News / Africa

Ugandans Invest in Trees, For Profit, Conservation

An aerial view of a settlement in Mabira Forest Reserve, 55km (34 miles) east of the capital Kampala, April 21, 2007.
An aerial view of a settlement in Mabira Forest Reserve, 55km (34 miles) east of the capital Kampala, April 21, 2007.

Wealthy investors in Uganda are taking advantage of a new money-making opportunity investing in trees. Trees have become an attractive investment because of the rising cost of timber and the allure of carbon credits. The Ugandan government sees these so-called "tree banks" as a means to combat deforestation. But practice remains controversial.

These days, Uganda’s wealthy elite are less likely to put their money into property, the stock market, or even the bank. The new hot investment opportunity is trees. Vast plantations of pine and eucalyptus are sprouting across the country, planted by those looking to cash in on valuable wood and possibly carbon credits.

Trees as business

Businessmen Peter Nyeko has invested $50,000, along with two partners, in 20 hectares of eucalyptus trees just west of the capital, Kampala. He calls it his “tree bank.” Despite the work involved in clearing the land and caring for the trees, he says a tree bank is the best investment he could possibly have made.

"You could invest about $50,000 and in about 10 years you’re harvesting trees worth about $5 million," he said. "You buy a seedling for less than $5, but once that seedling grows to become a fully grown tree, it will probably cost more than $150. As long as you’re willing to wait for about 10 years for a return on your capital employed, it’s pretty amazing. It’s just like a trust fund."

This is exactly the message the Ugandan government is trying to convey to its citizens. Demand for wood is on the rise, and the deforestation rate is alarming - the country has lost nearly 40 percent of its forests over the past 20 years.

Gonza Araali of the National Forestry Authority, or NFA, says his agency provides free seedlings and technical advice to tree planters. He says the government is advocating tree planting not just for the wealthy, but for all segments of Ugandan society.

"We are also telling them it’s an investment; it’s an insurance," he said. "It’s where they can get income and be able to sustain themselves, and also pay school fees for their children."

Possible carbon credits

Systems are not yet in place in Uganda to allow tree planters to benefit from carbon credits. But investors like Nyeko are betting that they soon will be.

"In the next few years, we might finally be able to trade carbon credits linked to trees that have been growing. That would open up another revenue stream as well, making it sometimes even more profitable to keep the trees rather than cutting them. It’s part of my rationale," said Nyeko.

Not everyone is convinced that tree banks are beneficial for Uganda as a whole. The most popular trees to plant are fast-growing varieties like eucalyptus and pine - imported trees that threaten native species.

On the other hand, Araali of the NFA explains that fast-growing trees can also protect native forests.

"People are able to get timber out of them, and the rate at which they would have gone to the natural forest to cut [trees] reduces," he said. "They also help in conservation in one way or another, which people are not seeing."

Environmental concerns

But as Abby Onencan of the Entebbe-based Nile Basin Discourse points out, there are other environmental concerns as well, some of which could have regional implications.

"A lot has been said about the eucalyptus. There are some breeds which are really bad, they really cause a lot of destruction and should not be planted near the water," said Onencan. "If we plant trees around the Nile that take up the water, then the water might never reach Egypt. What one country does affects largely another country, so we need to be really careful about what we do."

Social consequences

Some say the tree plantations also come with a social cost. Last year the British NGO Oxfam published a report accusing a British-based tree planting company of kicking local people off land in Uganda in order to plant. The company later closed their operations in the country on a wave of bad publicity.

Uganda’s Minister for the Environment
, Flavia Munaaba, admits that allocating large tracts of land to tree plantations can create problems.

"We are losing forest cover very rapidly. However, when it comes to guidance on reforestation, the tendency is to allocate land to big investors, at the exclusion of the common people. That is the problem, in the sense that there is resentment," said Munaaba.

Responsible planting

But Onencan says there are ways in which the trees, if sensitively managed, can benefit the local population.

"I think you can actually empower the communities to be part of the whole program in such a way that they are the ones planting the trees, they are the ones determining the tree that they want to plant, and they get actually a percentage of the benefit. So you involve them fully so they can own that project," he said.

Nyeko is convinced that by the time he eventually harvests his trees, they will have benefited both the environment and Ugandan society. His eucalyptus will be useful, he says, to a growing population hungry for timber.

"The more people that get involved now, the better, because the population is rising, demand is shooting up, and we just don’t have enough timber growing to sustain our demand for timber. There is a benefit in it for the whole country at large," he said.

In any case, the NFA reports that more and more people are asking for planting advice, so tree banking will most likely become even more popular in the years to come.


You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs