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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake 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 Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid