By Miriam Mukama
Over the years, tree farming in Uganda has significantly improved with support from the National Forestry Authority (NFA). This is evident in the rising number of forests existing around the country. However, there has been a rise in privately owned forests too mainly carried out by commercial tree farming , which though sometimes is very costly to start and maintain, it has brought optimism that the forestry sector will thieve and increase its contribution to the growth of the national economy.
Having sold his hotel to join tree farming, PonsianoBesesa a commercial tree farmer and former board member of the NFA explains how private commercial tree farming is developing Uganda’s private Forestry sector here below are excerpts
For how long have you been in the Tree Farming Business?
I have been in this tree and timber business for the last 35 years. I got my first saw mill in 1995 and started planting trees.
Why did you choose Tree farming among all the other investments?
I chose tree farming because of the love I have for trees, they are my passion. In 2008, I sold off my hotel to invest in a tree planting project that took more than 20 years to produce results. It is costly but worth it due tothe fact that trees are very important to the wellbeing of the community and they are a life time investment.
Is the Ugandan government supportive of private commercial tree farmers?
With the kind of economy that Uganda has, efforts are being made to fully support the growth of trees. Organizations such as the National Forestry Authority act as the overseers of all forests in the country and projects such as Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS)provide support in all forms to tree farmers. I am among the first beneficiaries of this project. This clearly shows that the government is supportive.
What does the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme do?
SPGS is a project that is funded by the Government of Uganda, European Union and the Norwegian Government. It aims at giving aid to farmers in form of financial support and training in order to sensitize themon how to plant and maintain trees. This project has been very beneficial to most private commercial tree farmers.
How does the scheme work and which people are involved?
Financial assistance is offered to farmers as start up income, close monitoring and professional farmer expertise. Through several trainings they are sensitized on how to plant and maintain the trees from a young stage till they are mature enough. There are different categories that this SPGS project deals with and these include; the Community, Organizations such as churches, schools and private commercial tree farmers like me.
Most people are joining private commercial tree farming. Will this help improve forestry sector in Uganda?
Yes it will, though it is expensive too. When someone chooses to invest in forestry through planting trees, they should be ready to spend quite an amount of money because it requires a lot of capital to start and maintain but the end results are pleasing. The private forestry sector has over 60,000 hectares planted with trees all over the country and this clearly shows that the sector is improving and actually booming. This has taken money back to the grass roots through providing employment opportunitiesto the community. If there was no private forestry sector, Uganda would have few or no forests left.
What is lacking in the management of the country’s forestry sector?
We lack expertise and funding, which would cater for equipment in order to support farmers especially those that live in rural areas and lack the knowledge about how trees are maintained. And most of all sensitization of people about forest management is still lacking.
What challenges have you faced as a Private commercial tree farmer?
Having forests in Kibaale and Mubende, encroachment is one of the main challenges I amfaced with and it is a very common vice in forestry. The issue is that the regulations are there but they are not being implemented.
How have you managed to deal with encroachment in the past years?
Well, I wouldn’t say that I have dealt with it completely but instead found ways of trying to minimize encroachment on my forests. In most cases, one can find themselves agreeing with the villagers on which seasons they can carry out activities in the forest such as crop cultivation sothat it is mutually beneficial and rewarding for both parties.
What would you change in the forestry sector if you had the chance to do so ?
Well, I would strongly emphasize the need for sensitization of the citizens of Uganda on the need to protect forests and plant more trees to help the country reduce on the effects of global warming. Uganda can do better if only more support is given to the forestry sector and if forces joined handsto fight encroachment on the forests, the country’s economy would be capable of moving to greater heights.
NB; other questions will be added after my expected visit to Mubende.
Interview with a private commercial tree farmer
Proposed presentation; Picture of BesesaPonsiano, owner of Besepo(U) Ltd, Visit to his Mubende farm(still pending)
Story Angle; Private Forestry sector importance and SAWLOG.