Kampala — Uganda is one of the countries in the region endowed with natural resources such as forests, rivers and lakes.
These resources have supported the country's economy by aiding the construction sector, through provision of timber to make furniture.It has also created employment to carpenters, craftsmen and women, and others. But, notwithstanding, the forestry sector, contributes to ecological balance, climate amelioration and industrial activities.
According to the Forestry Policy of 2001, it is estimated that the sector contributes 6% to the country's GDP. The total economic value of Uganda's forests is estimated at Ushs593.24billion (U$300million) while their contribution to the household income was estimated at 112.7%.
The forestry sector contribution to ecosystem services is at Ushs222billion U$(110 million). The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) recently reported that about 92% of Ugandans' energy needs are met from woody biomass, with rural households consuming close to 97%.
It says that of the household energy demands, 34.4million tones of wood, worth about Ushs258.4 billion or U$130 million was used in the construction sector in 2007.
This has driven high the demand for forest related products like timber and charcoal. The high demand for these products, has led to depletion of large chunks of natural forests and woodlands. In 2009, Uganda's forest cover was about 18 % (3, 594463 ha) of the total land area having decline from 24 %( 4,933,746ha) and 50% in 1990.
According to the Sector Performing Report for the Ministry of Water and Environment for the Financial Year 2011/2012, it shows that to date the decline in forest covers is estimated at 92,000 ha per annum with the highest rate of 34% occurring on private forests compared to 12% for the protected areas.
Joseph Kadowe a timber dealer in Ndeeba a Kampala city suburb tells East African Business Week that due to the over harvesting of forests, its forcing many timber dealers to cut even fruit trees like mango and jack fruits for timber.
"Trees are getting exhausted in the forests. Its why these days you find timber being lumbered from fruits trees like mango, jack fruits. This may also lead to the depletion of this fruits," Kadowe warns.
He adds that the shortage of timber on the market is leading to a hike in the prices.
Kadowe stresses that the souring timber prices have, as a result led to increased prices of furniture and the construction costs. As a way of resting the problem of deforestation, Kadowe advises government to come up with incentives to local communities as way of encouraging them to participate in agro-forestry.
He believes, some people have negative perception about planting forests because of the long time they take to mature.
Degradation of Uganda's forest cover has also been traced to economic incentives that make forest conversion appear more profitable than forest conservation.
Many important forest functions have no markets, and hence, no economic value that is readily apparent to the forests owners or the communities that rely on forests for their well-being.
From the perspective of the developing world, the benefits of forest as carbon sinks or biodiversity reserves go primarily to richer developed nations and there is insufficient compensation for these services to locals in developing country like Uganda.
Developing countries feel the developed world, like the United States of America, cut down their forests centuries ago and benefited greatly from this deforestation.
According to a survey carried out by Environmental Alert a local non Government organization on the Forestry sector in Uganda, it blames the problem of high forests degradation on poor governance.
The report says that the decline of forest cover is partly attributed to the weak institutional capacity to manage the forests, such as lack of transparency and accountability on the part of responsible Bodies like the National Forestry Authority, and weak mechanisms to monitor individual and institutional performance.
"Limited capacity of responsible bodies, to undertake their functions effectively, is particularly pronounced in the case of district forest departments because they are grossly under-resourced. This affects their supervision ability to monitor and enforce laws governing forests in the country," reads part of the report.
As a result, it has led to the ineffective mechanisms for forest law enforcement and governance, leading to increased forest crime, uninformed decision-making and the concomitant actions which may cause management problems Inter-institutional conflicts, as in the case between some local governments and National Forestry Authority.
However, local government leaders note that enforcing laws concerning the forest sector may not yield positive results if the central government does not support their natural resources departments.
Bernard Mujasi the Mbale District Chairman (Eastern Uganda) told EABW that offices of district forest officers are not facilitated. It hampers their ability to perform.
"It's only the natural resources department that the government doesn't allocate conditional grants.
"Other departments are catered for by the central government. How do you expect someone to foot and supervise what is going on in his department where he/ she is supposed to go in the field? he wondered.
Mujasi adds that if the government want locals to embrace tree planting, it should provide tree seedlings and technical support so that they plant quality trees that are highly demanded on the international market.
He stresses that as a District leader, his council resolved to embark on tree planting campaign so that forests are restored in Mountain Elgon regions as it was before.
Mujasi explains that it's because of the high rate of forest degradation that is causing a lot of landslide in Mountain Elgon regions like the Bududa landslide that killed more than 80 people. Despite the high rate of deforestation that occurred in the years between 2006 and 2012, the sector also registered some positive results especially in the areas of restoring central forests that were highly degraded.
Environmental Alert in their report advice the general public to invest highly in the forest sector since the market is their due to the rising population.
It says that due to the booming economic activity and a high rate of population growth, demand for forest products will keep growing, leading to increasing use of forest products like timber, poles, charcoal and high class timber for furniture and construction.
"Therefore forestry businesses can exploit this growing market through establishment of tree nurseries, plantation development and enrichment of natural forests with high value tree species.
"Upstream businesses like carpentry & joinery, can also cash in on value addition to forest product" says the report
Forest owners also need support to make use of the only resource available to make a living and restrain them from converting the forests into agricultural lands.
Frank Gashumba the Executive Director of National Action For Awakening Uganda a not for profit organization that has recently embarked on planting trees, told EABW that since last year they have managed to plant more than 2.5million trees in the central region districts.
He projects that this year, they are targeting to plant more than 5 million trees country wide noting that if other corporate companies and civil society join in, the country's forest sector will be restored within short period of time.
According to Frank Muramuzi of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) if the forests are not protected, it may lead to high affection of global warming thus escalating the problem of climatic change.
"Climate change does not happen in isolation... It interacts with existing problems and challenges - notably deforestation, soil degradation, declining food security, declining fish stocks - and makes them worse," says Muramuzi, an environmental advocate and executive director of NAPE.
Annette Nakyeyune of Uganda Wildlife Society believes that when deforestation continues at this rate then the country may also face challenge of water resources disappearing.
"Water resources like lakes, rivers and swamps will disappear, water catchments areas will dwindle, agricultural productivity will suffer and livelihoods will be affected tremendously," stresses Nakyeyune, an environmentalist.
She adds that the effects would be felt across many social sectors including health "because diseases are going to increase".