Home Environment How retired hotelier planted a 5-acre natural forest in his backyard

How retired hotelier planted a 5-acre natural forest in his backyard

Today, Mr Mboijana is so fond of his forest that a few years ago when the international luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent approached him and offered an impressive Ush1 billion for his home, he told them off without thinking twice.

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Tom Mboijana treks through his natural forest in Fort Portal, western Uganda. Photo by Morgan Mbabazi
Tom Mboijana treks through his natural forest in Fort Portal, western Uganda. Photo by Morgan Mbabazi

As most people approach retirement, they tend to build apartments in their backyards because rentals are seen as the best option for someone who needs a stable source of income in old age.

But for ex-hotelier Tom Mboijana, all he needed for retirement was something that could help him live a healthier life in old age. So, in 1986, Mr Mboijana set out to grow a natural forest on a 5.5-acre piece of land in his backyard so that he could spend the evening of his life enjoying the health benefits of living in nature.

“I not only breathe very fresh air but also get a variety of fresh fruit from my forest. In fact, I don’t even remember when I last suffered from diseases such as flu because the fresh fruit I get from my forest keep on boosting my immune system. I cannot even suffer from diseases like coronavirus,” he says.

Now 73 years old, Mr Mboijana’s home sits on an eight-acre piece of land on the outskirts of Fort Portal City in western Uganda. Rich in biodiversity, Fort Portal is home to some of Uganda’s most popular nature reserves, including Kibale and Rwenzori national parks.

‘Partnering with animals and birds’

But how do you plant a natural forest? “I used appropriate technology to plant this forest by partnering with animals and birds,” he begins. “Who do you think planted Mabira Forest? It’s birds and animals that plant natural forests. They eat the seeds and then spread them through their faeces. All I did was to create an enabling environment for them to come to my land regularly.”

Tom Mboijana in his natural forest in Fort Portal, western Uganda. Photo by Morgan Mbabazi

Mr Mboijana simply stopped growing crops or carrying out any activity on the land and left it to the ecosystem to do the rest. Within a few years of reserving the land, many indigenous trees had started sprouting, thanks to birds and animals that began to frequent the area searching for food.

“It’s a continuous process. The birds and animals continue to plant more trees here because they keep visiting the forest, and many of them come from nearby nature reserves such as Kibale and Rwenzori national parks where there are many indigenous trees,” Mr Mboijana says, pointing to a wild coffee tree in his small forest that is mostly found in Kibale National Park.

As we trekked through the forest, we caught sight of some rare bird species, including the Great Blue Turaco and the Rwenzori Turaco, which are some of the biggest attractions in Rwenzori and Kibale national parks. According to Mr Mboijana, some animal species like monkeys also used to live in his forest some years back but they were chased away by some neighbouring communities who used to hunt them for meat.

Mr Mboijana made fish ponds within the forest for what he describes as “sustainable environment to fight malaria and malnutrition.”

Tom Mboijana’s forest in Fort Portal, western Uganda. Photo by Morgan Mbabazi

“Apart from offering me a steady supply of various species of fish, these ponds have also helped to stop prevalence of malaria in my home. Mosquitoes rush to lay eggs in the stagnant water of the ponds and then the fish eat the larvae,” he says. “In fact, I last had a bout of malaria way back in 1991.”

His fish feed on natural food, mostly fruit such as avocados that are commonplace in the forest because these are more nutritious than the processed feed on the market, he says.

Today, Mr Mboijana is so fond of his forest that a few years ago when the international luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent approached him and offered an impressive Ush1 billion for his home, he told them off without thinking twice.

“I told them that my forest was priceless and they couldn’t believe that here was a poor Negro refusing one billion shillings!” he says with a chuckle.

However, this opened his eyes to a business opportunity: turning his vast gardens next to the forest into a campsite, which he named Whispering Camp and now hosts tourists looking for unconventional accommodation and the quietude of nature.

For posterity, Mr Mboijana has registered his property as a Public Trust so that “not even my children will be able to sell it or cut down the trees to build rentals,” he says on the last note.

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