Uganda Timber Growers Association (UTGA), an organisation of commercial tree growers, has embarked on a campaign to see everyone plants trees.
This was stated by Solomon Osewe Oketcho after his appointment as UTGA’s new board chairman for 2021 to 2023; the appointment is renewable. Oketcho was elected by the annual general meeting of the assembly sitting at Silver Springs hotel, Bugolobi on March 18, 2021; he replaces Dr Kiremire Noreda Bashabe.
Oketcho is also a board member of the Deposit Protection Fund of Uganda (DPF) and an executive director for Strategy and Risk Management at Bank of Uganda.
Oketcho, who started putting up tree plantations in 2006, the same year UTGA was formed, told The Observer that theirs is a business and that they want to see a strong commercial and profitable forestry industry in Uganda.
“With our vision of ‘a strong and profitable private sector-led commercial industry in Uganda’ and the mission to ‘promote a strong, profitable commercial forestry industry that represents members’ interests’, we encourage Ugandan to adopt a culture of planting trees.”
He said no matter how small one’s piece of land is, one can still plant trees along its boundaries. “Even just one acre of land, the boundaries would take tens of trees. What is even more important is, people should know that there is sure business in forestry. You can start small; each tree makes money for you. And it doesn’t have to be trees for timber; even fruit trees are valuable.”
The value of trees goes beyond cash money, he stressed; trees make the environment cooler, healthier, control soil erosion and produce mulch and manure, among other benefits.
He elaborated that trees don’t require regular management and maintenance costs like crops or livestock. All one needs is minimal weeding, thinning and pruning, plus patience because trees take long to mature for harvesting. “Trees do not require irrigation, do not fall sick and don’t require permanent workers or guarding against thieves. Neighbours can do that for you, as long as you keep good relations with them.”
Oketcho said majority of their members plant trees on government land; National Forestry Authority leases the land to them. Government passed this policy of leasing its degraded land to people in the 1990s and so far many people have benefitted from the policy.
He said the association is setting up a timber yard in Kampala, which will grade timber into different categories for different purposes and guarantee a better market. The timber yard will be operational in four months’ time.
UTGA NEW BOARD
Besides Solomon Oketcho (the chair), other members of the new board are Adison Kakuru (vice chair), Samuel Kasamba (secretary general), Abubaker Mwima (treasurer), Joseph Isanga (Eastern), Monica Linda Ruth Byaruhanga (Central), Margaret Laloyo (Northern), Jessica Tushemereirwe (Western), Asiku Swalle (West Nile).
WHAT UTGA DOES
Dennis David Kavuma, the general manager, who heads the secretariat, said that UTGA, which was formed in 2006, lobbies and advocates for a conducive environment for tree growers on many issues such as land, taxation, financing and incentives. The association also promotes the use of quality planting materials for a better harvest.
UTGA, therefore, certifies nurseries to ensure quality standards. There are over 100 tree nurseries certified by UTGA spread out across the country.
“Of course there are thousands of roadside nurseries; we see them, but we encourage whoever wants to be a commercial tree grower to ignore them and look for certified nurseries. All certified nurseries have a signpost bearing the name Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS); they will also show you their certificate when you ask for it,” Kavuma said.
UTGA has only one nursery, at Kiwawu, on Kampala-Mityana road. UTGA promotes best practices in plantation management among tree farmers; it, for example, propagates modern silviculture practices such as pruning, weeding and thinning. This leads to better prices for the trees. UTGA also assists and supports members that wish to go into processing and value addition, including guidance relating to appropriate technology and relevant equipment.
Working with government and its entities like National Forestry Authority and local governments, the association extends infrastructural support – within and away from the forest location.
The association supports members with market research and collective bargaining to achieve better prices. This support includes access to export markets where the price is even higher.
Kavuma said although they don’t have a demonstration forest of their own as an association, they often hold cluster field meetings at individual member famers’ forests to guide members of the cluster. They also run permanent sample plots in clusters for purposes of teaching, showcasing and practicals.
The association started a corporate social responsibility programme to encourage the youth to grow trees; so far, they have joint projects at Kyankowe primary school in Mityana district and King’s College Budo in Wakiso district.
Kavuma called upon people who wish to start commercial tree growing to approach UTGA for guidance lest they fall into mistakes that will cost them a lot of money and time. Though the association members, working on a commercial scale, currently grow only pine, eucalyptus and teak, he encourages Ugandans to grow indigenous trees as well. However, tree plantations should not be in conservation areas of wetlands and river lines; they should be at least 25 metres away.
The association and members list their main challenge as encroachment, especially by people with political power and interests, whereby National Forestry fails to protect them. Forest fires and shortage of reliable and capable labour are the next challenges.
“In particular, certified contractors are difficult to get. We, alongside Sawlog Production Grant Scheme, do give training to and certify these workers. They must get regular training and we keep inspecting them,” Kavuma said.