ADDRESSING THE RAMPANT DEPLETION OF THE COUNTRY’S FOREST RESOURCES
Uganda is well endowed with a lot of natural resources in form of forests, wetlands, wildlife reserves, water resources etc. These natural resources provide several benefits to the people including reducing soil erosion, providing sources of income through harvesting of natural products, through tourism activities, regulating climate, in particular rainfall, providing a steady supply of water and water purification, among others.
As you may all recall, Government’s concern for the protection of the forestry resource of this country led to the Reform of the Forestry Sector from 1998 – 2003. This led to the formulation of the National Forest Policy of 2001, the National Forest Plan 2002, the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act, 2003. The reform also divested the management of the forestry resources to the National Forestry Authority (NFA), the District Forestry Services (DFS), the Private Sector and local communities with the Central Government Retaining the oversight and regulatory functions.
The above reforms have not however, produced the desired results due to a number of factors. The District Forestry Service (DFS) took long to be established in many Local Governments. This in addition to other factors has been the major cause of rampant deforestation and forest degradation mainly in private, community forests and those on public lands. Illegal timber harvesting, charcoal burning and firewood cutting have gone on unabated due to the limited capacity of the District Forestry Services that is responsible for the management of forest resources outside Central Forest Reserves. Illegal harvesters have robbed District Local Governments and the country at large of vital revenue due to non-payment of taxes, they have caused the drying up of water sources due to exposure of catchment areas, and cutting young trees does not allow the regeneration of forests.
The Central Forest Reserves under the National Forestry Authority (NFA) have not been spared. As the timber resource on private, community and public lands have more or less been wiped out, the illegal timber harvesters have invaded some of our Central Forest Reserves especially in Mukono, Mayuge, Mityana, Buikwe, Masindi, Hoima, Mpigi and Kibaale Districts. Weaknesses in the NFA have further compounded this problem.
As a result Uganda is losing over 92,000 hectares per year and the current reforestation and afforestation efforts do not commensurate with this decline.
We cannot continue to watch the depletion of the forest resource of this country by a few selfish individuals at the expense of the wellbeing of the current and future generation.
It is against this background that I suspended timber harvesting throughout the country on the 6th March 2012, for a period of three months in accordance with Sections 27, 45, 46 and 52 (2b)(3) of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act, 2003 and set up a task force to operationalize the directive. This aimed at reducing illegal timber harvesting in the country.
Following the suspension a number of measures were put in place including halting timber harvesting; transportation of all timber in the field to central collection points for detailed verification; an inventory to ascertain the volume of merchantable wood in the country by NFA in consultation with lead agencies; verification of all the current licenses; registration of all chain saws being used in timber production; registration of all saw mills and registration of all impending sawmills (as there are people whose new sawmills are already in the country yet to be installed, while some have plans of importing).
A Task force chaired by the Director, Directorate of Environment Affairs was formed to coordinate all these actions. Five (5) teams were instituted and sent out to 33 selected districts in the five (5) regions to assess the situation and verify registered licensees.
Todate, there are a number of achievements including but not limited to increased awareness on the provisions of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003; enhanced stakeholder awareness on forestry management in Uganda; increased awareness on the responsibilities of the different institutions involved in the management of forestry; reviewed gaps and weaknesses in the management of the forestry sector; and increased concern on forestry and environment in general. A total of 112 licenses were registered during this period of which 86 were verified through physical visit to the areas of operation and review of documentation. However, returns from the districts on additional registered pitsawyers and chain saw owners are yet to be received and these shall be displayed for public viewing. Timber dealers on the other hand have also been registered by the districts and compilation is still on going.
Short term, medium term and Long term measures have been established and details of these are found in a report accessible both on the Ministry Website and at the Forestry Sector Support Department.
This is therefore to present to you a summary of the measures that my Ministry has put in place to streamline harvesting and trade in timber, improve governance and curb illegal timber trade in the country:
1. Regulatory Unit
My Ministry shall establish a Regulatory Unit in the Forestry Sector Support Department (FSSD) by 30th September 2012, to take charge of all aspects of Forest Produce licensing and trade. This will strengthen the regulatory function and monitoring compliance to the regulations. This unit shall regulate all licenses issued by both NFA and Local Governments.
2. Issuance of new licenses
New forge proof licenses/permits will be issued with effect from 1st August 2012. All valid licenses will be replaced by the new ones for the same period. There will be no more yearly licenses, but licenses shall be specific for identified harvestable volumes. These licenses shall be based on available stocks and the Licensees or Permit holders shall be closely monitored and supervised based on the guidelines issued by Forestry Sector Support Department (FSSD). In the mean time, current resource data from the National Biomass Unit shall be used to facilitate issuance of new licenses.
The Buyer and Seller Agreement Form shall be serialized by 1st August 2012. This form is important in the assessment of the application before a license is issued for transactions on private forests and it further clarifies the chain of custody of the forest produce.
The licensee shall first and foremost demonstrate capability/ability to replace the trees to be cut by exhibiting a vibrant nursery/ areas planted/ areas to be planted.
3. Display of licensees
With effect from 1st August 2012, all the Responsible Bodies and Licensees shall be required to display all the Licenses or permits at their respective premises for public viewing .
4. Registration and Verification of licensees
The exercise for verification of licenses and registration of saw millers and pit sawyers as well as appraising and updating of the register of existing hammers country wide could not be accomplished in the stipulated time because information was found wanting. Consequently, verification will continue until 31st August 2012. All District Forestry Services (DFS), saw-millers and pit-sawyers are urged to submit the required information to facilitate issuance of new licenses. Clearance for extension or non extension of current and running licenses after the ban will be based on only concrete proof of compliance and non compliance to the terms and conditions of the licenses. This will be effected in writing.
Given the level of degradation in the following areas, namely; Kibaale, Kyegegwa, Kyenjojo, Masindi, Mpigi, Hoima, Buliisa, Mukono and Buikwe, these are with immediate effect no go areas and no harvesting is to go on until further notice.
5. Timber Tracking System
The timber tracking system that had been laid out in the 1990s shall be reinstated and improved upon to enable tracking of individual pieces of timber back to the source (Chain of Custody) by end of FY 2012/2013. The main element of the tracking system includes hammers with distinguishing marks and numbers corresponding to districts. Within the districts, there will be different hammers for the extraction/ felling sites from that of the District Forest Officers. Consequently, it will be possible to trace a piece of timber from the timber shade back to the district and later to the stump of the tree where it originated. This governance tool shall be coordinated by Forestry Sector Support Department (FSSD) of the Ministry.
6. Stock taking
NFA and District Forestry Services (DFS) shall undertake an inventory of existing forestry stocks to determine existing volumes of round wood in all districts starting with the following forteen (14) districts of Mukono, Masindi, Kibaale, Kyegegwa, Kyenjojo, Buliisa, Buikwe, Mpigi,Hoima, Sironko, Nakasongola, Gulu, Amuru and Nwoya. . The results shall be submitted to FSSD not later than 31st January 2013.
7. Record of Private Forest Owners
The District Forest Services (DFS) shall carry out an inventory of all Private Forest Owners (PFOs) in their respective Districts to facilitate planning and sourcing support for private forests. In addition, DFS shall mobilize private forest owners to register with the District Land Boards in accordance with section 24 of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003. This should be accomplished by 31st December 2012.
8. Registration of firewood and charcoal dealers
All firewood and charcoal dealers shall be registered at district level and supported to organize themselves into user groups or associations for efficient monitoring and coordination. By 31st September 2012, as firewood and charcoal dealers apply for permits, they have to show plans to plant, and are expected to be in position to plant at the start of the first year of registration. In the second year, priority is to be given to those who are already planting. They should be able to plant on their own land or on the bare hills.
The firewood and charcoal dealers shall declare sources of wood to the District Forestry Services (DFS) who will in turn ensure that records of species and volumes are taken, monitored and immediately shared with the Regulatory Unit. Failure to adhere to this shall lead to penalties including cancellation of permits, non renewal or denial of permits followed by prosecution and publicity of the culprit.
9. Technologies for Sustainable Firewood and Charcoal production
Annually, the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) shall coordinate and stage an exhibition for exposure, networking and synergizing the various groups engaged in sustainable firewood, charcoal and other energy production and use technologies.
Ministry of Water and Environment in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, District Forestry Services, the Private Sector and Civil Society Organizations shall widely disseminate technologies for Sustainable Firewood and Charcoal Production. By the FY 2014/2015, the use of Sustainable Firewood and Charcoal Production technologies shall be made a pre-condition for issuance of movement permits and issuances of licenses.
10. Timber Export
The ban on timber export which was instituted on 7th August 1987 in Statutory Instrument No. 56 on External Trade (Export Restricted Goods) Order 1987 is still in force. All customs officials at Boarder points and District Forest Officers and the Environment Protection Force (EPF) are urged to be vigilant to ensure that this directive is enforced. Timber originating from neighbouring countries and destined for neighbouring and other countries, must be maintained under seal while transiting Uganda. Timber from Uganda can only be exported on value addition.
11. National Tree Fund
Section 40 of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003, establishes the Tree Fund. Cabinet approved the modalities for the establishment of the Fund and I am in the process of establishing the Board and other relevant structures for operationalizing of the Tree Fund. All new licensees and permit holders shall contribute to the Tree Fund based on a percentage to be worked out and agreed by the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development and Ministry of Water and Environment not later than 31st December 2012.
12. Stakeholder meetings
Stakeholder meetings to disseminate the new measures following the ban on timber harvesting shall be held with all stakeholders starting with the District Forestry Officers (DFOs), NGOs and commercial tree planters on the 18th July 2012; Saw-millers on the 19th July 2012; Pit-sawyers and timber traders on the 20th July 2012 at National Forestry Authority /Forestry Sector Support Department campus. The Ministry will meet the respective district leadership on the respective dates and venues to be communicated.
As I conclude, I would like to emphasise that forestry management is a shared responsibility and the above measures shall be implemented by the different institutions and stakeholders, and the monitoring of timber movement by all of the concerned parties. In particular, the enforcement by the Environment Protection Force (EPF) shall be intensified to ensure compliance.
I call upon all Ugandans to love and protect trees, protect and conserve our forests and plant a tree for every occasion.
Issued on the 12th July 2012
BY THE MINISTER OF WATER AND ENVIRONMENT
For more information contact:
Forest Sector Support Department (FSSD)
Directorate of Environment Affairs
P.O. Box 20026