Uganda is likely to have no trees left by the year 2052: How can this challenge be arrested urgently?
Five months ago, I traveled by road from Nairobi heading to Jinja. While on the way, I noticed the vegetation in some areas along Nairobi-Nakuru road was dry, short, and sparse. It was more of dessert like setting! On the other hand, I visibly discovered also some efforts made in the past to promote tree planting were paying-off. Young trees were blossoming around the boundaries of most the homes and along the main road.
Uganda could also borrow a leaf from her neighbor since its existing forests are sadly vanishing at an alarming rate. Soils have grossly become barren while bio-diversity and eco-system services are nearly no more. According to Anthony Bugembe, (New Vision, July 2009), between 1971 and 1987, Uganda lost 50% of its forests due to civil and political strife, including virtually all of its primary forests. Between 1990 and 2005, Uganda lost 26% of its remaining forest cover, a rate that is the seventh highest among the 62 countries worldwide that have tropical forests. In addition, out of the nearly 3.6 million hectares of forest land left in 2005, the country loses 2.1% every year, or 92,000 hectares.
The growth in Forestry activities slightly declined from 2.9% percent in 2009/10 to 2.8 percent in 2010/11 (MAAIF, 2001: v). “At this rate, there will be no forests left by the year 2052,”Anthony concluded! How can this development challenge be steadily arrested?
It is possible to walk the talk and curtail the projected absolute deforestation. First and foremost, all stakeholders need to reflect critically on why they seem to be relaxed and silent about this key issue, its underlying causes, and finally what have to be practically done to address it at different levels. The lag in the efforts and silence is possibly attributed to lack of strict enforcement, and compliance with existing policies, laws and procedures, vested interests, ignorance, ‘I don’t care attitude’, and selfishness. The politicization of the Annual Environmental Day’ in Uganda is very absurd. It is obviously not the right event for citing litanies of past achievements of the political regime and making future empty promises. Policy makers have categorically rejected the desired but pragmatic direction-written on the hearts of the subjects they lead. A clean, healthy, beneficial, green and sustainably managed environment is what we passionately need.
With an estimated 82,811 km2 of arable land, 41,406km2 of cultivatable land, 1,422,193 Ha under bush (MAAIF, 2001: vii), and 3.95 million households engaged Agriculture and accounting for 19.3 million persons (Uganda Census of Agriculture (UCA) 2008/09), it is justifiably possible to review, legislate, and implement policies and programmes without delay that will support households to access and use this idle-lying and fragmented chunk of land for tree planting.
Under the same policy arrangement, household members should be tasked to plant trees around boundaries of their homes and farms. Uganda can take advantage of the explosive household growth rate to expand its thinning forest resources. The total number of households in Uganda is reported to have trended upwards by 19.2 percentage points from 5.2 million in 2005/06 to 6.2 million in 2009/10 (UNHS, 2009/10:8). With only this approach of ‘Agro-Home Forestry’, more than three million estimated hectares will be under new tree cover. Besides, entrepreneurs may also be supported by the same policy to gather, market tree seeds and seedlings at reasonable prices! The new policy should however have a special place for households and individuals considered vulnerable. For example, tree seeds and seedlings could be distributed to such persons at a stipulated price or quantity subsidy say (50-10%), on a designed loan scheme, or they could provide labour in exchange for the inputs.
Low income households should be supported to acquire access and hire land for tree planting. It is a secure way of raising education fees for children. If one acre of trees is planted for a child starting her primary education, the returns from the sale of timber or logs after seven-to- ten years are more than enough to meet her educational costs at any university in the world. Tree planting has the potential to contribute significantly to expansion of a skilled and literate population in Uganda and fast economic growth rates.
Furthermore, a clause on greening all schools, health centres, small towns, urban centers and potential cities such as Jinja, Mbale, and Mbarara should be part of the new legislation. Trees planted either within the campuses, institutional and family compounds and along the roads (streets) do provide an excellent shed for relaxation, space for revision and seasonal fruits to boost the immunity of the groups at high risk of malnutrition especially school children.
Also, every event in life should be considered as an opportunity for tree planting. Such events may range from a typical ‘political demonstration or rally’, a workshop, a meeting, a birthday, a commemoration day, a baptism day, a confirmation day, a ‘wedding day’ to a day of last funeral rites of a close relative of friend. In fact, actual tree planting takes less than five minutes.
All political, civil and religious institutions should have afforestation as part of their cross-cutting issues. If these leaders worked toward recruiting their constituents to plant at least one tree at every important occasion held, the current tree cover would grow exponentially in next five years.
Most of the grassroots local council leaders are presently demobilized and dysfunctional and yet they could be awakened through afforestation initiatives. It is possible for Local Governments to facilitate the establishment of at least two tree nurseries per community or hamlet. This may be integrated with campaigns and competitions of tree planting along community roads and establishment of community and family owned forests. Off-course, awards may be provided to individuals, families and communities that exhibit outstanding performance. Besides, it is important to set aside a special day per month that is strictly observed by each Local Council in order to monitor, evaluate and learn from ongoing environmental efforts and draft plans for the subsequent period.
Almost more than three quarters of Uganda’s population is employed in the informal sector, and does not have access to Social Security Protection Services. Trees should be planted as part of the pension schemes. A privately owned forest is not only a viable source of retirement income but could substantially reduce the heavy social burden on the country.
It is worth noting that trees can be planted and harvested in either the short-term or the long-run. Most cash flow statements show that afforestation is a rewarding enterprise. Unfortunately, most awareness programs don’t employ business and entrepreneurship approaches. The National Forestry Authority (NFA) in partnership with other stakeholders could play a crucial role in providing useful information on suitable trees for each region, their commercial or economic and nutritional benefits.
Sustainable, systematic, expanded and well coordinated investments into the Forest Sector will bring enormous benefits to the young economy of Uganda including reversing likely adverse effects of the knocking deforestation, upholding the fast growing housing, eco-tourism and agro-tourism sectors, foreign exchange, carbon credits, and employment creation and lifting many struggling families above the poverty line. Uganda will definitely regain its lost status of the Pearl of Africa -the most irresistible destination in the world.
By Matthias Ngobi Miti,