SPGS III Project Steering Committee makes key recommendations for sustainable forestry sector in Uganda

Members of the Project Steering Committee listen to Walter Mapanda- Forest and Business Development Advisor at FAO during a tour of the pole treatment plant at New Forests Company.

Members of the Steering Committee of the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) Phase III Project have proposed some recommendations to promote sustainability of the commercial forestry sector in Uganda, while at the same time improving the environment and fostering economic growth. SPGS III is a Project of the Government of Uganda, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to support private sector investment in commercial tree planting. The Steering Committee is the Project’s Governing Body, with representation from the Ministry of Water and Environment, the EU, National Forestry Authority (NFA), Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Uganda Timber Growers’ Association, the private sector and FAO.

During the sixth SPGS III Project Steering Committee meeting held in Mityana district in July 2019, the members recommended to reduce the minimum land size requirement for institutions to benefit from the Project’s woodlot support programme, from five to one hectare. This reduction will enable more institutions to apply and receive tree seedlings under the programme and support SPGS III to achieve its target of 2500 hectares (ha) of trees planted for fuel wood. Furthermore, in October 2019, the Project will support the Ministry to launch a tree planting campaign for schools in Lira district.

The Committee also discussed outcomes and recommendations from the Project’s mid-term review (MTR), noting that overall, the FAO/SPGS III Project is well on track and is likely to achieve its targets by the Project’s end in 2021. To date, the Project has achieved about 80 percent of the target area planted countrywide. The Project was extended from June 2020 to June 2021 to allow growers to plant more trees and contribute to increasing the country’s forest cover. The MTR also highlighted the relevance and effectiveness of the SPGS Project, especially in supporting establishment and development of forest plantations according to national standards. The review made recommendations for the short, medium (three to four years) and long term (beyond five years), including, the need to create awareness and promote adoption of standards and legal timber in Uganda. The Project’s Management Unit is currently preparing a management response to guide implementation of these recommendations.

Another key recommendation was to increase coordination among key state and non-state actors in the forestry sector, such as the Forestry Sector Support Department (FSSD) and NFA, leveraging the expertise of each agency to drive development in the sector. FAO is currently supporting FSSD to develop a Forest Management Information System.

Field tour

To further acquaint themselves with developments in the sector, the Committee visited the poles treatment plant at New Forests Company and the forest plantation of Professor Peter Kasenene, in Mityana and Mubende respectively. New Forests Company is one of the large-scale growers supported by FAO/SPGS III and is a leading supplier of transmission poles to electricity distribution and transmission companies in Uganda and in the region. With thousands of hectares of forest plantations, the company sources over 95 percent of the poles from small and medium scale tree farmers, from as far as 200km from the plant, making it a major market for tree farmers. While touring the treatment plant, members discussed market for transmission poles, quality standards, demand and supply of logs and use of wooden and concrete electricity transmission poles. A key concern for many growers in Uganda today is the reported Government shift from use of wooden to concrete poles for electricity transmission poles. However, it was noted that given the Government’s commitment to increasing rural electrification from seven percent currently to 26 percent by 2022, 51 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040, wooden poles still present a sustainable, cost-effective and feasible choice for transmission poles. The continued use of wooden poles will therefore enable large-scale growers to continue outsourcing from small-scale planters, hence sustaining sector growth and incomes. 

The Committee also visited the forest plantation of Professor Peter Kasenene, an academician and beneficiary of SPGS Project in Mubende district. The plantation has Eucalyptus, Pine and Terminalia (umbrella tree) trees as well as an arboretum. The latter is a botanical collection of different tree species, including indigenous and medicinal trees such as Prunus Africana and Callistemon Citrinus (bottlebrush tree), traditionally used to cure diarrhea, rheumatism, cough and bronchitis. The arboretum contributes to awareness creation, knowledge generation and conservation of various indigenous tree species. The visit reinforced the Committee’s recommendation to the project to continue promoting species diversity in commercial forestry to minimize the risks associated with monocultures, while also promoting conservation of indigenous species.

Committee Chair and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water and Environment- Alfred Okot Okidi, commended private and public sector players for their commitment to advancing commercial forestry in Uganda. He highlighted the challenge in timber trade, following restrictions in timber export from Uganda, essentially put in place to discourage export of raw logs but rather encourage value addition. Particularly, timber export is greatly hampered by the absence of standards for grading of timber for export. The Chair therefore recommended sustained efforts by FAO, FSSD and the Uganda National Bureau of Standards to develop timber-grading standards, which when in place, will facilitate easing of restrictions on timber export.

Kennedy Igbokwe- Project Manager at FAO, represented the FAO Representative in Uganda- Antonio Querido. He thanked implementing partners (IPs) for their contribution to delivering project outputs. Some achievements include establishment of six dryland tree species trials by the National Forestry Researches Research Institute (NaFORRI), review of three training modules at Nyabyeya Forestry College and certification of plantations of four members of UTGA, under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) group certification scheme.

Jalia Kobusinge, Sustainable Development Advisor at the EU Delegation in Uganda commended forest sector players for the commitment to promoting tree planting and reiterated the support of the EU, urging further discussion on sustainability of achievement thus far.