supplementary irrigation using 14-ft poles.
According to the area study carried out, pine will take 15 years and eucalyptus 10 years to attain the desired size. The logs should be above 13cm in diameter making them commercially harvestable.
The company also leased Luwunga Forest Reserve in Kiboga district with 8,000 hectares. However, it has encroachers on it and Ozanne has appealed to the Government to help them out.
Ozanne said once the encroachers in Luwunga have been dealt with, they would plant trees at the same time with Namwasa.
"However, we still need more land and we welcome out-growers. They will be given free seedlings to plant," he said.
During the National Tree Planting Day celebration at Namwasa in Mubende district recently, President Yoweri Museveni appealed to the NFA to concentrate on training people in planting trees and leave the issue of evicting the encroachers to him.
Museveni advised the people to take on fruit tree growing. He gave then an example of Peterson Nyombi, a farmer in Mityana, who has a mango orchard that yields sh12m a year. He promised to send them fruit seedlings.
Museveni appealed to the residents to appreciate the value of trees, saying "Trees have many values which include cleaning air, timber, honey, fruits, fodder, cooling the climate, fuel wood, wind breakers and medicine. Trees keep the water table high, resink rainwater and help to control soil erosion."
The New Forest Company employs between 400 and 450 people. They expect to employ over 700 people during next year's peak time. They will be involved in clearing, spraying and planting. They plan to set up a mechanised nursery next year and community roads will be improved. The nursery will cost about $0.5m (sh.0.9b).
Dr. Maggie Kigozi, the executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) said foreign investors who have set up forest plantations include two German nationals in Kikonda Forest Reserve with 1,200 hectares between Kiboga and Mubende districts, which is planted with Musizi, pine and eucalyptus trees, and in Bukaleba forest 5,000 hectares in Bugiri district
"A Norwegian investor has also taken up land in Busoga near Bukaleba. Shell International is also joining," she said.
Kigozi said more investors have applied for land. UIA is talking to an American company that is looking forward to growing a tree species that yields bio-diesel seeds.
NFA board chairman, Dr. John Kaboggoza, said, "The authority has established more than 2,000 hectares of timber plantations in the 2004/05 financial year in various parts of the country."
Over 90,000 hectares of forest reserve land have been leased to private investors both local and international. But NFA still has more land to lease out to private investors estimated at about 300,000 hectares.
NFA manages 506 Central Forest Reserves, which cover 1,173,754 hectares of which 27.2% is covered by tropical high forests and 35.3% by woodlands.
Kaboggoza said criticised encroachers for discouraging investors by occupying the land.
About 180,500 people, 136,000 herds of cattle and 101 illegal land titles are found in central forest reserves. These are hampering plantation development strategies and contributing to an estimated annual loss of 2% of Uganda's forest cover.
Uganda forest coverage has shrunk over the past century from 52% to 24% of the total land area. Forestry is a major source of energy and construction materials accounting for 92% of the total energy consumed by the nation, according to the State of Uganda Population Report 2005.
The Minister for Water, Lands and Environment, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafire, said they were working out a programme where all those staying at the outskirts of the forest reserves will plant about 1,000 trees.
This rainy season, NFC will give out 1,000 eucalyptus seedlings to tree planting communities.