FAO/SPGS III support elevated me from a forest contractor to forest owner

Ssekidde tends a young tree in his plantation in Luwero District

Passionate, committed, entrepreneurial and visionary Gideon Ssekidde, 35, is a forest contractor with many years of experience, gained while working with the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Planet Green World- a private forest contracting firm. After about six years he embarked on what could potentially be a long and lonely yet rewarding journey of establishing his own business. In 2017, he opened Green Belt Environmental Consult Limited, providing forest contracting services including mapping, planning, demarcation, plantation establishment and maintenance. The company, which employs 150 casual labourers, is located in Luwero District, but has supported growers in Nakasongola, Nakaseke, Masindi, Mubende, Ibanda and Pader districts.

As a forest contractor, Ssekidde’s long term vision was to plant trees for income; but he didn’t have sufficient capital to establish a sizeable plantation. With some savings from his contracting work, he planted five acres of Pine trees on family land in 2003, and a few years later, used the timber to roof his two-bedroom house, hoping to plant more trees when the finances improved in the future.

In 2016, Ssekidde applied for support to plant trees, through SPGS III and received a grant to plant 25hectares (ha) in Luwero District. “I had always wanted to plant trees but I had no means; this Project was a God-send opportunity” Ssekidde says. One of his biggest reliefs is that unlike many other growers who engage in forestry with little background information, making numerous costly mistakes, Ssekidde prides in the fact that he made no such errors. As a tree farmer, he reveals that he embarked on tree planting after generating a lot of information and acquiring knowledge the different training courses and field exposure visits offered by FAO through SPGS III. He learnt about forest planning, timely planting, weed control, fire management, matching tree species to suitable sites as well as plant protection. By starting tree planting after understanding all the implications, Ssekidde believes that FAO shielded him from any potential mistakes that he could have made, resulting from poor plantation establishment, which could have cost him the grant. “The only loss that I have so far encountered is a wild fire in which I lost 18ha. But because I knew what to do, I have already replanted that area”, he notes.

Ssekidde notes that he has widened his social and professional network, interacting with many people (other grantees) and sharing knowledge and experiences to enhance his tree farming business. Through trainings held for contractors, he has also improved his knowledge and skills in forest contracting.

Through FAO’s support, the father of three notes that he has easy and fast access to the technical team of foresters, who provide timely technical advice to help him improve his plantation. He has planted Eucalyptus, which he hopes to sell for transmission poles, and Pine for timber. However, Ssekidde cautions that forestry is a long-term investment and one needs ready cash in order to carry out timely relevant operations such as thinning. “If it wasn’t for FAO, EU and the SPGS III Project, I probably would have failed,” he reveals. He advises all tree growers and those planning to grow trees to adhere to strict standards in plantation establishment and maintenance in order to enjoy the profits from the business.

Ssekidde advises tree growers to be mindful of the changing weather patterns, to plan early and correctly and use innovations such as the gel-absorbent soil medium capable of sustaining plant growth (aqua soil).

“I thank FAO, the European Union and Government of Uganda for enabling tree growers to avoid mistakes in commercial forest establishment and maintenance and helping growers like me to establish quality plantations”, he says. His desire now is for a better regulatory framework to guide market for forest products.