Making Forests Work for People

Published on 9th January 2007

Collaborative Forest Management (CFM) is defined differently by various authors. The 2003 Uganda National Forestry and Tree Planting Act (section 9) defines it as a mutually beneficial arrangement in which a forest user group and a responsible body share roles, responsibilities, benefits and authority in the management of identified forest reserve or part of it. According to the Uganda National Forest Plan, such roles, responsibilities, benefits and authority are negotiated and mutually agreed upon by multiple key stakeholders; more especially a local interest group or community living beside a government forest reserve; and the responsible government authority (National Forest Authority or local government) for the management of forest resources in the reserve.

It is based on a set of rights and privileges (tenure) recognized by the government and widely accepted by resource users. It is therefore a process for sharing power amongst key stakeholders to make decisions and exercise control over resource use. This notion also agrees with Uganda Wildlife Policy that in collaborative management, two or more stakeholders with different interests in a common problem or issues explore and work through their differences together in search of solutions for mutual benefit.

The collaborative management process involves identifying key stakeholders with a view of developing a common goal/vision among them, building mutual trust and confidence, identifying institutions for co-management and areas where information is needed. Dialogue is then initiated and membership of co-management committees or groups determined. A clarification of the rights, roles, responsibilities and procedures follows for the purpose of  agreement  before a review and analysis of the existing situation regarding resource use, rights, conflicts and impacts is done. This is followed by establishing mechanisms for resolving ensuing disputes or conflicts. Mechanisms for communication, review and monitoring are then developed and agreed upon before publicity of the management agreement. Management plans are then laid and the agreement expanded to include wider areas. 

The 1995 Uganda Constitution makes provisions for sustainable environmental management. One salient feature of this constitution is the adoption and implementation of policies that promote collaborative management of the country’s natural resources and incorporating the aspect of benefit sharing from such collaboration. Whereas it had been the strategy of government to use every sector in an attempt to effect sustainable development, the missing link had been the failure to involve communities in development programmes. Involving the communities under a pro-active development approach, through which people participate in developmental schedules, is more productive. 

In the past, the forestry department’s extension strategy was not participatory. The shift over the years has improved towards participation and integration. Furthermore, the Constitution established decentralization as the basis of Local Government by the enactment of the Local Governments Act (LGA) of 1997. Section 31 1(b) of the Act stipulates that a local government council shall in its area of jurisdiction provide services as it deems fit, with the exception of the functions, powers and services which are a responsibility of the central government. Part 2 (9) of the Act stipulates the legal basis for contracting out public services and works to the private sector, charging and recovering the costs. The private sector provides a flexible and cost effective tool for increasing responsiveness to users and taps expertise that is otherwise too expensive to maintain permanently on public pay rolls that are heavily donor supported.  

Kyahi and Rwemitongore Forest Reserve as a case 

Given the need for rich case-study experiences to assess the performance of such new political and institutional processes, Kyahi and Rwemitongore Forest Reserves were chosen. Kyahi Forest Reserve was chosen because it was one of the first six pilot tree planting projects mainly for pole and fuel plantations. On the other hand, Rwemitongore is located within Mbarara, one of the fastest growing towns in Uganda. Another reason was that the author has had keen interest in the project for the last fifteen years; and has actively participated in growing trees. 

Collaborative forest conservation management was enhanced through education, public awareness, gender balance and information exchange among others. According to the decentralization policy, districts, municipalities and local councils are empowered to handle forestry issues in their jurisdictions. This is in line with the 1995 Uganda Constitution, the LGA of 1997, the National Environment Statute of 1995 and now, the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act (NFTPA) 2003.  

Section 15 of the NFTPA stipulates that a responsible body may enter into a collaborative forest management arrangement with a forest user group for purposes of managing a central or local forest reserve or part of it. The purpose of this framework is to reverse the deficit of woody biomass. One project under this collaborative management is the Peri-Urban tree planting in Mbarara and Isingiro districts, formerly Mbarara District.  

Peri-Urban tree growing in Mbarara and Isingiro districts was started by the government in the forest reserves after the 1988 study funded by the Government of Norway. The aim was to grow trees on degraded reserves, increase woody biomass supply, generate income for the government and make use of the idle land. Trees were planted under the coordination of the department of Forestry as an extension service but later decentralized to the district. In 1992, Mbarara district Forest department started allocating land to the private sector including individuals to plant trees. Eucalyptus trees were favoured because they take a shorter time (10 -15 years) to produce good timber, have market potential and the local ecological conditions are suitable for them. At the same time, the rate at which they were to grow was in line with the conservation programme. 

Forestry is important especially for the poor who are largely the rural dwellers constituting 85 per cent of the population, and are marginalized. They cannot afford basic necessities of living like food, shelter, clothing and basic health care. They lack land or productive assets hence depending heavily on natural forest resources for their survival.  

It is estimated that about 2.7 million people in Uganda live in parishes that border natural forests, which provide them with forest products and services. This was the case with people living in communities surrounding particularly Kyahi forest reserve. The people largely depended on the reserves for energy; in terms of firewood and charcoal for domestic cooking, and as a source of income, by selling it to urban residents in Mbarara town. The reserves were also a source of herbs, edible fruits and pasture.  

Assumptions in allocation 

When allocating the plots, it was assumed that land was idle; therefore, its potentialities were not being maximally exploited. It was also assumed that the communities around the reserve had the capacity and would automatically pick interest and get land leased to them for tree planting since the primary target focus of the initiative was the local communities surrounding the reserve. It was envisioned that livestock grazing had prevented forests from regenerating and fires set by the herdsmen had made the situation worse. Coupled with this, in the mid 1970s, management broke down and indiscriminate logging degraded the environment, damaging wildlife habitats. Over the years, tropical forests have been cleared from a coverage of 3, 090, 000 ha (12.7%) to only 730 000 ha (3%) of Uganda’s land area.

Against this background, Mbarara District Forestry department decided to lease land to the private sector to plant trees. The department was only charging a fee of UGX 25,000 (USD 13.88) for the first 5 years for the application.

At the same time, the Forestry department had a lot of unutilized and poorly managed land in the district. The leases intended to promote optimal utilization of the forest reserves in a bid to reduce poverty in communities; and enhance sustainable environmental conservation. The beneficiaries were required to plant trees and do any other environmentally friendly activities within the forests.

The communities surrounding the reserve had no capacity. In addition, approximately 80 per cent of those benefiting from the reserve were cattle keepers who had no interest in tree planting. To worsen the situation, costs of planting trees were high. It requires 20,000 seedlings at UGX 50 each to plant the five hectares, thus a total cost of UGX1,000,000 (USD 556) was required for purchase of seedlings only. Therefore, it is the well to do people, from urban centres, with formal employment and some doing brisk business that paid and got permits to plant trees. The surrounding community members were only left with one option of providing manual labor and growing crops on the plots; a strategy devised by the developers to cut down operational costs. The plot owners were given a portion of the crops grown at the time of harvest.  

The public private collaborative forest conservation management aimed at growing trees in degraded government forest reserves, increasing tree coverage and availability in the country and raising revenue to ease the operations of Forestry department extension. In addition, it aimed at protecting the environmental services and sustaining production of domestic and commercial forest products. In line with the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), raising of income and well being of the people was another purpose.

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