More than a year has passed since we last reported on tree thefts and a late start to the rains and our reforestation project in Eastern Uganda continues to face the same challenges but also new ones. The water shortages of 2016 have left their mark and the remaining saplings still have to reach the intended customers on time.
Text and photos by Meng Tian, Communication and Multimedia Editor
When we arrive in Namugongo – a small village in the Kaliro District of Eastern Uganda – it all looks wonderfully peaceful. Although the red dust stirred up by our vehicles swirls in the air, the overwhelming impression is how green it is. Our welcome by the “Namugongo Environmental Development Group” is equally warm – particularly by Mary Bageya. Last year, the 78-year old was still the Vice-President of the Farmer Group but has now taken on the role of President. “Welcome back,” she says, excitedly shaking hands with each visitor in turn.
Water is a rare commodity
Mary Bageya looks after one of the five tree nurseries established as part of the project “Reforestation in Kaliro”: The trees are being grown for timber, fruit and medicines, partly to counter deforestation and partly to provide an additional income for the rural population. Currently, this additional income comes mainly from the coffee saplings. The local government buys most of them, paying 400 Ugandan shillings (about 8 Swiss cents) per plant. Since mid-2016, this has provided a welcome source of income.
“When water was short, we dug a pond nearby to retain the rainwater. Now it is completely empty”. A lack of water is the main problem says Mary. SUPD (Sustainable Use of Plant Diversity), our partner implementing the project helped and in some cases distributed water tanks when things were particular bad and where it was particularly needed. Despite that, the lack of water has had a negative impact on production at the tree nursery. “Village inhabitants are still coming to buy the saplings but now we don’t have enough to meet demand,” explains Mary.
Additional role for the trees
A further problem is the continued theft of the few saplings that survived the lack of rain. This occurs in particular from the demonstration gardens planted by schools for teaching purposes, such as the one at the Namukooge Primary School. Beatrice, the teacher in charge of the garden stresses that the pupils are keen to learn and are very interested in growing tree saplings but it is not long before the plants – in this case the young jackfruit trees – disappear overnight. “In most cases, it happens after the children have told their parents what they learned at school,” says Beatrice.
In order to counter the problem, the trees now have an additional role – as boundary markers. Wambuzi Grace, a member of Mary’s farmer group shows me his field and explains the significance of the isolated trees: “When I am no longer here I don’t want my children to fall out over the land and so the boundaries are clear”. Similarly, the trees help to provide visible boundaries between his land and that of his neighbours. Whether or not this will actually stop the thefts only time will tell.