Commercial tree farmers who have not developed the forest land allocated to them will have their licenses cancelled and the land parcels given to potential farmers, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) has said.
NFA will also review the terms and conditions of tree farming annual license fees, which are said to be far below the market price. The move might see more than 1,200 tree farmers lose about 56,000 hectares of land initially allocated to them.
In another development, plans are underway to lift the ban on allocation of land in commercial forest reserves. This follows a plea from commercial tree farmers who argue that the forest reserves are redundant and should be put to commercial tree farming.
In his presentation on the “Status of Private Tree Planting in Commercial Forest Reserves” during the second Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) high-level policy stakeholder meeting in Kampala recently, the NFA executive director, Michael Mugisa, said NFA had prepared a forestry policy review paper to be presented before cabinet.
“The lifting of the ban will be dependent on the cabinet approval of the policy paper to be tabled soon,” Mugisa said.
Mugisa said farmers who were planting crops in the land allocated to them for tree planting, and poorly-managed tree plantations due to limited technical and financial capacity, were some of the key challenges the sector faced.
In September 2013, the NFA, issued a policy notice to withdraw land and cancel licenses from all private tree farmers who had not utilised their land. NFA statistics show that tree farmers have planted a total of 57,550 hectares representing 52 per cent of the total 111,378 hectares of land allocated in 156 commercial forest reserves.
Statistics also show that out of the 3,616 private tree farmers allocated land to plant trees, only 2,365 active tree farmers have planted trees. This means, the 1,251 farmers who have not planted will have to surrender the forest reserve land. Addressing stakeholders during the meeting, the prime minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, urged SPGS to come up with innovations to help tree farmers.
“The future of the forestry sector is very promising but tree planting has not been taken seriously,” Rugunda said.
“It requires patience, courage, time and money to invest in forestry. But investing in the future is a big sign of confidence”.
In order to reduce its investment in private plantations, government agreed to support the private sector to invest in plantations by setting up a tree fund, which is being supported by SPGS. The SPGS project supported by the EU, Norwegian and Ugandan governments offers grants, promotes standards and conducts specialised training to commercial tree farmers in a bid to boost production.
SPGS Project Manager Bueno Dickens Sande said of the 80,000 hectares under commercial tree farming, SPGS had supported more than 40,000 hectares of fast growing high-yielding plantations.
Ephraim Kamuntu, the minister of Water and Environment, said: “There is now increasing interest in greening the economy through massive tree plantation. This calls for more land for private sector investment than ever. But we still have institutional challenges and until this is done, stakeholders have to use what they have more efficiently.”
Government put a ban on allocation of forest land to farmers after it was abused by the very farmers who decided to cut the forests for firewood and burn charcoal. However, potential commercial tree farmers are now asking for the ban to be lifted and the land allocated to them. A cabinet paper is expected to review the ban.
Source : The Observer