4 June 2008

Uganda: 88-Year-Old Man Plants Mega Forest

Kampala — AT 88 years old, one would think Melchior Bakamuturaki would not consider investing in a forest that will mature when he is 100-if he makes it. But for this Bushenyi district Green, the passion for the environment is just beginning.

While many Ugandans shun tree business from which they believe they will never benefit in their lifetime, Bakamuturaki has planted six acres of trees and is looking for more land.

"I always had a liking for forests and now I have fulfilled my dream by planting a forest, which will mature in at least 20 years."

But there is an immediate gain from the investment. Bakamuturaki will make money from a new scheme in which farmers earn money from trees in a programme championed by a charity, the International Small Group and Tree-Planting.

"We have been working with farmers to plant trees that absorb carbondioxide emissions and reduce the risks of global warming," said Pauline Kalunda, the executive director.

"In return, the farmers earn money since their trees act as sinks for waste gases emitted by polluting industries," Kalunda says. The Bamuturaki initiative is good news as Uganda commemorates the World Environment Day today.

Trees absorb carbon-dioxide blamed for overheating the earth and causing global warming.

As such, factories in the developed countries responsible for the pollution, pay people like Bakamuturaki to plant trees.

Last year, Bakamuturaki earned sh100,000 from the international tree planting group. He hopes for bigger fruits in future.

"In future these trees will be wanted very much by people," Bamuturaki says.

Right now, however, the scarcity of land in Bushenyi worries him and he hopes the National Forestry Authority can bail him out.

In Uganda, over 200 small-scale farmers are working with Eco-Trust to plant trees. The number is likely to double following the success of the pilot project in Bushenyi.

"When the Eco-Trust team is satisfied, money is paid to the beneficiaries upfront. For instance, if the trees mature in 50 years, the money equivalent to the carbon-dioxide removed from the atmosphere in their lifespan is paid within 10 years," Kalunda said.

"We do this to help farmers since it is a capital-intensive venture and lack of funds a limiting factor."

To benefit from Eco-Trust support, however, farmers must also dedicate land for food production.

Dr. Aryamanya Mugisha, the head of the National Environment Management Authority, is concerned about the smaller amounts paid to Ugandan farmers compared to their counterparts in Europe ad Asia.

"This payment is supposed to be an incentive for farmers to plant trees, but it is low compared to other countries."

In Uganda, a tonne of carbon goes for $6 yet in Europe, it fetches $25.

"This should be revised because poor people in developing countries need this money so that tree- planting can out-compete crop-cultivation."

The World Bank coordinates the global trade in carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, an inter-government agreement that aims to curb emissions.

This does not deal with small-scale farmers like those supported by Echo-Trust. As such, the destruction of the environment is likely to get worse.

For instance, in the last 100 years, Uganda's forests have faced severe pressures, mainly from farmers, as the population and the demand for charcoal grows. Studies indicate that the forest cover in Uganda has shrunk from 45% in 1890 to 20% today.

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