A Beautiful Journey
Often referred to as the “pearl of Africa” because of its aesthetic beauty and green landscape, Uganda was the gracious host of New Generation Plantations (NGP) study tour from 4 -8 June 2018. NGP is a global platform that brings together several key forestry industry players, civil society, and national governments to explore how they can work together to drive sustainable economic development. This was my first time taking part in the tour and I was looking forward to the planned trips and to see the work that is being done on the ground with the local communities.
The study tour was co-hosted by the FSC-certified New Forests Company (NFC) and WWF-Uganda and saw us travelling the length and breadth of Uganda.
A Standard All its Own
The highlight of the first day was the launch of the Uganda National Forestry Stewardship Standards by FSC Director General Kim Carstensen and the Honourable Sam Cheptoris, Minister for Water and the Environment. The Minister shared alarming statistics about the status of forestry in Uganda. In 1990, approximately 30 per cent of Uganda landscape was covered with forests. Today, that figure has shrunk to less than 10 per cent.
It was encouraging to hear that Uganda aim to use the standards as a yardstick for forest management in the country for certified and uncertified forests alike.
Communities and Plantations
The second day took us to Namwasa Central Forest Reserve which is 4 hours from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, and activities included a visit to NFC plantation as well as engagement with local community members. Anton Greeff, Head of Forests at NCF, explained the importance of understanding the interaction and links between the plantation and the communities, and that 40% of the land was left untouched for conservation and to help with forest recovery.
We were welcomed enthusiastically with song and dance by the community members. We heard stories from people who now co-exist with the forest after the initial challenges of adjusting to having plantations next to their homes and livestock. Pastor William, the chairman of his community organisation, thanked us for the visit and explained that NFC has helped the community with employment opportunities and grants to start several local businesses including a women-owned piggery.
We also had an opportunity to visit the nearby Forest High School, where we were greeted with a beautiful singing performance by the learners. The school was set up in 2008 by NFC and PEAS Uganda, an NGO. It’s the only secondary school within 80 km, and has over 600 learners, with a near 50:50 gender split.
It is clear that there is additional value in having a school next to FSC-certified forests, because it provides an opportunity for the learners to be taught about the importance of forests and how they contribute to livelihoods and biodiversity.
Hopes, Dreams and Challenges
The next morning, we took a short drive to meet with local outgrowers that were initially supported with seedlings and training. It was refreshing to meet them at a small plot where they grow eucalyptus. We were divided into groups and had a couple of hours to talk with the growers.
It was inspiring to hear their hopes and dreams for their plots and the potential for their plantations to be commercially successful in the future, and the opportunities they see in FSC group certification.
They also shared the challenges they face, especially with regard to accessing the market and getting the right price for their eucalyptus trees. They also indicated that the time required to grow the trees was an additional challenge as some of the farmers simply can’t wait 12 years to sell because they need to meet every day needs like paying school fees and supporting their families. This leaves them vulnerable to middlemen convincing them to sell below market rates.
A Need for Partnerships
We drove to Nile Resort Hotel in Jinja, which is a few miles away from the source of the River Nile. The afternoon was a sit-down discussion with some of the active stakeholders in the African forestry landscape who were part of the study, including Trillion Trees, The Nature Conservancy, WWF, BirdLife International, Criterion Africa Partners and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The discussions focused on investing in African forestry sector the opportunities and challenges and what can be done going forward.
I was impressed by the spirit of the conversation and the general observation was that forestry needs more partnerships between public and private sectors, NGOs and communities – that can attract a blend of different types of investment.
The last day of the study tour took us to the scenic area of Kirinya. Kirinya is a 3,500 hectare area, planted with a mixture of pine and eucalyptus and including around 800 hectares set aside for conservation, mainly wetlands that feed into Lake Victoria.
NFC is implementing their Forests for Prosperity model which is a community and company partnership initiative designed by both. We were met with amazing energy and songs, and it was good to hear how NFC brought jobs into the area and made several community investments in schools and a health clinic.
The model sees the communities providing the company with risk mitigation services and they are paid for the results they achieve. Every year, community associations representing each of the four neighbouring parishes receive a performance payment on the work they do in preventing risks like fire, timber theft, grazing and cultivation within the plantations, and hunting of wild animals.
We heard stories of how the four associations invests these payments into local business development like capital for their newly established revolving loan funds.
One association told us about how they invested the 4 million Ugandan shillings they received in the first year into fish farming and are expecting their fish harvest this year to reach 10-12 million.
Some have started businesses like selling fruit and vegetables; some of the men are now getting better incomes from fishing and selling maize to wholesalers.
We left Kirinya in high spirits having met with the most amazing, hardworking people who are making use of their opportunities to create income for their families and a sense of belief that forests really can be a route to prosperity.
For us as FSC the launch of the forest standards was an important milestone and we will now be sensitising the local communities about what they mean to them in partnership with the Standard Develop Group and other key stakeholders including the government.
Weebale Nnyo (Thank you)
About The Blogger, Vincent Mnisi
Vincent Mnisi is the Communications Manager for FSC Africa. He has a Bachelors degree in Communications Science and has over eight years of experience in media, public relations and communications.