World marks International Day of Forests

Agroforestry- the pathway to forest restoration and source of nutritious food for the growing population

As Uganda joins the rest of the world in commemorating International Day of Forests, it is important to reflect on the state of the country’s forest resources. Various reports reveal that Uganda’s forests continue to decrease at very alarming rate, with privately owned land recording higher losses. Between 1990 and 2010, studies show that the country lost approximately 90,000 hectares of forest cover annually. The recent report by FAO, 2016 indicate that this loss now increased to an estimated 200,000 hectares annually. Driving the high loss of forest cover in the country are high population growth rate (estimated at 3.6% per annum and one of the highest in the world), low rural electrification, and land tenure system. This high population creates more demand for food and housing hence conversion of forests to agricultural land, and utilization of forest products for construction and other uses. Low level of rural electrification creates overreliance on fuelwood since most households in Uganda depend on firewood and charcoal as their main sources of fuel for cooking and heating. At the same time, rural poverty restricts investment into sustainable land use practices. All these factors drive severe deforestation in the country.

This trend should be reversed urgently- or else there will be very little to celebrate in the near future. This is the reason Vi Agroforestry together with farmer organisations in Uganda, today urge the Government to move from policy to practice and rally other actors to invest locally to turn deforested and degraded land into sustainably managed lands and forests and providing sustainable livelihood options for millions of Ugandans. Unless efforts to increase the rate of tree planting and provision of alternative sources of building materials and energy, deforestation and land degradation will increase. Tree growing, using conventional planting of seedlings is important but may have limitations in some sites such as difficulty of raising seedlings (especially for indigenous species), delivering them to farmers for planting and low survival rates after planting.

Efforts towards environmental protection in Uganda

Over the past decade, the government of Uganda made huge steps towards development of legal fand institutional framework to enhance environmental protection. The National Forestry Policy was passed in 2001, in addition to creating Forest Sector Support Department (FSSD), the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and the District Forestry Services (DFS). Despite this improvement, gaps still exist. First, while FSSD and NFA have budgetary support, DFS’s have negligible or no budgetary allocations, yet they are mandated to manage local forest reserves and to provide technical support on tree growing on farms including urban forestry. secondly the Government of Uganda has placed a lot of emphasis on commercial forest plantations, mainly monocultures like eucalyptus, with more focus on profit at the expense of other ecosystem services offered by natural forests.

The civil society organizations including World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Vi Agroforestry in partnership with Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) have been actively involved in supporting communities to restore forests, grow trees on farmlands and degraded sites, and promote Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). District Farmers Associations (DFAs) of Sembabule, Masaka, Gomba, Mpigi, Wakiso, Bugiri Mayuge and Moyo have been actively involved in these activities. For the past eight years, over 25,000 individuals have adopted FMNR and approximately 1,100 hectares of degraded farmlands/rangelands have been restored in Uganda. Even today, as we celebrate International Day of Forests, we have mobilised farmers through these DFAs to participate in massive tree planting, create awareness and campaign for forest restoration, agroforestry and do exhibitions through community drives.  The DFAs will plant 26,000 trees in public spaces including community forests, schools, and places of worship.

While partnering with DFAs, Vi Agroforestry realised that smallholder farmers in Uganda have high interest in integrating trees in their farming systems, because of multiple benefits derived thereof. The major drawback has been the absence of institutionalized arrangement to help coordinate actors and provide the much-required technical support on agroforestry. To bridge this gap, agroforestry partners in Uganda developed a draft National Agroforestry Strategy which seeks to institutionalize agroforestry and promote its wide-scale application.

Moving forward, to restore the future of forest resources in Uganda and consolidate gains made, the agroforestry partners in Uganda calls out for the:

  1. Government of Uganda to adopt and implement a National Agroforestry Strategy. Uganda has come a long way by identifying agroforestry as a priority in key government policy documents. A National Agroforestry Strategy has already been drafted, providing direction to the farmers and the public on how to implement agroforestry throughout the country. We urge the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Water and Environment to fast track the finalization of this Strategy and to agree on its institutional home for effective implementation.
  2. Enabling environment for forestry management at local level. We urge the District Local Governments and District Farmers Associations to formulate and enact ordinances that will ensure proper forestry management within the local forest reserves. These ordinances should cover areas such as community forest management, and governance.
  3. Ministry of Water and Environment; Local Government to produce clear and transparent guidelines relating to tree planting permits in central forest reserves /local forest reserves by involving external and independent partners and considering the 5% allocation to local communities and women groups to harmonize collaborative forest management.
  4. Increased public awareness on forest protection and restoration. We urge the Ministry of Water & Environment to make deliberate effort to increase public awareness and participatory on how forests should be protected and restored. The awareness raising should include promoting, restoring and regenerating indigenous trees, through the Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) model.

Conclusion

We, the agroforestry partners in Uganda, acknowledge the efforts made by the Local Governments / Ministry of Water and Environment and other actors in the field of sustainable environment. We pledge to join efforts to achieve better results and contribute with our expertise and experience to that end. Uganda can choose to act and take lead in Africa to restore the lost forest cover, thereby giving hope to the generations to come.  If we fail to act, Uganda may be deforested by 2030.

As for us, we choose to be part of the actors that will restore our forestry resources!

Where trees grow, people grow!