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Uganda Bans Timber Exports, prices go up

02-April-2012

On a busier day Bashir Mutebi, a timber dealer, would be negotiating deals to sell timber to Sudanese and Kenyan traders, and retailing to dealers in Kampala. Usually, he would sell an average of 300 pieces of timber locally and load 3 trailers of timber for export to Sudan and Kenya.


But almost a month after Environment Minister Maria Mutagamba slapped a ban on cutting timber from both private and public forests in the country; Mutebi hardly fills a trailer and sells between 20 and 30 pieces of timber a day. He attributes the decline in timber sales to the ban which has led to supply distress and increase in price.

The Water and Environment Minister Maria Mutagamba stunned the timber markets when she abruptly announced a three-month ban on timber cutting starting on March 6. In her directive, the minister also said all importers and traders in chain saws and hand saws used in pit sawing will be registered as a quick way to regulate the cutting of timber.

Observers of the forestry industry have described the ban as a knee-jerk reaction designed to buy the minister time to draft guidelines for revenue collection from the pit-sawying business. Traders like Elvis Mukomazi, of Nakasero Market say registration is likely to take a lot of time and frustrate his business.

Mutagamba admits she is closing gaps in revenue lost to illegal loggers.

“Illegal harvesters have robbed District Local Governments of vital revenue due to non-payment of taxes, they have caused the drying up of water sources due to depletion of catchment areas, and cutting young trees does not allow the regeneration of forests. Who tells you the ban won’t work?” Mutagamba told The Independent.

But she says timber cutters had become uncontrollable and were over-harvesting forests due to poor planning, weak regulation and inappropriate processing technology.

A government policy paper on forestry estimates that 800,000 m3 of logs are cut each year, a rate of timber harvesting that exceeds sustainable cutting levels by a factor of four.

Timber prices have gone up. In its main market in Ndeeba in Kampala, the most commonly used timbre; the 4x2 piece of softwood called Kirunda used in constructing ramparts on construction sites is selling at Shs 7,500 from 6,000 before the ministerial ban. A 6x2 piece of timber goes for Shs 10,000 today compared to 8,000 before the ban. For Pine, a 6x2 piece of timber costs Shs 35,000 today up from Shs 25,000 registering an increase of Shs 10,000. Similarly, the price of a 4x2 piece of timber that previously cost Shs 20, 000 now goes for Shs 27,000 registering an increase of Shs 7,000.

Charles Tumuhimbise, who has been in the timber business for 15 years says the 14 days the minister gave for collection of all timber in forests were not enough for him to collect all his timber because his workers were harassed by military personnel deployed in the forests by National Forestry Authority (NFA) and District Forest Services to execute the ban. At the end of the 14 days Tumuhimbise had 2,500 pieces of timber left in the Kibaale forests.

“The government did a bad thing,” Tumuhimbise says, “We have licenses to do this business but they just gave us two weeks to have transported all our timber something we have failed to do because that time was not enough.”

Mutebi agrees: “You come from nowhere and stop us from transporting our timber; that we can’t accept.”

Many appreciate Mutagamba’s need to protect Uganda’s fast disappearing forest cover; which is currently at a rate of 90,000 hectares annually but Most forestry sector players say the minister did not consult them before announcing a ban on timber cutting.

Members of the Natural Resources Committee of parliament have asked the minister to rescind the ban but she says that’s impossible. Some timber dealers say they will organise a demonstration against the ban.

Another dealer, Tumukunde says he had just recruited 20 pit-sawyers from Kabale to cut timber he had bought from forests in Kibaale district, western Uganda. “You can imagine I had given each of them 200,000 as part of their labour and none of them paid it back,” he told The Independent.

Incidentally, the National Forestry Authority says forests are fast disappearing in Kibaale, Hoima, Masindi and Kyenjojo Districts due to reckless deforestation.

“The sad thing is that in forests where trees are cleared for timber, cultivators have occupied hampering efforts of reforestation,” says Kaita Gonza, the spokesman of National Forest Authority (NFA).

Adapted from The Independent Newspaper- Uganda

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