By Gerald Tenywa
COMMERCIAL tree planters are constrained by land to expand large-scale plantations across the country planned to meet the escalating demand for timber. They want a ban imposed by President Yoweri Museveni over allocation of land under protected forest reserves to be lifted.
“We would have planted a lot more if land was available,” Dr. Sam Zaramba, a commercial tree planter in Mubende and Mukono said while contributing at a commercial forestry seminar organised at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel under the theme “Challenges and opportunities for wood processing, value addition and marketing.
The private tree planters under the Saw Log Production Scheme (SPGS) have planted a total of 35,000 hectares. Other planters without the support of SPGS have 10,000 hectares established within about a decade. But the trees being planted are fewer than what is lost every year.
Uganda is losing 92,000 hectares of forest cover every year and engaging the private sector is part of the strategy to ensure sustainable production of trees for timber. The trees being planted also address climate change by absorbing emissions that trap the heat escaping from the earth and are blamed for global warming.
In 2011, Museveni ordered a ban on leasing land that was being made available to commercial tree planters. The President cited abuse of forests through rampant cutting down of trees and mining of sand. He also directed resident district commissioners to report individuals claiming or destroying forests.
The EU formed a partnership with the Government and invested 5m euros in the first phase of Saw Log Production Grant Scheme (SPGS), which was followed by $10m euros ending this year, according to Bogdan Stefanescu, the head of section Rural Development EU delegation.
“We need to provide support in order to add more value to the plantations,” he said, adding that this could be the priority in the last phase of SPGS.
He also pointed that the future of plantation foresters has never been brighter.
“When we started with SPGS we did not know where we were moving. The communities allocated land at that time were not using it for forest restoration,” he said adding that profit from forest comes after a decade and the investment is not small.
Stefanescu said engagement of the private sector is chang¬ing the face of tree planting in Uganda.
He said the private sector is profit driven and has the resources, but SPGS provided incentives to interest them into ploughing money into forestry and build their capacity.
He described SPGS as a success and that neighbouring countries were interested in replicating it. He pointed out that the future of commercial forestry is promising to be self-sustaining.
Steve Nsita, a private consultant, pointed out that by 2002, about 73% of all the districts were experiencing deficit for fuel wood. The population in 2002 was 24 million, which increased to 34.1 million in 2012. Also the demand for hydro-electric transmission poles increased from 13,000 tonnes in 2007 to 26,000 tonnes in 2012.
He advised commercial tree planters to invest in trees for charcoal production for the upcoming middle-class and export market. Currently, there are no investments in plantations for charcoal production.
As one of the opportunities that should be tapped in the future, Nsita pointed out creation of partnership with the customary land owners in northern Uganda for expansion of plantations and also management of the vast wood lands for sustainable charcoal production.