Uganda - Eucalyptus timber and poles are in high demand in Uganda, yet Faiby Namukwaya, a 48-year-old mother of ten, can’t seem to find a good price for her products.
Prospective buyers tell her: “Your trees are overgrown, they will not sell easily,”or “You planted them too far from the roadside, so we will have to deduct the price to factor in the costs incurred for transporting them to the roadside,” she says.
Stuck for ideas on how to sell her three-year-old Eucalypts, Namukwaya brought her problem to one of the monthly Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM) monitoring meetings held in her village, Nkinga. There she received advice from the District Forest Officer, from an external timber market specialist, and from more than 100 other forest users who are members of the Nkinga ACM group.
After some discussion, Namukwaya decided to follow a recommendation from the group: sell some poles now, and leave the rest to grow into timber to earn around 20 times more per tree for the final product.
The outcome is another success story for the Nkinga ACM group, which has seen membership surge from 40 people at its beginnings two years ago, to more than 130 members today.
Namukwaya and 12 other forest users in Nkinga started planting Eucalyptus trees three years ago as a boundary crop to protect a nearby nature reserve from further degradation and encroachment. The group was granted 13 hectares of land to plant indigenous and exotic species around the reserve that could supply their forest product needs while increasing tree cover in the area.
Eucalyptus is a favored tree by farmers here because it grows quickly and its by-products are highly marketable. Yet most women are prohibited from growing it in their own plots due to pervasive gender-based cultural taboos.
Namukwaya and her peers were happy to take advantage of the opportunity to use the communal land along the reserve to plant Eucalypts, hoping to meet their own needs for firewood as well as make some extra income.
After three years, Namukwaya had 600 trees ready for sale. Instead of waiting for the trees to fully mature, she wanted to sell the lot as poles to help with her cash flow. But the ACM group suggested better ways to make the most of her crop.
The group recommended discussing the options with local construction workers, who could connect her to buyers willing to pay more for a few poles at a time, rather than paying less for a bulk order. They gave the option of cutting the poles into smaller pieces, and selling them as fencing poles. Each pole can be sold for USD 1.50, so one can earn three times the initial price. The trees could also be sold as firewood, they said, at USD 0.50 for three pieces, fetching up to USD 3.00 per pole.
The final recommendation caught her attention: sell a few young Eucalyptus poles as thinning to the local builders, and leave the rest to grow taller for timber purposes. This strategy would mean a jump in revenue from USD 1.50 for the 10-15 centimeter poles that Namukwaya can grow within a couple of years, to USD 30 for timber the height of electricity poles, which she can grow within seven years.
The District Forest Officer is now available to advise Namukwaya on proper spacing in order to get good diameters for her timber.
Scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Association of Uganda Professional Women in Agriculture and the Environment (AUPWAE) have used the ACM approach to implement forest-related activities in six study sites in Uganda since 2011, including in Nkinga.
ACM is an approach whereby stakeholders who share an interest in a common natural resource agree to act together to plan, observe and draw lessons from the implementation of their plans. It is characterized by conscious efforts among such groups to collaborate, resolve conflicts, and seek opportunities to learn collectively about the impacts of their actions.
The project’s goal is to empower women and strengthen their involvement in the management of forests and trees. Under the initiative, a Collaborative Forest Management partnership was established with the National Forest Authority (NFA) to co-manage part of the Kizikibi Central Forest Reserve. NFA is the body that manages the reserve on behalf of the Ugandan government.
The ACM approach requires participants like Namukwaya to meet on a monthly basis to monitor project progress. These monitoring meetings allow group members to reflect on, learn from or solve joint or individual problems.
After all, the forest affects the livelihood of not only one person, but an entire community.
“Unfortunately, gender does not feature much in current global reforestation debates. Yet this outcome here demonstrates that women can participate effectively in restoring degraded forests if their rights to the forests and trees are assured,” says Esther Mwangi, Principal Scientist at CIFOR.
“This assurance gives them confidence to invest in tree planting and maintenance. However, this story also illustrates another important issue, which is that exercising rights is often a pathway to securing incomes and livelihoods for forest-adjacent communities. Local women and men involved in restoration programs need to derive value and benefits from participating in reforestation programs. Links to markets that provide a fair price for poles or timber is crucial.”
On October 26 2016, CIFOR in collaboration with AUPWAE will hold a meeting with legislators from Uganda’s Parliament to present findings from the gender project, as well as to obtain input on how to improve policy implementation to strengthen women’s rights and to enhance gender equity in forest decision-making. The meeting will also solicit legislators’ ideas on how to scale up Adaptive Collaborative Management and to institutionalize it into government programs. This meeting will be attended by Uganda Parliament’s Natural Resources Committee and Uganda Women Parliamentarian Association.