24 April 2006

Uganda: Timber Auctions Fetch $57,000

Kampala — The National Forest Authority (NFA) purse is over Ush100 million (US$54,945) heavier following auction of smuggled timber last month.

Over 100 members in the construction and timber business attended the recent auction at the body's Kampala headquarters conducted through open bidding by a private firm, Ruyoka Uganda Ltd.

The different species of timber were impounded during operations by NFA enforcement staff and the Special Revenue Police in various parts of the country over the month of March. Mandated by the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act of 2001 to manage central forest reserves on a sustainable basis, NFA conducts monthly auctions of illegal timber.

Two auctions were conducted in March instead of the usual one; the first during mid month fetched Ush34 million ($18,681) while the most recent Ush70 million ($38,461). NFA controls over 500 forest reserves in the country.

During the months of January and February, Ush65 million ($35,714) and Ush70 million ($38,461) was respectively collected in timber auctions.

While the authority is struggling to curb irresponsible harvesting of timber through increased surveillance and issuance of licenses to disable illegal dealers, the smugglers are inventing new tricks to beat the system.

Mr. Paul Lunakuwita, the forest supervisor of the timber yard told Business Week during the auction that the timber species of Meosposisemii and Antirias locally known as 'Musizi' and 'Kirundu' were the most harvested species. "These days the dealers hide illegal timber away from their shades to fool the authorities," Lunakuwita said. There have also been incidences of exchange of gun fire between NFA and smugglers.

Most of the illegal timber is harvested from forests and reserves in the districts of Mukono, Wakiso, Mpigi in the Buganda region and Masindi in the south west. The West Nile region in the north west, Sudan and DR Congo are also trouble spots. Last year, NFA introduced the sale of logs in natural forests as a better option to the auction of standing trees in forest plantations.

The current total economic value (TEV) including all marketable and non- marketable values of Uganda's forests stands at over Ush624.3billion ($343 million), accounting for 5.2% gross domestic product (GDP).

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