What you might not know about the forestry business in Uganda!

Growing up, I used to see trees as a play thing; a place to think of putting a tree house and playing therein. Better yet, we grew up with two mango trees in our compound and we used to make sure we harvest the really sweet mangoes in the due season. As I have grown older however, the idea to delve into tree planting as a business has led me to interact and research more about the business of growing trees more from being a hobby that I read about into something that is a downright money spinner.

Patience is the name of the game when it comes to trees. Let’s face it, there’s a saying that the best time to plant trees was 20 years ago… and the next best time to plant trees is right now…

Using this as a driver to realising that trees as a whole are a necessary part of our world we can break down the things you may not know about the forestry business in Uganda. Uganda as a country has over 25,000 hectares of forest cover. It is important to note that Uganda has mainly relied on natural forest cover to meet her demand for forest products in Uganda. It is important to also note that the natural forests have been seriously depleted and can no longer meet the demand amidst the growing real estate industry. This makes the case for investment in commercial forestry to meet the deficit. Also note Uganda is short of a mature crop to meet the domestic timber demand and this is expected to be carried into the foreseeable future beyond the next 8 to 17 years.

The Uganda National Forestry Policy recognises that about 11% and 7% of the world’s bird and mammal species respectively are found in Uganda’s forestland. This indicates that there is an enormous potential in terms of wealth creation for the country with revenues coming mainly from tourism and trade in forest products. The environmental benefits, though rarely recognised, contribute significantly to the general well-being of the economy. In addition, the forest sub-sector provides over 90% of the household energy, more so in light of the recent severe decline in hydro-power generation in the country. Thus, the current high interest in forestry, from various stakeholders such as Government, business community, local population, civil society and the international community, shows how important forest resource issues have become.

Species/ Locations/ Uses

Species that exist in Uganda are mainly used in construction and these include pine, eucalyptus and Kirundu. The much more expensive native hardwoods such as Mahogany, Mvule and Nkalati are used for furniture and interior construction and furnishings. Cypress when available commands a much higher price because of its superior characteristics. Plywood and fibre board are also used increasingly in combination with veneer or laminate. The more appropriate species for commercial forestry in Uganda range from Pine, Eucalyptus, Clonal Eucalyptus, Musizi and Teak. They are highly recommended for commercial forestry as there is readily available demand as well as qualified seed sources that exhibit quick growing characteristics. Also note that good seed and availability is key for success of any commercial forestry investment.

With regard to ownership and management, the forest estates in Uganda are organized under the following five categories.

  • Central Forest Reserves (CFRs), which are managed under Trust for the people of Uganda by the central government. The National Forestry Authority (NFA) has been established as the lead agency for managing the CFRs.
  • Private Forests are owned and managed by registered individuals, institution(s) or companies.
  • Community Forests, which are on public land, are supposed to be jointly managed by communities under defined community arrangements. The Community management structures are provided for in the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003, and are declared by the Minister. This is the least developed management structure.
  • National Park Forests (NPFs) form part of the national parks and are held in trust for the citizens and managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
  • Local Forest Reserve (LFRs) are held in trust for the citizens and managed by the Local Governments. The directly responsible institution for managing Local Forest Reserves is the District Forestry Service (DFS).

Key Players

Pit Sawyers These are the people who continue after felling of the trees. They cut up the logs into fair sizes ready for transport. Additional value is gained from the sale of off-cuts to local consumers who use them for making furniture, firewood or charcoal burning. The lumberjacks, who work in pairs of two, attract costs that include food, medicines, transport from their residences to the forest, and a commission to foremen or pit sawyers. The net pay for this category is very low value compared to the manual work done, which includes felling the tree, building a platform, cutting the tree into logs, and sawing them into pieces of timber.
Local Transporters/Porters The local transporters are one of the most exploited groups of actors since the cost per piece is not standardized but varies with the distance from the collection point and ability to bargain. This category has high risks related to contact with law enforcement officers especially in the case of illegal activities whereby timber could be confiscated and the porter imprisoned.
Middlemen Middlemen have unlimited access to timber resources, mainly because of easy access to credit from timber owners, the buyers and banks. Middlemen in most cases do not have their own money, but through their knowledge of the market, they are able to convince the timber owners to provide timber on credit or get money from the buyers to finance their trade. Other than these lawful means, they practice fraud whereby they cheat the timber owners directly or indirectly through claims that the timber was of low quality ‘fagi’.Their ability to control the trade is partly through threats of violence, good relations with the law enforcement personnel, access to market information, and knowledge of good customer care (use of persuasive language). For example, middlemen maintain their position of power by intimidating lumberjacks with threats and connivance with big actors including law enforcement personnel.Similarly, knowledge of the timber market mechanisms has enabled middlemen to wield a lot of power and consequently capture great benefits from whomever they interact with to the extent that the communities have accused them of exploitation.
Truckers/Main Transporters This is the other category of actors along the chain linkages who are largely employed by the middlemen. Their main activity is transportation of timber from the various collection points near the forest to and from depots around Masindi town to Kampala Hoima, Gulu, Adjumani, Soroti, Apac, and Arua. Their activities involve acquiring a movement permit, loading of timber on the trucks, evaluation, certification and payment of revenues to the district forest services.

Timber owners usually shift the burden and risk of capture to the porters and prefer to pay cash on delivery of the timber. In the case of private forest owners, the commodity chain is rather short compared to other cases. It is mostly from the forest to the market. There are neither middlemen nor pit sawyers. The machine takes a total average period of 3 – 4 days to extract timber and involves less waste in comparison to other methods such as the power saw.

National Forestry Authority (NFA)

The NFA, and particularly the Saw-log Production Grant Scheme (SPGS), are currently the only sources for professional advice in the forestry sector. The role of the NFA in the value chain is mainly to manage the Central Forest Reserves (CFR) and ensuring proper forest management practises (hence having the mandate to provide at least limited extension services). It also is an actor in the market by selling plantation timber. It both has a regulatory function external to the chain but also actively participates in the chain, influencing market prices. NFA also does the following;

  • Manage CFRs in partnership with private sector and local communities
  • Advisory, research or commercial services on contract
  • Seed supply from the National Tree Seed Center (NTSC)
  • National forest inventory and technical services through National Biomass Studies (NBS)
  • Improve management of the central forest reserves
  • Expand partnership arrangements such as collaborative forest management
  • Supply good quality products (Timber) and services (advisory)

Saw-log Production Grant Scheme (SPGS),

SPGS is a project within the Ministry of Water and Environment. It is funded by the Norwegian Government, EU and GoU to extend technical and financial support to private commercial tree planters in Uganda. The Grant Scheme supports various elements across the forestry value-chain in Uganda. SPGS funds the establishment of timber plantations. It also, however, provides professional technical advice, training and research grants to support private growers throughout Uganda.  SPGS is tackling head-on the massive looming timber crisis in Uganda and at the same time is addressing key development goals – notably, rural poverty, mitigating climate change and ultimately (by taking the pressure off natural forests to supply timber) biodiversity conservation.

The Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) has identified six plantation clusters which represent focus areas and are based on number of planters and area under plantation. These are shown as below:

Source: SPGS Plantation Clusters

Private planters can be roughly divided into three categories by the area planted. Small ones own plantations of less than 100ha, medium sized planters manage up to 500ha and larger planters are above that. Large planters manage most of the land under plantation (41%), closely followed by medium sized planters (37%). Small planters contribute with only 22%.

International trade statistics show that the demand for timber and wood based products in Uganda is very high and cannot be satisfied with the resources available internally. The notable exception is poles. Imports of raw products (round wood, poles and sawn wood) come from mainly DRC, Sudan and South Africa. Exports, again with the exception of poles to Kenya, are negligible. More advanced products like veneer, plywood, particle and fibre board, carpentry and joinery have stronger export markets. Importing countries are especially Kenya, Sudan and DRC. Imports come mainly from Kenya.

Challenges and Risks

On the downward side, most forest estates like many others continues to experience several man made problems including:

  • Land availability is a great limitation to the commercial forestry industry
  • Increase in illegal pit sawing
  • Increase in the pressure for land, which is evidenced in the current land wrangles in various forest areas
  • A growing and high population in the area of the Central Forest Reserves
  • Increased commercial growing of sugarcane and tobacco.
  • Fire especially during the dry seasons for Pine Trees

Since most of the people in the forested areas do not own the land but only use it on a tenancy basis, they are apparently discouraged from planting trees. As a result, there are largely no incentives for the local communities to protect trees including on private land. A combination of this lack of clarity on natural resources tenure and excessive reliance by the state on punitive law enforcement measures partly explains the extent to which the communities are discouraged from engaging in tree planting and re-afforestation programmes.

There is collaborative forest management with communities. In addition, people have been allocated land in forest reserves for tree planting and majority did not plant and are just sitting on their leases. At the moment, a presidential ban halted this allocation and has made it complicated for genuine people with capacity and interest in tree planting.

By Edmund Kamugisha

Edmund Kamugisha Edmund is the Engagement Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has 10+ years of   management consultancy experience notably in MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry. You can follow him on twitter: @edmokmg


  1. Talemwa Ivan

    Am called Talemwa Ivan, I would like to know you more and I think I like your help I will be greatfull to hear from you soon

  2. Edmund Kamugisha

    Yes Ivan!
    How may we be of help. Kindly drop us an email at: info [at] blegscope [dot] com and we discuss further

  3. Innocent

    Hello I would to know more information about the grant scheme and how I can access it


    Thanks for reading our blog.

    For more details on the SPGS, Google search reveals these links.

    You can follow through and get a meeting with their manager and he explains further


  5. Opiyo Robert

    My question is,how many pine trees can be planted in an acre of land and what is the spacing?

  6. Mwanja Godfrey

    Inteted in more write ups

  7. Simon Morris Okia

    Your messageThax
    I would like to be linked to the funding egencies otherwise my current plantations are promissing. Am still planting more and more but the initial costs are rib-breaking.

  8. hakiza

    sir I wanted to know how many musizi should I plant in one acre?

  9. Jackson

    Hello, am Jackson Musoga, and am really interested in commercial tree planting.. Am expecting to get land for the above activity soon, which between pine and eucalyptus yields more profits or is less problem associated , thank you.

  10. Joshua Otitandu

    Trees get the earth steady, am ready to start up a project. Would you mind giving me your contacts Mr Edmund Kamugisha?
    I would like to have a one on one chat with you. Great minds think alike.
    +256706322147, I’ll be grateful Sir. Thanks

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