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Senabulya’s seedlings transform commercial tree farming

As climate change continues to threaten the world, Uganda has not ceased losing its forests due to the ever-increasing demand for tree products.

Despite government’s efforts to discourage deforestation, the country still lost its forest estate from 24 per cent of the total land area in 1990 to 11 per cent in 2010 — indicating a loss of 2.5 million hectares in just 20 years.

To counter climate change resulting from deforestation, Peter Senabulya has embarked on promoting commercial tree farming, writes Arthur Matsiko.

For the last four years, Senabulya has been managing Green Spirit Forestry Services. The company focuses on production and supply of seedlings to various individual and corporate commercial tree farmers, forestry management and nursery management.

Peter Senabulya in his nursery bed

Senabulya says most of the farmers prefer tree species that grow within the least time period. Species such as eucalyptus grandis from South Africa, he adds, can be harvested for timber after six to eight years.

“Commercial tree farming is a long-term venture, yet most farmers would want to get back their money within the shortest time possible,” he says. “But to use tree planting as one of the solutions to climate change, the government should continue sensitising people about the importance of trees.”

SEED QUALITY, THE NUCLEUS OF FORESTRY

For every successful commercial forest plantation, the quality of planting material should be emphasized. The Mukono-based Green Spirit Forestry Services produces majorly eucalyptus grandis, pine, musizi (Maesopsis eminii) and various fruit tree seedlings depending on the available market.

Backed by research, experience and training especially from Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and other organisations, Senabulya says he has always provided quality seedlings to his respective clients.

His emphasis on quality is shared by Joseph Ocwo, the seed quality analyst at the National Forestry Authority (NFA)’s Namanve-based National Tree Seed Centre. Ocwo, who has worked for over 14 years in this capacity, told The Observer that the tree seed centre is mandated to provide high-quality tree planting material to meet the national and international demand.

“Seed is the nucleus of planting; it is where life begins because nearly over 99 per cent of propagation is by seed,” he says.

At the tree centre, various tree seed species are bred. These include plantations species such as pine and eucalyptus; indigenous hardwood species for conservation such as the mvule and mahogany; agroforestry species mainly for fuelwood, shade and soil conservation; and medicinal species such as prunus africana (known for curing prostate cancer), azadirachta indica aka neem tree and moringa; among others.

Just like Senabulya, Ocwo believes large-scale tree planting could thwart climate change and its effects. However, Ocwo observes that while encouraging afforestation, the ever-increasing need for tree products must be appreciated.

“For you to successfully combat climate change [through afforestation], you have to discuss the root cause of deforestation. There is need for firewood, timber and all those forest-related services — and those needs have to continue,” he says.

Besides deforestation, swamps are being reclaimed for food crop farming and bricklaying. In the end, one has to think critically about Terri Swearingen’s observation that “we are living on this planet as if we have another one to go to”. Swearingen won the 1997 Goldman Environmental Prize.

But since these needs have to be met in a sustainable manner, a creative strategy is required. For example, short-term, medium-term and long-term interventions could be ideal to conserve forests while utilizing their products.

“One of the short and medium-term interventions is encouraging planting of fast-growing trees that can cater for firewood, timber needs…that’s why most organizations such as the NFA are encouraging planting of species like eucalyptus and pine because they are the quick intervention,” he says, adding that this is done alongside encouraging the planting of long-term conservation trees such as the mahogany.

Maintaining the quality of the seedlings requires proper management of the nursery bed and the seed.

FROM TANZANIA

Senabulya mastered the art because he has been managing this business for some time. But for farmers like Kimoli Madoshi Bulandi, to realize quality and profit from tree farming, he buys seedlings from the National Tree Seed Centre.

Bulandi, whom we found buying tree seedlings, had travelled from Geita in Tanzania because he finds “the quality of tree seedlings from here unmatchable”.

Ocwo recommends farmers to always buy seedlings from Namanve, whereas Senabulya believes that companies like the one he manages could also provide quality planting material provided there is research, experience and a good working relationship with the NFA.

In the next episode, we look at what is required for one to establish a successful tree farm.

matsiko@observer.ug

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