Plant a tree to restore forest cover

Kefa Atibuni

What you need to know:

The time to act is now; each seedling we plant is a step towards a sustainable future for generations to come.

The sense of urgency surrounding deforestation is not just a distant concern but a stark reality, already impacting our present and imminent future. The ramifications of deforestation are becoming increasingly evident from natural disasters such as landslides, floods, and wildfires, to the loss of numerous plant and animal species, among others.

As a newly-appointed fellow at Forest House in Bugolobi, the headquarters of the National Forestry Authority (NFA), a government agency mandated to oversee the sustainable management of 506 Central Forest Reserves (CFRs) covering 1,263,743 hectares and to provide technical support to stakeholders in the forestry sub-sector, I am confronted with the urgent reality of deforestation.

I can more than before view the troubling truth about the state of our beloved motherland: once dressed in lush forest cover, now being undressed through conversion of forest land to other land-use types such as agriculture and urbanisation, and unsustainable and often illegal felling of trees for timber, firewood and charcoal burning.

The 2021 National Biomass Report by NFA shows that forest cover decreased to 12 percent from 13.4 percent in 2019. In 2015, it had dropped to dismal 9 percent from 24 percent in 1990.

As we await the release of the 2024 report, consider these national statistics in juxtaposition with the FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, which indicates that the world has a total forest area of 4.06 billion hectares (10.0 billion acres), which is 31 percent of the total land area.

The metaphorical stripping away of our motherland’s green attire signifies more than just the loss of aesthetics; it symbolises the destruction of vital ecosystems, cultural heritage, and the very essence of our environmental well-being.

The NFA, in a bid to avert the worrying trend, directly raised and distributed more than 50 million seedlings to communities under the Community Planting Programme and more than 35 million seedlings for NFA’s own planting and commercial purposes in a five-year period (2015-2020). However, the significance of this achievement is still being undermined by the high rate of degradation and encroachment on forest resources in the country coupled with suspected high rates of seedling attrition and encroachment on some of the country’s central forest reserves.

Uganda Vision 2040 outlines several initiatives for the management and protection of the environment and natural resources with a key component of increasing forest cover to 24 percent.

The vision contains the concept of the “green economy”, including efforts to restore and add value to eco-systems through undertaking re-forestation and afforestation on public land, promoting the participation of citizens in tree planting on both private and public land, enhancing private investment in forestry through promotion of commercial tree planting on private land, and the adoption of green and smart agricultural practices.

Indeed, the consequences of deforestation in Uganda are not confined to its borders. As a global community, we share the responsibility to address environmental challenges collectively. For example, in 2014, as a masters’ student at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, I participated in the production of a 10-minute film to understand how the general public perceives legal timber trade, sustainable forest management, and related EU regulations.

The film aimed to inspire debates among members of the Dutch Tropical Forest Association (VTB) and define the future VTB agenda, including efforts to curtail importation of illegal timber into that country. Such actions are what we all perhaps need to protect our precious forest reserves and forest cover, including planting a tree to restore the natural beauty of our dear motherland.

The time to act is now; each seedling we plant is a step towards a sustainable future for generations to come.

Mr Atibuni is the Communication and Public Relations Manager at NFA.