Forest cover has reduced tremendously in the East African region. The last two decades has seen the region lose over 22 million hectares of forest cover with intensification of land pressure according the the State of Africa Report 2012.
Moreover, climate change is a phenomenon that Planet earth is grappling with as unprecedented high and low temperatures and general altered patterns of weather are currently being experienced worldwide. Farmer’s are realizing this and are using various mechanisms to conserve the environment.
The late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai was known for promoting agroforestry as an alternative to deforestation. Agroforestry, according to the science dictionary is “a system of land use which harvestable trees or shrubs are grown among or around crops or on pasture land, as a means of preserving or enhancing productivity of the land.” This is a land management system that seeks to conserve the environment through inter-cropping food with trees and is proving to be a popular solution with some Ugandan farmers.
In Teso region, Lwala village, Mr. Omasia Nekion and his family comprehend the importance of conserving the environment whilst harvesting tremendous gains from it. Together with his four brothers, Omasia has managed to successfully inter-crop oranges with Pine and Teak trees in their 8 acre piece of land.
“We have encouraged farmers to think about trees as an investment that we often refer to as their pension. These are self-employed people and with no employer remittances to a pension scheme at the end of each month, we keep encouraging farmers to think of trees as long term solutions and thus their pension. When we refer to trees as pension, farmers become focused and start to think about their future and many are slowly embracing the idea of trees as pension, ” notes James Lubega, OAICs’ lead livelihoods trainer and co-ordinator in Uganda.
Despite oranges taking the largest portion in their farm, Omasia’s family is keen on increasing acreage under trees. “We currently have 1,500 Pine trees and 80 Teak trees. One requires patience if they want to engage in agroforestry as the benefits are not immediate. One has to wait say for approximately 15 years in order to enjoy a bountiful harvest of trees,” Omasia notes.
Pine trees are a favourite amongst several farmers that we visited. They are famed to be an all-rounder tree with multiple benefits. They are useful for their medicinal value as they act as natural antiseptics; disinfectants; anti-fungal; anti-microbial and can also be directly applied to wounds as it helps to kills germs. Pines as food can be used to make tea rich in Vitamin C and its bark also eaten as food. They are also used for fuel, shelter and are mainly grown for commercial purposes. In the construction industry, they are used for making high-value furniture; floors; roofing; window frames as well as paneling. Its wood is also used for making guns, timber as well as for making the body of ships. One mature Pine could be sold for approximately 250,000 to 300,000 Uganda shillings which is approximately 100 dollars.
In Omasia’s farm, the teak trees form a beautiful canopy, the most expensive timber in the world that is mostly planted for export. Teak trees are deciduous and its big leaves are a good source of compost manure. Little weeding is required and the tree could be ready for harvest after 7 years.
“The underground water in this farm ensures that we have water throughout the year. Teaks leaves provide good fertiliser but during the initial stages organic fertiliser is used to ensure that they seedlings grow well,” notes Omasia.
Trees like other plants require proper management for them perform well. When planting, sub-soils are broken up to ensure that the Teaks are able to easily penetrate the ground in search for water and especially during the dry season. One log per cubic metre for a raw log could be approximately 500 USD. Its durability and weather resistance characteristics endears it to building of boat decks; exterior constructions; carvings; indoor floors, veneer for indoor furnishings; doors as well as for furniture.