Home Environment Bamboo seen as magic bullet in race to reforest Uganda

Bamboo seen as magic bullet in race to reforest Uganda

The Tree Trends Farm features a variety of bamboo species, including green, bambusa vulgaris, black and giant bamboo, which the owner mainly monitises by producing charcoal – the main source of energy for Ugandans – according to Patrick Musisi, the caretaker of the farm.

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When I was a young boy in the 1980s and 1990s, more than 20 hectares of my family land in Hoima, western Uganda, were covered by a natural forest. This small forest played host to a range of wild animals, including antelopes and edible rats, which some of my relatives used to hunt for the pot.

The forest was also a source of spring water for my grandparents’ cattle, as well as a “Garden of Eden” full of edible wild fruits such as turmeric and berries for kids like me.

By the 2000s, however, our forest was gone as our expanding family continued to clear it for farmland, timbre, firewood and charcoal.

And yet my family members were not alone. While Uganda had about three million hectares of forest cover on private land by 1990, only about 500,000 hectares were left by 2019, according to the National Forestry Authority data.

When protected areas such as national parks and forest reserves are factored in, Uganda’s total forest cover has reduced from 17.9 per cent in 1990 to only 11.7 per cent in 2020, according to World Bank statistics. This downward trend is worrying, especially considering that the total global forest cover is disproportionately higher – at 31 per cent.

In this era of a deteriorating climate crisis, forests are seen as part of the solution as they play a key role in absorbing carbon dioxide – the primary cause of rising temperatures – from the atmosphere.

Now the government is working hard to ensure that the country regains some of its lost forest cover by encouraging Ugandans to actively plant more trees. In fact, March 24 was officially declared Tree Planting Day in Uganda to stress the importance and urgency of increasing the country’s forest cover.

Bamboo most viable solution

In a small village of Kalule, about 40 kilometers north of Kampala, Leonard Mutesasira is one of the people who have heeded the government’s reforestation call and swung into action. Mr Mutesasira, who set up his Tree Trends Farm five years ago, has so far planted up to seven acres of bamboo and he intends to plant more when he acquires more land in the near future.

The Tree Trends Farm features a variety of bamboo species, including green, bambusa vulgaris, black and giant bamboo, which the owner mainly monitises by producing charcoal – the main source of energy for Ugandans – according to Patrick Musisi, the caretaker of the farm.

Aside from charcoal production, Musisi says the farm also sells the trees to people who need poles for construction of buildings, making furniture, boats and an assortment of wood products. Bamboo leaves can also be fed to cows and goats while communities in Uganda’s Mount Elgon region also use them for preparing a dish they christened Malewa, which is usually mixed with groundnut sauce to make it tasty.

The biggest advantage of planting bamboo, Musisi says, is that it can grow anywhere and just one seedling can sprout more than 30 trees, which take about three-five years to mature, depending of type of species.

“At first we used to plant a lot of pine and eucalyptus trees but we discovered that bamboo is much better because it matures faster and you can harvest throughout the year. For eucalyptus and pine, one harvests once in a decade and you have to plant new seedlings – but bamboo sprouts as soon as it’s cut,” Musisi.

The fact that bamboo grows faster and sprouts back immediately after it’s harvested is one of the reasons Flavia Nabugera, former minister of state for environment (2011-2017) and founder of the Uganda Bamboo Association (UBA), has been promoting bamboo farming for the past few years as one of the ways of boosting the country’s forest cover.

“When I was state minister for environment, I visited many countries around the world in a bid to find a solution to the problem of environmental degradation in the country and found that bamboo growing was the most viable,” she says.

“Bamboo has an edge over other trees in Uganda’s restoration efforts because it grows faster than most trees.”
When she founded UBA in 2017 after leaving government, Ms Nabugera lobbied for 500 acres of land from the government for her association to plant bamboo. In addition, she also implored the National Forestry Authority to include bamboo growing in the country’s forest cover restoration strategy.

Today, Ms Nabugera’s UBA has 400 members and the association plans to plant at least more 30,000 hectares of bamboo in the next five years. 23,000 hectares, she says, have already been mapped on privately owned land and the association is now mobilizing funds to purchase seedlings and start planting.

“Ugandans have been clearing wetlands for farming for a long time so now we are engaging communities to recognise their participation in the degradation of our environment and to encourage them to participate in restoration efforts. Bamboo is not only good for the environment, but it’s also a good source of income for communities because it can be used for making more than 40,000 products,” Ms Nabugera said.

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