Forestry is crucial to the livelihoods of millions of Ugandans, especially the poorest sections of society. Benefits of forests and trees to Ugandans have mainly focused on the numerous direct benefits in the form of food, energy, employment, incomes, quality of life and increased resilience to shocks and stresses, with little attention directed at quantifying the many environmental benefits that forests provide. Supply of clean water and maintenance of soil fertility are among major services that are provide by forests and trees and are especially important to the people who cannot afford alternatives such as piped water or fertilizers. Because these services are considered “free”, they are undervalued, and without investment and adequate protection of forests, they are declining fast .
The total forest reserve area in Uganda is estimated at 1,277,684 ha (2019). Almost all (99.6 %) of the forest reserve are is located in 506 Central Forest Reserves while the rest is on Local Forest Reserves. The forestry sub-sector contributed 3.5 %of GDP per annum between 2016 and 2019. In addition, Uganda’s forests provide 88 percent of the country’s energy, 61 percent of tourism income, and jobs for about 1 million people .
Uganda is among the two countries with the highest deforestation rate globally . Uganda’s forest cover has declined from 24 percent (or 4.9 million ha) in 1990 to 9 percent (1.83 million ha) in 2018, accounting for a loss of (loss of 3 million ha) in just 25 years. If the current trend continues, studies indicate that there will be no forests left in 40 year .
The underlying causes for deforestation and degradation are numerous and the national setting is complex. In addition to high population growth, urbanization and income poverty contribute to deforestation and forest degradation. Additionally, the current penalties and legal mechanisms to address forests degradation are inadequate .
The high level of degradation in the recent years is largely attributed to overreliance on biomass for energy. In fact, it is estimated that firewood and charcoal constitute the main fuel for cooking for 94 percent of households – 64 percent firewood and 29.8 percent charcoal .
As mentioned, the high population growth rate has escalated the degradation of the forest cover. The demand for agricultural land, the harvesting forest products like charcoal, fuel wood and timber, among other factors has increased deforestation. Deforestation of the widely abundant woodlands is very rampant for the production of charcoal and conversion to agriculture and grazing land. At the same time, urbanization and industrialization continue to exert pressures on mainly peri-urban forest reserves for expansion of urban and industrial centers. A case in point Namanve Forest near Kampala (1000 ha) and Wabisi-Wajala in Nakasongola District (8,744 ha) were degazetted for industrial expansion .
Key policies and governance approach
To avert degradation, Uganda has put in place several policies, legal and institutional bodies to promote the conservation and sustainable use of forest resources.
The National Forestry Authority (NFA) is the institution which has the mandate of managing 506 Central Forest Reserves (CFR’s), with objectives of improving the management of the CFRs, expanding partnership arrangements, supplying forest and non-forest products and services and ensuring organizational stability .
Key national policies affecting the forest sector directly or indirectly in Uganda are: The National Environment Management Policy for Uganda (1994), The National Environment Statute (1995), The Water Statute (1995), The National Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wetland Resources (1995), The Uganda Wildlife Statute (1996), The Local Governments Act (1997), The Land Act (1998), The Gender Policy (1997), The Forest Reserves Order (1998), The Uganda Wildlife Policy (1999), and The National Water Policy (1999) .
In 2013, the country developed the National Forest Plan 2011/12-2021/22, which is a sector-wide strategy for managing forestry resources in Uganda . The first NFP was approved by Cabinet in October 2002 as one of the outcomes of the Forest Sector Reform process that was initiated in1996 by the then Forestry Department, and further developed by Government through the Uganda Forestry Sector Coordination Secretariat (1999 – 2004). The other major outcomes of the reform included the Uganda Forestry Policy (2001), the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act (2003), and a new institutional arrangement to replace the Forest Department .
Furthermore, with the Uganda Forestry Policy (2001), the government sets out the direction for managing the forest sector, through prescribing the sector vision, goal, guiding principles and policy statements. The Policy was agreed upon through a lengthy consultative process with key agencies, organizations and individuals at national, district and local levels across the sector.
Successes and remaining challenges
As a result of the various policies to promote the conservation and sustainable use of forests resources, around 3,500 ha of degraded natural forests have been restored, about 5,400 ha of the 60,000 allocated to commercial tree plantations have been established, and 950 km of external boundaries have been resurveyed and marked. However, restoration efforts have not kept pace with the annual loss of forest cover . Nevertheless, it is noteworthy, that the issuing of permits to plant trees in forest reserves and payment of ecosystem services is a strategy that has encouraged owners to keep the forests intact.
Despite of the policy interventions, the is increasing concern about the deteriorating state of forestry in the country remains. Natural forest cover is receding; ecological services are declining; there is increasing pressure on forest land and increasing demand on forest products; management capacity is limited and institutional weaknesses constrain development .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Uganda has developed the Draft Final REDD+ National Strategy in 2017 with the aim of turning the current wood and biomass extraction into sustainable abatement activities , and is preparing plans to take advantage of REDD+ to benefit from the restoration of natural forests and other conservation and Sustainable Forest Management activities .
Moreover, in its Multi-Annual Indicative (MIP) Framework, Uganda has as priority area 1 “Green and Climate transition”, which includes specific objective 1.2 “Promoting a sustainable development of the forestry sector in Uganda”. In this context, Uganda has a strong potential to benefit from the Forest Partnerships concept promoting a holistic and integrated approach, which may include sustainable forestry value chains, sustainable deforestation-free agriculture, forest restoration, promotion of investments in the forest sector, governance and law enforcement, and civil society participation. Special focus will be put on promoting sustainable energy, in particular in the area of alternative sources of energy and clean cooking including in refugee hosting areas. Promotion of sustainable land management, in particular around protected areas and forests, will also be embedded in this area of work .
The National Forestry Authority has partnered with UNHCR to implement the Environment, Energy and Forestry Conservation and Restoration Initiative under the Refugee Forest Project (ReForest) with the aim of planting 8,400,000 tree seedlings in refugee resettlement areas .
In addition, the World Bank has funded a $148.2 million project to enable Uganda to improve sustainable management of forests and protected areas and increase benefits to forest-dependent communities, including refugees and their host communities .
The project, namely “Uganda Investing in Forests and Protected Areas for Climate-Smart Development”, will focus on the Albertine Region and the refugee-hosting areas in Northern Uganda. The project will finance infrastructure and equipment for forest management and protection through participatory management with communities of 7 National Parks, 4 Wildlife Reserves and up to 28 forest reserves, and development of key tourism infrastructure. In addition, the project will invest in plantation forestry and wood value chains with the aim of enabling plantation forestry to become a strong and self-sustaining economic sector .
Goals and Ambitions
Uganda has committed to restoring it’s degraded forests. The commitments are both national and international and the purpose of these commitments is to restore its lost natural cover, increase its watershed catchment and reduce the carbon footprint through creation of carbon sinks. In October 2021, the country revised its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), which include forests as part of the adaptation and climate resilience measures. In its first NDC the country has committed to reverse the deforestation trend to increase forest cover to 21% in 2030, from approximately 14% in 2013, through forest protection, afforestation and sustainable biomass production measures. In its Vision 2040, Uganda states a commitment to restore forest cover to the tune of 24% of the land surface by 2040 . Uganda has also pledged to raise its forest conservation goals and ambitions through its 2018 Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) report to the UNCCD .
n addition, as part of the Bonn Challenge Uganda has committed to restore 2.5 million hectares of the deforested and degraded forests and landscapes by 2030 .
- Need of reforms in the policy/legal framework to provide adequate protection to the rights of community and private forestry organisations. These may include compensation for not logging as well as taking out easements that would guarantee value for the forest.
- Where the above approaches are adopted, the requirement for private forest owners to secure permits before logging as well as establishing mechanisms for planned logging to minimize impacts when the forests mature for logging is a viable consideration.