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Will pine balance economic, environmental interests?

By Vision Reporter

Added 25th October 2009 03:00 AM

THE pine tree has of late been a favourite of many tree investors. It is on high demand because it produces good quality wood and matures faster than indigenous trees. But today, pine is in the spotlight after mounting arguments against it by forest and e

THE pine tree has of late been a favourite of many tree investors. It is on high demand because it produces good quality wood and matures faster than indigenous trees. But today, pine is in the spotlight after mounting arguments against it by forest and e

By Gilbert Kidimu

THE pine tree has of late been a favourite of many tree investors. It is on high demand because it produces good quality wood and matures faster than indigenous trees. But today, pine is in the spotlight after mounting arguments against it by forest and environmental experts, who call it alien to Uganda’s eco system.

The tree which bears its roots in South America and temperate climate areas is said to be unsuitable for the tropics, Uganda inclusive.
Last week, The New Vision reported that Ndorwa East MP, Wilfred Niwagaba, slammed the rich people for planting pine trees, which he reckons will lead to famine and poverty. But National Forestry Authority (NFA), an organisation charged with promotion of forest and nature conservation encourages and contributes a lot to pine growing. Over 30,000 hectares of pine trees have been planted in Hoima, Rohomo, Lugazi and Mayuge.
Moses Watasa, the public relations officer of NFA, says imported trees are not suitable for our eco system; hence scarcity of animal life amongst pine tree plantations. “You find little animal life and just like eucalyptus trees, pines are colonising trees which suppress the growth of others.”
Although there are high monetary gains in pine growing, it could affect the tourism industry. Paul Asiimwe, a land management specialist, says: “A natural forest has a higher total forest value because it supports the eco system although it registers lower monetary gains.”
The rate of decomposition of pine leaves is slow and may not help boost soil fertility. Watasa reveals that replacing natural forests with foreign trees is a bad idea. “Only indigenous trees contribute to restoring degraded natural forests.”
“The pine tree is foreign; it comes from a temperate climate (four seasons including winter) atypical of our tropical climate. Fruit trees and forest trees like musizi and muvule are better,” says Everest Mugambwa, the education officer of NEMA.
He says the natural forests have trees like musizi, muvule and kirundo which were specially meant for Uganda’s climate and ecosystem. The gravellier tree is a better option, it has good timber and matures fast.
However, the same forest experts argue that if the right measures are followed, pine growing will not be harmful but favourable to the environment.
Watasa says NFA has both natural forests for conservation, and land for planting trees for commercial purposes. “Our mandate is limited within forest reserves,” says Watasa.
Asiimwe says unlike the eucalyptus which has deep roots that suck up a lot of water and nutrients, pine trees are shallow rooters and grow on marginal sites. “They can grow in areas where other crops have failed. They also have symbiotic relationships with bacteria and add to soil fertility.”
An associate professor at Makerere University’s department of forestry, Dr Mnason Tweheyo, says pines are a way of replacing natural and agro forest trees. “Pine trees contribute to harvesting carbon hence reducing on climate change,” he says.
Forest and environmental experts also say the economic benefits outweigh the disadvantages of pine tree growing.
In South Africa where Uganda imports some of her timber, 50,000 jobs have been created and a lot of revenue is earned every year from timber. “The demand for timber and firewood in Uganda is increasing. About 60 to 70% of paper is from pine trees, so where shall we get paper and timber if we do not plant trees?” asks Dr Tweheyo.
Uganda has less than 4,000 hectares of trees yet she needs 80,000 hectares to meet the current local demand. Since the year 2000, the demand and price of wood have doubled.
Tweheyo says pines are more profitable because while the improved pine takes 17 to 20 years to mature, one needs 80 years to harvest mahogany.
Watasa says Uganda still imports timber from Congo and South Africa. “The demand for timber will remain below supply for 25 years. It is thus a viable investment opportunity.”
“Pines produce one of the best timbers and return one’s money four times before muvule’s first harvest. If timber was not coming from Congo, we would be in a crisis,” stresses Watasa.
Asiimwe says when planting, do a site species matching because pines have multiple subspecies and not every species grows everywhere. “Some pines grow in highlands while others grow in low lands. Some do not necessarily suck up a lot of water,” says Asiimwe.
Tweheyo argues that waiting for 20 years for the trees to mature may be the cause of famine, not the pine trees. “Pine tree growing needs wealthy people with big land, it is not a subsistence crop.”
NFA recommends a minimum of 25 hectares of trees if the project is to be viable.
Natural forests should never be replaced with pines but pines should be grown on marginal areas — rocky, steep, and infertile land where other trees do not thrive. Pine trees also should be planted separately because they suck a lot of nutrients and water.

Will pine balance economic, environmental interests?

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