Of recent, there is a trend among the corporate class to explore money-making opportunities in farming. But long before that phenomenon, PHOEBE NANTABA had already booked her spot and is already reaping from a venture started in 2004, writes Arthur Matsiko.
Countrywide, vast plantations of trees are sprouting, having been planted by those looking to tap into cash that flows from this long-term venture.
Thus, about 19 kilometres along Kampala-Mityana highway near Kisammula trading centre in Buloba stands a lofty 60 hectares of eucalyptus tree forest. I was intrigued to dig up more about this scenic view that overshadows this fast-developing town.
To my surprise, it is owned by Nantaba, a charming 35-year-old financial analyst. She is all smiles as she walks me through the trees that are at different stages of maturity.
Her first attempt was in 2000 with 15 hectares of eucalyptus trees on family land in Luweero. After four years, she sold trees worth Shs 5 million – a motivation enough for her to expand.
While working with Kobil Uganda as an auditor in 2004, Nantaba acquired a salary loan and bought 60 hectares of land in Buloba. Two years later, she acquired another loan after quitting Kobil for another company.
Although this loan was to help her plant trees in Buloba, an interaction with Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) unwrapped opportunities to advance her venture. She had gone to SPGS as an auditor.
The SPGS program is funded by the European Union with counterpart financing from the government. SPGS provides professional technical advice, training and research grants to support private commercial tree farmers throughout Uganda.
After entering into an agreement with SPGS, Nantaba planted 25 hectares with South Africa’s eucalyptus grandis in 2007. As the agreement dictated, SPGS paid her the Shs 15 million she had invested, and the forest remained hers.
During her tree farming escapades in 2006, she interacted with the Uganda Carbon Bureau, and applied to become a beneficiary of their products. Since then, she has been selling carbon credits to the bureau.
Through carbon credit payment schemes, the bureau provides incentives to forest owners to increase the size of their plantations and delay the cutting of trees.
The Uganda Carbon Bureau provides practical advice and support to project developers, carbon credit buyers, development agencies, financiers and others wanting a better understanding of climate change, global warming and the carbon emission trading markets.
“For as long as my forest stands, the Uganda Carbon Bureau pays me every year because I am mitigating climate change effects,” she says. “This encourages me to delay the cutting because the more I delay, the more money I get.”
From 1,111 trees, she earns up to Shs 1 million from carbon credits annually. Nantaba argues that to encourage afforestation, the government should enact a law for corporate organisations to buy carbon credits from tree farmers.
“For example, an organization can sponsor an individual to plant 10 hectares of trees and set a condition that those trees should not be cut until after a certain period. As long as the organization keeps paying that person for keeping the trees standing, climate change will be controlled,” she says.
The concept of carbon credits came into existence as a result of increasing awareness of the need for controlling greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Trees produce carbon dioxide to reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
MONEY GROWS ON TREES
Since 2007, Nantaba has been planting trees annually, but has harvested once. Taking at most six years to mature for electricity connection poles, she sells each tree at Shs 250,000.
After netting Shs 200 million in 2012 from the SPGS-supported trees planted in 2007, Nantaba was determined to resign from her office job.
“But my mother reasoned that I should remain in the employment because I still needed contacts,” she says.
With the Shs 200 million, she bought 100 hectares of land in Wanyonyi village, Mukono district, and a residential house in Entebbe. Most tree farmers choose the eucalyptus species due to its wide range of products such as timber, plywood, charcoal, building material, fencing posts and transmission poles, among others that make this genus nifty. However, Nantaba is hooked onto poles.
“The market is big because Uganda still imports poles,” she says. “Now I want to establish my own treatment plant for poles so that I can gain from this demand and also export treated poles.”
Although she says she earns a monthly salary less than what she pays her manager, John Katura, Nantaba has no plans of resigning because her office job helps her to network.
She employs 24 young men who take care of her 160 hectares of trees. On the 100 hectares in Mukono, Nantaba has also planted South African eucalyptus grandis which she believes will strengthen her financial muscle and facilitate the proposed pole treatment plant.