What the recent ban on commercial charcoal, timber trade means for the environment and residents in Gulu
Earlier last week, the Daily Monitor newspaper published a story titled “Government bans commercial charcoal, timber trade in Gulu”. Accordingly, on the 11th of January 2023, the State Minister for Environment, Ms. Beatrice Anywar wrote a letter to the Gulu District Chief Administrative Officer directing him to suspend the issuance of forest produce movement documentation for charcoal or timber from Gulu District regardless of the source except for harvests meant for local consumption within the District. The directive effectively stops the harvesting of forest produce for the purpose of commercial timber and charcoal production and trade in Gulu.
Charcoal burning and timber trade are the leading causes of forest cover loss in Gulu District. According to Global forest watch (GFW), an open-source web application that monitors global forests in near real-time, Gulu District had the highest rate of tree cover in Uganda with 590 kilo hectares extending over 50% of its total land area in 2010. However, between 2010 and 2021 the region started experiencing rampant forest cover loss as a result of illegal charcoal burning and timber trade. The district is currently estimated to have lost a total of 38,700 hectares of forest cover in this period accounting for about 6.2 per cent loss of forest cover according to Ms. Beatrice Anywar.
Gulu District among other northern region districts in Uganda is known for its shea nut trees whose shea nut fruits have a multitude of benefits among which is the production of shea butter, a popular cosmetic product. According to Climate tracker, Uganda’s Shea export is valued at USD 1 million. In addition, the shea nut trees are a source of livelihood for the communities living near them, they are a symbol of the rich culture in the region and as well play an important role in mitigating climate change as carbon sinks. Unfortunately, this extraordinary tree species has also been subjected to charcoal burning. Okere subcounty in Otuke District lost 80% of its shea nut trees due to charcoal burning between 2010 to 2014.
In a place where charcoal and timber traders excessively cut down trees without regard to how this negatively affects the environment and the communities that rely on forests for livelihood, this directive can be utilized to protect Gulu’s tree cover from further exploitation and environmental degradation. Various news reports have come out condemning illegal charcoal traders coming out of Gulu District with truckloads of charcoal to sell in the capital of Uganda. If this directive is enforced, it would mean conservation of the tree species in the region.
Careful to note that this is not the first time such a directive has been issued in Gulu suspending illegal logging and charcoal burning. In 2018, the Government suspended the cutting and trade of endangered tree species such as shea nuts, and Afzelia Africana owing to the rapid decline in their population. Evidently this did not change the vice because shea nut trees are still cut down in the sub counties of Patiko, Bungatira, Paibona, Omel Palaro and Owal.
According to the news report, the Aswa River Region police, one of the police stations that have been tasked with carrying out the Directive stated that they would not be able to enforce the directive because they didn’t receive clear directions on implementation from the Minister, Beatrice Anywar.
As a Non-governmental organization that advocates for environmental rights and conservation of natural resources, we deeply call upon the responsible agencies to implement this new directive and facilitate the protection and conservation of Uganda’s rich natural resources from further degradation.