Uganda will join the rest of the world on Friday to commemorate the International Forest Day. Given our preoccupation with the seemingly more immediate political and economic needs, it is easy to gloss over the important issue of ensuring that Uganda’s forestry cover is adequate and sustainable.
With Uganda’s forestry cover quickly receding in the face of inadequate measures to stem the trend, there is every reason for us to consider the magnitude of what is at stake.
So far, Uganda has lost about 28 per cent of its cover with recent surveys pointing to annual loses of about 92,000 hectares (on public and private land). Of this acreage, an estimated 82,000 hectares is said to be lost on private land, while about 10,000 hectares is lost in protected areas (forest reserves and game parks). At this rate, reports indicate that if nothing is done to curb the trend, Uganda could lose its forest cover by 2040.
In a touch of irony, 2040 is the year that Uganda has set a major timeline for the attainment of its grand vision (Vision 2040), which aims to transform the country from a peasant economy into a middle income society.
It is going to be difficult to achieve our rather lofty Vision 2040 aspirations without appreciating the value of forestry to our economy and the overall ecosystem.
As it is, forestry already makes a significant contribution to the nation’s economic development and well-being. In 1999, the contribution of forestry to the nation’s GDP was about 6 per cent. Presently the annual turnover of business in forestry is in excess of Shs356 billion.
In addition, there is an additional estimated annual value of Sh112 billion attributed to environmental services. This suggests that there are many opportunities for poverty alleviation, for economic development, and for environmental improvement through forest sector development.
Given these and more statistics that underlie the importance of forestry in Uganda, we need to pay closer attention to forestry conservation as a country. We also need to devise smart ways of optimising forestry as a tool for economic gain and poverty alleviation.