Plantation establishment grant and community support foster investment in commercial forestry
One of the key hurdles to establishing new forest plantations in Uganda is finding suitable land in an appropriate location. Many forest plantation investors have to grapple with managing squatters who often encroach on their land, leaving small, disjointed pieces on which to plant trees. Other times, they have to invest in gaining a community’s trust and acceptance to establish plantations in forest reserves from which community members could have otherwise been making a living, for instance through illegal logging.
The narrative was not different for Soroti Joint Medical Services Limited, a private company based in Odungura Parish, Olio sub-county in Serere District. The company received a lease from Serere District Local Government to establish a forest plantation in Jelele Local Forest Reserve in Serere District. According to Joseph Epodoi, a medical doctor with a passion for trees and the Managing Director of the company, “the community was not so receptive because they had been living in the area and benefiting from the forest for centuries. We therefore had to convince them that planting trees would be a beneficial investment to the community”.
The company then embarked on a series of community outreach activities including: carrying out sensitization meetings, constructing a borehole at the sub-county, involving the community members in forest operations, contributing to building houses for teachers of Jelele Primary School, and contributing money towards the construction of Koromojo Catholic Church. These activities created a positive perception of the company among the people of Olio sub-county. With the community’s support, Soroti Joint Medical Services Limited was able to establish a tree plantation of clonal eucalyptus, GC species. The company has four blocks of land and has already established forest plantations on two of them (measuring 20 and 23Hectares, respectively). However, Epodoi points out that planting eucalyptus clones was new to the region and considered “risky business”. As such, the company anticipated, but also faced many challenges, ranging from accessing quality planting materials to using well-trained personnel to tend the plantation. However, the company remained committed to planting trees for timber and helping uplift the lives of community members through commercial forestry. These developments were made possible in when Soroti Joint Medical Services Limited was offered a tree planting grant from FAO through the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) to plant 34Hectares of trees.
Through the grant and programme support, Epodoi notes that he can now competently supervise plantation operations thanks to training he received from SPGS III. “I know what is required in bush clearing, I know about lining, pitting, spot weeding, planting correctly, using herbicides and correctly mixing chemicals”, he said. FAO, though SPGS III has greatly boosted our technical competence and still provides us with technical assistance to effectively manage our plantation.” With this training, Epodoi and his team have been able to empower community members to engage in forest plantation activities by training them in spot hoeing and engaging them in spraying for weed and termite control. Through consultation with SPGS III, the company was also able to identify certified nurseries from which to buy quality planting material. However, Epodoi notes that buying seedlings is still costly. “We have to go to Mbale District, which is over 100 Kilometres from Serere District to buy seedlings”, he says. “We hope that more certified tree nurseries can be set up in this region”. Other challenges include finding the right species of trees and buying quality chemicals for weed and termite control. He notes that the prices of chemicals in Serere are often double or more, the price of chemicals in Kampala.
With 60 000 trees planted so far, only small pockets of community resistance to commercial forestry and tree planting grant support from SPGS III, Epodoi is optimistic that in 10 to 15 years, the company will harvest the trees for timber and make a good profit. He advises tree growers and those intending to invest in commercial forestry to plan their plantations early, avoid planting in wetlands, remain committed to the venture and seek technical advice from competent forest managers such as SPGS as well as ensure that they have sufficient financial resources for forest operations. “Do less and get less; but do more and get more,” he cautions.