How scientists proffer solutions for forest utilization, By Lominda Afedraru

Forestry is one of the priority growth sectors in Africa including Uganda with potential to contribute to economic development, livelihoods and for provision of environmental services.

This can be achieved by those involved in the Forestry and Timber value chain following the right procedure by being certified because the sector is important alternative source of income in forest adjacent communities across Africa and Uganda in particular.

But there is the challenge of the value chain being dominated by small scale logging trading and processing enterprises operating mostly informally and illegally across the continent. Large scale informal forestry and timber economy limits the capacity of the State to capture tax revenues and curtails sustainable management of the forestry resources.

When harvesting timber, it has an impact on the environment and challenges of climate change arise leading to prolonged dry spell. As such scientists at Makerere University College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, School of Forestry with funding from Austrian Development Agency embarked on a study across the country to establish the dynamics and governance of Uganda’s informal forestry and timber value chain in a bid to identify appropriate formalization potions.

The three year research study was conducted jointly with scientists at the Centre for International Research Improvement in Nairobi involving various countries in Africa which included Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), Gabon, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Benin, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone Togo, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Ivory Coast.

Each country obtained different rates for funding and scientists in Uganda were given advanced funding worth $100,000 to conduct the study. Experts in each country came up with their own study results, below are excerpts from Uganda.

Best practices stakeholders in forest and timber value chain can adopt
Prof Kambugu Robert Kyeyune Abwoli Banana the leader of the studies covering forest areas in central, Mid – Western and Northern Uganda explaining specific objective of their research to stakeholders in Kampala notes that it is to equip local communities, national and regional civil society organisations and government entities with the necessary knowledge.

This will enable them to develop and implement evidence-based policies and strategies that support formalization of informal timber value chains, while contributing to sustainable and inclusive development through reservation of the forest sector.

Apart from timber trade as a subject, Prof Banana notes that conservation aspect of the forest sector is important the reason why appropriate legal framework must be put in place. Rural communities were sensitized and encouraged to establish plantations for tree species such as Eucalyptus, pine and traditional trees including Mahogany.

To him promotion of farmer established plantations is important because such a famer will take keen interest in observing the agronomy practices to obtain maximum income earning.

Timber sourcing

Consequently, random samples of actors in the timber value chain were selected from various districts in the country namely Rukungiri, Mitooma, Rubanda, Kakumiro, Kibaale, Masindi, Lamwo and Pader.

Others were from major timber markets around Kampala, Wakiso area including Ndeeba, Bwaise, Kireka and Nakiwogo landing site along Lake Victoria.

The surveys revealed that most timber in Uganda is sourced from the Albertine rift region of Uganda-in south-western, north-western and in Northern Uganda while Kampala and Wakiso area is the main market.
Growing and harvesting of tree species for Timber.

Dr Robert Kyeyune who participated in the research excise explaining modalities under which forest tree species are processed said it is important for farming communities to get involved in tree growing to avoid encroachment to the forester cover.

This is because in most cases the farming communities resort to tree cutting for charcoal burning once they experience crop failure during dry seasons.

He notes that it is important to consider maturity period of a specific tree species a case in point for Eucalyptus is 12 – 16 years growth period before beginning to harvest depending on the species.

The growth period for pine is 15 – 20 years and natural trees such as Mahogany and Mivule are expected to grow for 30 years or more while Musizi species can grow for 15 years or more.

But most harvesters tend to harvest the trees below the maturity period and the end up processing sub – standard timber. Processors are expected to acquire license and they are required to use power show for shaping the size at the required show mill to avoid show dust wastage.

Older trees tend to produce chemicals thereby turning brown in colour and this avoids decay. If farmers are lacking land to grow trees, they can plant them at boundaries of farms were they are growing crops.

Growth of trees size per region

From the study, Dr Kyeyune and team observed that trees from mid – Western region grow up from 15cm – 60cm but other regions the trees are allowed to grow below 30cm before harvesting.

Most trees in Northern region are harvested and transported as logs but those in other regions are processed as timber. The team recommends immediate regulations to avoid revenue loss amounting to $50m per year.

Types of Timber species by region, market and policy implications

Dr Kyeyune explains that the timber in the market comes from plantations from mid-western and south-western regions as the main supplying regions. The quality, maturity and size of timber from the plantations is a major challenge identified by actors.

The Policy implication and proposed action is that alignment of the regulatory framework to the current reality where most of the tree resources are supplied by private players who are not efficiently empowered.

Fast-track the development of timber standards and to publicize and enforce them to protect the consumer, ensure equity and sustainability and ensure competitiveness of Uganda’s timber in local and regional markets.

Timber processing

Timber legality and demand for legal timber

The average proportion of illegal timber businesses is worth 61.1% and businesses where customers demand for legal timber is 15.4%.

Technologies most used for timber production are power saws accounting 60.2% and handsaws 50.8%.

Revenue benefit distribution

The average profit distribution according to the study indicates that each transporter of timber gains annual profit of $415, a producer earns profit worth $188.3, a broker earns $407, a trader earns $1,076 and a wholesaler and retailer earns$1,019. On average the local community participation is 40%.

Climate change impact

Lawrence Songa legislator in Uganda’s Parliament, chair of the Parliamentary Forum on Climate change and vice chair committee of Natural resources notes that the forest cover in Uganda has been declining over the last 10 years and this comes with climate change impact of prolonged droughts.

Besides farmers have a challenge of water shortage to carry out agricultural activity and they have turned to harvesting fuel wood as a source of quick income.

There are other challenges of hydro power implementation relying on water bodies which rely on water sheds coming from forest trees which people are cutting illegally.

To him it is important to handle the forest sector challenge by considering the entire ecosystem value chain and as such there is need for guidance on timber obtained from premature trees. He urged farming communities not to cut premature trees which are used in shoddy construction work.

“It is important to harvest Eucalyptus tree or pine which has grown for 20 years above and for 30 years above for construction work. There is the impact of climate change such as over flooding which may end up sweeping school structures due to poor timber quality used during construction. When constructing structures such as schools, hospitals and even residential houses, it is important to consider aspects of climate resilience,” he noted.

He noted that the cost and lack of know how related to forest certification and the gap between existing management and what is required for forest certification are huge hurdles for private and public forest custodians in many tropical countries including Uganda.

In a study released on May 22, 2019 out of which an article was published in Enviro News Nigeria, the lead researcher Demel Teketay, professor of forest science at Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources is quoted saying that following the limited achievements that has been realized so far while promoting and implementing forest certification in Africa, there is need to make forest certification more attractive and less costly.

“There is need to adopt group certification, certification of non-timber forest products from which millions of poor people derive their livelihoods and small or low intensity managed forest certification,” he said.

Afedraru is a Ugandan Journalist and writes from Kampala. She can be reached at [email protected]