Kampala — Households in Kabale have resorted to cooking using coach grass and crop residues like maize and sorghum stalks due to scarcity of firewood.
The district used to have plenty of trees covering most hilltops. Black wattle, famed for its durability and used in construction, and eucalyptus were the dominant species.
But with the growing population, most trees were cut down to create land for cultivation, which has left most hilltops bare.
According to the 2000 National Biomass Study, more than 30% of the residents do not have enough wood fuel for use.
The LC3 chairman for Kamuganguzi sub-county, Denis Nzeirwe, attributes the problem to the high demand for wood fuel. Nzeirwe says more than 20 metric tonnes of wood fuel are used daily in distilling waragi.
The activity has been done for six years in the sub-counties of Rubaya, Kamuganguzi, Butanda, Buhara and Maziba, which border Rwanda where the gin is illegally sold. Nzeirwe says the distillers have even resorted to cutting down young trees.
Another activity that uses a lot of fuel wood is brick baking, which is also growing with the growth of the construction industry.
The scarcity of trees in the area is so severe that even when a ready market for charcoal and firewood opened in Rwanda early this year, the local people could not tap this market. Businessmen had to rush to the Kerere and Mafuga forests on Kisoro Road to search for wood.
After the Rwandan government put a ban on the cutting down of trees recently, Rwandans shifted their attention to Kabale.
The district senior environment officer, Paul Sabiiti, says the use of crop residues to provide fuel instead of mulching the soils is partly to blame for the declining soil fertility in the district.
Sabiiti says the problem, if not well addressed, would lead to food shortage as farm yields decline.
Sabiiti also said few people are willing to spare land to plant trees due to land scarcity in the area.
Mnason Tweheyo, a senior lecturer in the faculty of forestry and nature conservation at Makerere University, has urged residents to put as much zeal in tree growing as they put in food production.
He says due to land scarcity, people should integrate trees as they plant crops.
Tweheyo says field research has discovered high yielding and quick maturing tree species that can be grown alongside crops. He says trials in Kabale and other highland districts have proved that tree species like calliandra and grivellia can be grown alongside crops with the positive benefit of enriching the soil with nutrients.
A number of NGOs like AFRENA, Africa 2000 Network and African Highlands Initiative, are championing sustainable organic agriculture in the district and promoting agro-forestry.
These NGOs work with pilot farmers and villages. The successful replication of agro-forestry in the area by the majority farmers will help to solve the twin problems of food scarcity and wood deficit in the district.