Due to the alarming rates at which Uganda continues to lose its natural forests, the government has embarked on giving incentives to private commercial tree growers to establish plantations as an alternative.
Among the many is ADISON KAKURU, who has planted over 400 hectares of trees in Kyankwanzi district to reverse the despicable consequences of deforestation, writes Arthur Matsiko.
Touring his tree estate in Kyankwanzi, Kakuru talks adoringly of how he has unearthed veiled gems in trees. He repeatedly laughs, sighs and shakes his head before scratching on the ebbing hairline as he recounts how he has submitted to the might of commercial forestry.
After two hours trekking through these trees which are at different stages of maturity, we rest at a section where his employees are felling trees from his four-year-old initial establishment.
Kakuru tells me this is a second thinning exercise aimed at reducing them to make room for the growth of others.
On every hectare, he plants the recommended 1,111 trees. After two years, the trees are thinned to 700, and to 500 after four years. It is from here that he waits to harvest for timber when they are nine years old.
Profitable as this venture is, the 56-year-old is not waiting to ‘eat’ from timber. When we visited his plantation, the 56-year-old was cutting trees to supply 100,000 fencing poles to his clients. Selling each pole at Shs 2,000, Kakama is already Shs 200,000,000 richer.
After a comprehensive research about the effects of climate change and the need to restore ecological balance, Kakuru was inspired to venture into commercial tree farming.
He had observed that across the continent, natural forests could hardly sustain the overwhelming demand for trees and their products. For example, African wood demand is estimated to be $100 billion by 2030, from $50 billion in 2015.
Statistics from the National Forestry Authority (NFA) indicate that Uganda’s greatest forest cover loss was estimated at 250,000 hectares annually between 2005 and 2010.
When put against an estimate of 7,000 hectares of planted forests established annually in the last 16 years, Kakuru realized there was a vacuum he could fill.
Thus, armed with Shs 50 million he had accumulated in savings over the years, he approached NFA and was leased 525 hectares of land in Paala forest reserve in 2013. According to the lease agreement, Kakuru will be paying Shs 9,000 annually per hectare for 50 years.
In his plantation, he has been planting eucalyptus clones and pine trees on at least 50 hectares every year.
“Once you have timber or any wood product, they are on high demand. So, what motivated me was to reduce pressure on natural forests, earn money and also assist the surrounding communities to get employment,” he says.
Statistics from the 2016 State of Uganda’s forestry report by the ministry of Water and Environment indicate that Uganda’s forest cover has reduced from 24 per cent of the total land area in 1990 to nine per cent in 2015. This implies that in 25 years, 3.05 million hectares of forests were lost.
Globally, deforestation is estimated at 13 million hectares annually. Through commercial forestry, therefore, Kakuru wants to contribute towards restoring ecology.
The Uganda Forestry Policy (2001) provides that “forest plantations may be established on private or institutional lands, either by the land owners themselves or under contract arrangements with other parties”.
Going by such regulations, Kakuru is set to reap from this legalized lifetime profitable venture.
A beneficiary of the UN’s Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS), Kakuru has been one of the 500 supported tree growers countrywide. He says SPGS gave him Shs 850,000 per hectare for his first plant on 90 hectares.
Funded by the European Union, SPGS is a government of Uganda project implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
Leonidas Hitimana, the SPGS project coordinator, says beneficiaries are also inspected and provided with technical assistance and training to ensure the best out of their investment.
“From the economic side, it is very important to use the right seedlings and all the operations very well,” he says.
He adds that the proportion of forest cover, due to plantations, increased by 68,000 hectares – from 33,000 in 2005 to 101,000 in 2015.
Lucrative as commercial forestry is, Kakuru’s trees grow amidst challenges such as pests and diseases that require spraying with chemicals which are usually expensive.
In the next five years, Kakuru sees himself as a reliable distributor of timber and electricity transmission poles in East Africa and beyond.