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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs