First-ever community forest launched in Kotido as five hectare woodlot is planted

The month of September will always bring fond memories to the people of Lobul village, Lobanya parish, Kapeta Sub-County in Kotido District, as the month in which the community officially took charge of their first-ever community forest. On 1 September 2021, FAO Deputy Representative in Uganda- Priya Gujadhur, officially handed-over a 12.5 acre (five hectares [ha]) woodlot of Gmelina arborea and Acacia siamea tree species, to the community of Lobul village and the Kotido District Local Government. The two species are fast-growing tree types that will, in the short and long run, provide alternative sources of firewood so that community members rely less on the existing woody indigenous tree types. These species also coppice (sprout from the cut stump) easily after harvesting and so there is no need to replant (no additional planting cost).

Kotido District, one of the nine districts in the semi-arid Karamoja sub-region, is facing severe deforestation and its effects on livelihoods and the environment, particularly as communities search for fuel wood (firewood and charcoal). According to the Global Forest Watch- an online platform that provides data and tools for monitoring forests, from 2001 to 2020, Kotido lost 600 ha of tree cover, equivalent to a 1.3 percent decrease in tree cover and 200 kilo tonnes of CO₂ emissions. It is therefore hoped that the established woodlot will serve as a demonstration to communities in Kotido and beyond, to adopt and scale up tree-planting.

Peter Logiro Ngorok, Kotido District’s Resident District Commissioner, thanked FAO for “trusting ordinary people to participate in social economic transformation of their lives through programmes such as this one”.

“I thank FAO for championing life-changing interventions such as tree growing and the Farmer Field School approach through which communities learnt to maximise the potential of their lands and natural resources to produce food and improve their lives”, he said.

He urged the UN agency to continue supporting the District in its quest to become a flag bearer for social and economic transformation through tree planting and to remain a food basket for the rest of the Karamoja sub region.

“As a district, we are committed to supporting this initiative because the woodlot will provide local revenue, rain and fuelwood in the future. After we complete upgrade of the access roads, we shall have greater access”, said Joseph Lomongin, the Kotido District Chief Administrative Officer.

Lomongin noted that: “the District will rely on existing Government programmes such as the Parish Development Model and Operation Wealth Creation to find resources for routine maintenance to empower the community to benefit from the woodlot”. He called on FAO and other development partners to support scaling up of woodlot establishment in the district.

“We’re ready to take charge of the woodlot. FAO has not merely planted trees here but it is supporting Government interventions to uplift the lives of people of Uganda”, he said. He added that the District plans to recruit forest rangers to reinforce security around the woodlot and other natural resources.

Speaking at the hand-over event in Kapeta Sub-County, FAO Uganda Deputy Representative, Priya Gujadhur, commended Kotido District Local Government for proactively responding to FAO’s call for establishment of community forests and making effort to allocate financial and human resources to sustain the one and half year-old woodlot, post hand-over. Tree planting started in 2020 and after completion of establishment, FAO provided technical assistance, for a period of six months.

“This is a story that needs to be shared widely. I’m impressed with the District’s efforts in managing and sustaining the woodlot; the team work shown by the local authorities, extension officers and community members is commendable. I am particularly pleased, and this is a topic close to my heart, to hear of the active involvement of women in the management of the woodlot”, she said.

Gujadhur, however, lamented the extent of forest cover loss in Uganda, estimated at over 100 000 hectares annually, despite efforts in commercial and community forest plantation establishment.

“The Kotido District Local Government should be recognized as a champion of tree growing in Uganda, to inspire other districts and communities to cause a multiplier effect especially in the dryland areas of the country. If others in Karamoja and elsewhere in Uganda can model the efforts of the Kotido community we can, together, begin to  make a real difference to combat deforestation” she added.

According to Harriet Draleru, the Acting Natural Resources Officer for Kotido District, “the community has already benefited through direct employment as workers in the forest plantation, development of skills in tree planting and management as well as better working relationships with the district officials”.

Going forward, “We want to encourage community members to plant crops along the boundaries as a form of security and advocate for this community forest to become a resource centre, from which other stakeholders can learn about tree planting and maintenance”, she said.

FAO established the woodlot through the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) Phase III Project, an intervention that provides grants and technical assistance to the private sector and inputs to communities and institutions. The project’s aim is to increase incomes through commercial tree planting while helping to mitigate climate change effects through intensive afforestation. SPGS III is implemented with support from the Ministry of Water and Environment and funding from the European Union. To date, through SPGS III, FAO has provided grants to over 360 private growers countrywide, as well as inputs and onsite technical assistance to nearly 250 rural community groups and 250 institutions. This support has resulted in the establishment of more than 30 000 ha of quality forest plantations in the last five years.

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