Commercial tree growers have expressed frustration with government officials for tossing them between ministries and denying them export permits - threatening the success of a 60bn afforestation project.
One of the companies blaming government for frustrating their efforts to export timber is global-woods International AG operating in the Kikonda forest reserve in Kyankwanzi district.
Kikonda forest reserve is part of the Kiboga Forestry Sawlog Project run by global-wood AG and funded by EU under the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) III. The project is being implemented together with Food and Agriculture (FAO) and ministry of Water and Environment.
Barnabas Vroegop, the harvesting, processing and sales manager said the company has started harvesting timber and they are ready to export, but they have failed to get export permits from the concerned authorities. He complained that their sheds are full and it's not making business sense since they can’t export due to bureaucracy in government.
“We went to the ministry of Trade which referred as to the ministry of Water and Environment which also referred us to National Forestry Authority (NFA), NFA referred back as to the ministry of Water and that’s how it has been,” he said.
Vroegop was addressing EU ambassadors from Germany, France, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Netherlands and Norway who were on a four-day retreat in Hoima district to acquaint themselves with various developments in the oil, environment and sustainability where EU has significantly invested.
Vroegop told the ambassadors that private people are making profits by smuggling timber into countries like Kenya and South Sudan.
“We have big orders from Kenya, they are interested in our eucalyptus and pine timber, but we can’t export, also their prices are better,” he said.
Asked if they had exhausted the local demand, Vroegop said selling locally does not bring in good returns, arguing that the prices in Uganda are low and cannot recoup the initial investment.
“For instance, if I’m selling a cubic metre at $60, when I take to Kenya, I will sell $200 for the same cubic metre,” he said.
Dr Albrecht Conze, the ambassador of Germany in Uganda said that Germany invested a lot of money in the company but the profitability of the company will not be realized if exporting timber will require permits.
“We can understand that tree business is something new to Uganda, these trees were planted 15 years ago, my appeal is that government should not even ask for permits,” he said.
He further argued that in the spirit of East African Community and Commonwealth Protocol, there should be free trade within the borders of East African Community.
“There are no returns selling in Uganda, if exported Uganda will also get some revenue and more people will be employed; we are going to discuss with government and find a solution to this,” Conze said.
John Mary Kisembo, the sustainability manager at global–woods said in the next three years, the company is planning to harvest 420 hectares of the forest and so the market should be made available.
Attilio Pacifici, the head of EU delegation in Uganda, explained that the European Union injected a lot of money in the SPGS and they are hoping that the project will be a success.
“The company would generate money and more people would be employed, what we are saying is that companies should also add value to their product,” he said.
According to Pacifici, the SPGS is an 11 million Euros (about Shs 59.2bn), 55 months project aimed at managing the effects of deforestation by maintaining a balance between demand of timber, fuel wood and poles as well as meet climate, water and diversity needs.
“Running from December 2015-July 2020, the programme aims at increasing incomes of rural population through commercial tree planting by the private sector and communities to mitigate climate change,” he said.