In Summary
  • With natural forests gradually being wiped out due to population growth and desire for quick money, all the hope now resides in prospective and active farmers diversifying to commercial tree farming.
  • Denis Bbosa ventures into the status of tree farming in Uganda, trending commercially viable tree species, harvest cycles - periods and the dos and don’ts that should guide the farmers heading into this lucrative venture.

The statistics alone are damning, of Uganda’s 197,100sqkms land mass, approximately 43,542sqkm (17.5 per cent) is still covered with forests (natural 14 per cent and planted 3.5 per cent). With the population, estimated at 44m people that translate into 1,000 people per 4.8sqkms continuing to grow, the existence of natural forests continues to be at stake.

Planting trees with the aim of making money (commercial tree growing) therefore offers environment protection alternative, produce fruits, and mitigate effects of climate change.

Starting out

Step one
If you are going to grow trees on a commercial basis, you need to have land (at least minimum of 10 acres/4HA) is recommended but you can start with less.

Step two
You need to make a choice of the tree species. Viable tree species for commercial forestry range from eucalyptus, pine, terminalia, teak and many others. Each of these have sub-species which are specific to climatic conditions thus area specific.

Step three
You need to identify a certified nursery. There are many roadside nurseries selling all sorts of tree seedlings (developed from seeds, cuttings/clones), but you have to be careful to buy the right seedling for your specific needs.

Step four
You have to have funds to prepare the land (proper lining and spacing), pay for the seedling in advance of the rainy season, and be aware of the rain patterns where you are going to plant.

Cost challenges
Costs of establishment of a commercial viable forest may vary from site to site.

An acre of land can cost between Shs1 and Shs3m to purchase or Shs50,000 - Shs100,000 to rent or lease. Most trees are spaced at 3m X 3m resulting in 450 seedlings per acre or 1,111 per HA (each Hectare/HA = 2.471 acres). Most seedlings cost between Shs500 (from seeds) to Shs800 (clones).

The farmer will need money to pay for labour to clear the land, establish lines (lining) and dig holes (pitting), to prune (remove branches in some species) and thinning (gradually reduce the number of trees in an acre so that the final product meets the market requirements).

The cost of labour given all these activities can thus range from Shs500,000 an acre to Shs2m depending on species and the site (flat or hilly)

In summary, using the 10 acre recommendation above, you would be looking at about Shs76m. This can be much less if the land is rented/leased as opposed to outright purchase and 10 acres can be planted in a phased out manner, so that you do not have to spend all the Shs76m at a go.

Value for money
Reaping from tree production largely depends on what species you planted, how long it takes to mature and what final product you want out of your trees.

Eucalyptus for sale as electricity poles from clones will mature between eight to 10 years. Poles from seeds may take a year or two longer. If you undertake the right silviculture (forestry management) processes, each acre should yield Shs18 to Shs22m. The 10 acres above, should thus fetch Shs180m to Shs220m resulting in a profit of Shs104m to Shs144m.

If the eucalyptus is planned for timber production maturity should be between 15-20 years depending on site. The returns on investment should be at least 50 per cent more than the electricity poles above.

Pine, terminalia, teak and musizi are primarily planted for the production of timber and maturity is eight to 10 years for terminalia and 15 to 20 years for the rest.

Marketable trees species
Electricity poles are sought after by power companies; Umeme, UETCL, UEDCL and REA. These companies do not buy poles directly from farmers. There are more than 20 pole processing plants in the country where a farmer can sell their poles.

There is also high demand for timber which is used for roofing, making beds, doors, plywood, and block boards. You can easily get market in major towns.

Teak is a high-value hardwood timber species tree which originates from in the Asia – mainly India. In Uganda it is mainly grown in the northern region as it favours a long dry season in which it loses all its characteristic wide leaves to conserve water and in return gets white and brown wood patterns acquired during the alternating wet and dry season. It prefers alkaline soils. Highly acidic soils are bound to stunt this tree species. As an indicator, if the soils support tea growing, it will not support teak.

Pine is generally better suited than most other commercial tree species, to the grassland and degraded woodland sites which are widely available in Uganda. As a rule of the thumb, all forests should be established in woodlands or degraded areas. It does not make economic sense to cut down a forest to plant another. Secondly, the trees which will just have been cut down will bring new shoots (coppices) faster than the tree you are trying to plane will establish themselves.
Pine seedlings are primarily developed from seeds procured from South Africa, Australia or Brazil. Local farmers mainly plant Caribaea and Patula. Caribaea is suited to most part of Uganda apart from high, cold areas such as Kabale and Kapchorwa.

Terminalia is a fast growing soft wood requiring similar conditions to eucalyptus. It is generally referred to as the umbrella tree. Terminalia is mainly used in the production of furniture, flash doors and block boards. Many companies such Nileply will readily buy from you.

Cypress is a slow growing soft-hard wood requiring similar conditions to pine patula mentioned above like cold highlands. It’s generally referred to as the Xmas tree. It is commonly used as a hedge around houses. There are many cypress species in Uganda used mainly in compound decorations. Cypress takes 25 to 40 years to mature and thus requires quite some patience. It requires heavy pruning to produce good timber. Its timber has a higher value than pine. It is commonly used for facing board in house constructions because of its high resistance to weather conditions such as moist and humid exteriors.

Eucalyptus is considered to be the easiest tree species to grow. It requires well drained, deep fertile soils in an area with reasonably good rains. Eucalyptus does not perform well in water logged, sandy (wetland soils) or clay soils. Ugandan farmers mainly grow eucalyptus grandis (from seeds) and clones (GC’s – developed from South African hybrids and GU’s - developed from Uganda hybrids).

Factors influencing eucalyptus growing

Seeds sown in the nursery take between 7-14 days to germinate. When the seedlings are at the two-leaf stage, they should be pricked out into individual containers or polyethylene sleeves.
Proper fertiliser/manure use is recommended for healthy and vigorous seedlings. For the period the seedlings will be in the nursery, they should be protected from excess sunlight, strong winds, weeds, pest and diseases.

The seedlings should also be watered (every morning and evening), with care being taken to avoid waterlogging.
Routine root pruning (at least twice) should also be practised, especially if the seedlings are grown in open pots. The seedlings should be maintained in the nursery until when they have attained a plantable height of 25-35cm, approximately 4-5 months later. The spacing during field establishment determines the final tree population per unit area of land. The spacing is determined by the intended use and the agro-ecological region (mainly water availability).

In high potential areas, and with timber, transmission and construction poles in mind, a spacing of 2-2.5m by 2-25m is ideal, while in arid and semi-arid areas, the spacing should be increased to 3m by 3m to reduce excessive competition for water.
The transplanted seedlings require nurturing to reduce competition with weeds for water, nutrients, and sunlight.
Routine scouting for pests and diseases and effective control should also be conducted primarily during the first two years.
Most eucalyptus species are self-pruning, hence pruning that can lead to injuries and subsequent spread of diseases should be avoided.

The choice of eucalyptus species to produce commercially will depend on the target market or the intended purpose.
For timber, transmission and construction poles, go for species such as E. grandis, E. saligna, E. globulus, E. hybrids, E. paniculata or E. camandulensis.
However, all species of eucalyptus can be used as a source of fuelwood, charcoal, fibre and for apiculture.