Taking stock and mapping next steps for development of the commercial forestry sector in Uganda; Reflecting on the 15 years of the SPGS project

Taking stock and mapping next steps for development of the commercial forestry sector in Uganda; Reflecting on the 15 years of the SPGS project Stakeholders from the government and private sector in Uganda have committed to playing their respective roles in renewed efforts to advance the commercial forestry sector in Uganda. During a seminar titled Investment in sustainable commercial forestry value chains in Uganda: Building on the achievements of SPGS Project, investors in commercial forestry, forestry authorities, donors, government ministries, agencies and departments and development partners, recognized the importance of developing the commercial forestry value chain in Uganda, for alternative sources of wood, climate change mitigation and contribution to national economy. The purpose of the Seminar, held on 17 December 2021 in Kampala, was to provide an opportunity for key stakeholders and actors to reflect on the achievements and contributions of the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) project to commercial forestry in Uganda, and to propose the next steps for its development.

The SPGS project started in 2004 to promote private sector investment in commercial forestry plantations in Uganda. The supply of timber has traditionally come from natural forests and with dwindling supplies from these forests, it was apparent that future timber supply would have to come from dedicated plantations. With funding from the European Union (EU), the project has to date supported the establishment of more than 80 000 hectares (ha) of forest plantations and created over 12 000 jobs in their direct management, tree nursery business, forest contracting and other support services. With the anticipated significant supply of round wood from private plantations, the last phase of the project (SPGS III) focused on supporting the sustainable development of local downstream processing and value addition. SPGS III was implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and ended on 31 December 2021. The project also supported private sector investors to acquire modern processing facilities to demonstrate downstream processing and catalyze investment in sustainable downstream processing, value addition and market development.

Officiating at the closing ceremony of the Seminar, Alfred Okot Okidi- Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water and Environment, thanked the European Union for the continued funding of forestry interventions in Uganda and in particular, the SPGS project. He commended FAO for successfully implementing SPGS III and expressed Government’s commitment to building on and sustaining the project’s achievements.

“You are aware that Uganda’s Vision 2040 highlights forestry as one of the key pillars in transforming the economy. The Ministry is committed to being part of this agenda, aimed at restoring the forest cover to 24 percent by 2040 through tree planting interventions among others”, he said.

Caroline Adriaensen- Head of Cooperation at the European Union Delegation to Uganda reiterated the EU’s commitment to supporting sustainable forestry sector in Uganda.

“SPGS was a flagship intervention of the EU that was built on the rationale that promoting commercial forestry plantations would in turn put pressure off the natural forests that were then the only sources of forest products and services”, she said. “The EU/FAO/Ministry of Water and Environment collaboration has made available the building blocks for further exploration and growth of commercial forestry”, she added.

SPGS phase I was intended to demonstrate and popularize commercial forestry as a viable enterprise, kick-start and incentivize forestry investment. SPGS phase II aimed to promote skills and knowledge, develop services to support the sub–sector and further plantation establishment. The emphasis for SPGS phase III was to pilot and demonstrate value addition and product development through downstream processing, skills and capacity development and appropriate technologies, including wood utilization and market development.

According to Priya Gujadhur- Deputy Representative of FAO Uganda, the SPGS project was successful in “supporting wood processors to acquire efficient wood processing machines, improving skills through training in areas such as grading timber, sawmilling, and Chain of Custody (traceability) of wood products, and supporting development of tools such as standards for grading timber as well as Market and Forest Information Systems. These will be crucial for development of the forestry sector”.

Wood utilization and processing for a sustainable forestry sector in Uganda: A vision for the industry

In his keynote presentation, Mike Howard, from Fractal Forest Africa, outlined some of the key developments required to advance Uganda’s commercial forestry sector. Based on a study conducted by Howard, on behalf of FAO, Uganda will experience a potential oversupply of timber from pine plantations; particularly those established during phase I of the SPGS project and are expected to reach maturity (18 years) in next few years. An oversupply of sawlogs and timber from pine plantations is likely to exceed domestic demand and with limited processing capacity, investors will continue to get low returns on investment from unprocessed wood.

Howard noted that the “limited capacity to harvest, transport, process and market timber, coupled with fragmented ownership and geographical spread of plantations makes it difficult to scale up processing facilities”. He underscored the need for strategic focus on investment in wood processing to turn the “world-class forest resource that Uganda has built, into world-class forest products”.

Other investment areas to spur Uganda’s commercial forestry industry include investment in upgrading forest road networks, expanding research and development programmes, promoting the use of sustainable wood, promoting export of value-added wood products to the East African region and beyond, encouraging use of Ugandan grown wood in public construction and procurement, improving statistics and data about forests and trade and strengthening partnerships among public sector, private actors, academia, development partners and civil society.

The meeting was also an opportunity to launch a new project: Forest Management and Sustainable Charcoal Production Value Chain in Uganda. This project builds on experience and lessons from SPGS to among others, support establishment of wood energy plantations. The project will also promote adoption of clean energy alternatives and sustainable charcoal production practices such as more efficient wood-to-charcoal conversion technologies.

Friday, December 31, 2021