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3.15 Country paper: Uganda


Reality and perspectives
Uganda Country Paper
Written by
Hudson J Andrua
Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment
Forest Department
P.O Box 7124
KAMPALA (Uganda)



Reality and perspectives
In collaboration with ICRAF and CIFOR
Nairobi, Kenya, 9-13 December 2002


Uganda is a tropical country and much of it lies on the African plateau between 900-1,500 meters above sea level. The bio-geography, climate and topography have contributed to the biological richness of the ecosystems of the country. The tropical high forests occur in three distinct geographical zones, characterized by rainfall regimes; the eastern rim of the Western Rift Valley in the west, the broad belt around the north-western shores of Lake Victoria and the mountains in the east of the country. The greater proportion of the original forest cover has been reduced and is degraded. The forest vegetation is a complexity, influenced climate, altitude and soil depth and provides an area of species endemism of the global significance.

Much of the tropical forest ecosystem under formal management remains in the protected forest ecosystem comprising the National Parks, Wildlife Reserves and Forest Reserves covering about 14 per cent of the country's area. A large portion of the tropical high forests has been harvested and treated and therefore no significant areas of the forest are completely original and natural. Some THF still exists on the public and private land outside the protected areas; however the forests are largely degraded and threatened through uncontrolled harvesting and forest clearance for other land uses.

The tropical forests are vital to the economy, society and the environment. Large portions carry commercial species of trees that provide economic bases for the country's wood economy. They provide energy, non-wood forest products and employment as well as supporting the subsistence needs of the rural population and are vital for environmental services that contribute to agricultural production. The biodiversity values contribute to natural beauty that is the basis for tourism contributing to socio-economic development and wildlife conservation as well as offering basis for research and education.

Uganda had well-established tropical forest management systems dating from the 1900s that declined by mid 1970s. Initially the forests were exploited for rubber and later for timber. The forest yield was regulated by polycyclic method of working with 30-40 year intervals between felling. Subsequently the monocyclic method of yield regulation involving forest canopy management to permit rapid regeneration was adopted to increase the yield of exploitable timber sizes. The forest management practices in the Forest Reserves were based on the forest management plans (FMPs) supported by ecological and silvicultural research. The increased awareness of the biodiversity and environmental values of the tropical forests during the late 1980s lead to a change in management to more diverse regime aimed at sustainable utilization of the forest resources. Forest zoning has been introduced to provide products and services to an increasing population and various stakeholders and the forest management integrates the local community participation and needs.

The tropical forests are currently managed under different institutions, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Forest Department (FD). The policies and legislation generally focus on different components of biodiversity (wildlife), especially the fauna and trees; however common conservation strategies involving zoning the THFs are being applied. Sound silviculture, well planned and co-ordinated forest management activities supported by sufficient investment and strong institutions will ensure the sustainable management of the THFs.


Uganda is a land-locked country lying within the tropics (10š30'S to 40š10'N and 290š30'E to 350š01'E. The land area is 241,540 kmē of which 33,352 kmē (14 per cent) is open water, 7,674 kmē (3 per cent) is permanent wetlands and the dry land area covers 196,150 kmē (Table 1). Much of the country lies on the African plateau at 900 - 1,500 m above sea level (masl). The highest point of about 5,000 masl is on Mt Rwenzori and the lowest of 600 masl is in the Nile Valley near the Uganda-Sudan border. The River Nile bisects the country from Lake Victoria in a north -westerly arc through Lakes Kyoga and Albert. The country experiences a tropical climate modified by elevation, giving mean annual temperatures of above 20šC and average rains of 1,000 mm in two wet seasons. The climatic variations, topography and the convergence of many of Africa's biogeographic regions, i.e. the East African savannas and the moister West-African Rain Forests, have made Uganda very rich and important in biodiversity in East Africa. The unique flora and fauna across the country include over 10 per cent and 7 per cent of the known world total of species of birds and mammals, respectively.

Table 1: Land use /cover in Uganda




Area (kmē)




National Parks

Tropical High Forest /Montane






Fully Stocked




































Bush land












Farm land






Small-scale subsistence






Large scale






Built-up areas






Open Water






















The natural forests comprise the tropical high forests and savanna woodlands, which shrunk from 45 per cent by 1900 to the present 20.3 per cent of the land area. The tropical high forest (THF) covered about 12.7 per cent of the country but has been reduced to about 3 per cent today of which 32 per cent is degraded forest with serious implications for the sustainability of the forests. Much of the tropical forest ecosystem remains in the protected forest ecosystem comprising the National Parks, Wildlife Reserves and Forest Reserves covering about 14 per cent of the country's area and represent most of the country's 94 vegetation types and ecology (Table 2). THFs still exists on the public and private land outside the protected areas (Forest Reserves or National Parks). However the forests are largely degraded and threatened by uncontrolled harvesting and forest clearance for other land uses.

Table 2: Forests of Uganda in Forest Reserves and National Parks


Ecological type

Area (Ha)

i) Forest Reserves

Tropical High Forest /Montane



Savanna Woodlands



Plantations (mainly conifer)




ii) National Parks

Tropical High Forest /Montane



Conifer Plantations






The value of the forests to the country was recognized as early as 1900 and important forests were demarcated and reserved for protection and production purposes. A forest policy to guide the use and sustainable management of the forests was adopted as early as 1929 and subsequently revised in 1948, 1988 and 2001. The tropical forest management system was based on Working Plans supported by various ecological and silvicultural research studies. The tropical forests in the protected area systems are currently managed under different institutions, i.e. the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Forest Department (FD).

The terms of reference (TOR) for writing the country papers have provided the overall guidance for the preparation of this country report. Various technical publications and departmental reports and other documentation on the tropical forests in Uganda were reviewed. A few subject specialists were consulted to gain their practical knowledge and experiences as well as the author's personal knowledge and experience in forest management, research and policy issues in Uganda. The report is limited to the formally managed tropical high forests found within Uganda's protected areas systems which have been fairly well documented.


The population of Uganda is about 24.6 million and growing at a rate of 3.3 per cent per annum (Provisional results National Household Population 2002). Uganda recorded remarkably steady economic growth, 6-8 per cent per annum from mid 1980s, after two decades of economic decline. However, the per capita income of about US$320 still makes the average Ugandan poor by world standards. The economy relies heavily on a few major sectors. Agriculture and related activities contribute about 56 per cent to GDP, and employs about 80 per cent of the largely poor rural population at small-scale subsistence levels. Since 1998, government priority policy focus has been to enhance strategies and priorities for poverty eradication.

Forestry contributes about 6 per cent to GDP, including the formal (monetary) and informal (non-monetary) sectors and the estimated contributions from the non-marketable environmental services. There are two categories of forests, namely; the natural forests (tropical high forests and the savanna woodlands) and plantations (man-made forests). The forests occur on gazetted land i.e. Central and Local Forest Reserves, wildlife-protected areas and the remaining on private, cultural, communal and public lands. The natural forests cover approximately 4.9 million ha (about 24 per cent of the total land area of Uganda) and provide the bulk of the forest products and services. About 1.9 million ha of the forested area is included within the permanent forest estate (PFE), representing 9 per cent of the total land area and comprising 721 Forest Reserves and 10 National parks and Wildlife Reserves encompassing 71 of the 94 vegetation communities across the forests and savanna zones. The PFE is set aside for conserving biodiversity, environmental services and sustainable production of forest products for commercial and domestic subsistence consumption. Institutional mechanisms for the management of forests outside the PFE (70 per cent of the forested land and about 13 per cent of total land area) are currently weak because forestry is not formally considered as a land use on the private or customary lands.

The forests provide vital support to the pillars of sustainable development: the economy, society and the environment. They provide energy, forest products and employment as well as providing forest resources that meet the subsistence needs of the rural poor in addition to supporting agricultural production and providing vital environmental services necessary for livelihood. The forest biodiversity values and natural beauty support tourism that contributes to economic and social development and wildlife conservation. Woody biomass provides over 90 per cent of the energy demand of the country (firewood and charcoal) for 96 per cent of the population. The forests yield timber for construction, furniture and other manufacturing activities as well as poles for fencing, rural housing and telephone and electricity transmission. The forests are very valuable for non-timber forest products i.e. medicines, craft materials, food etc.

Land use in Uganda is broadly categorized into agriculture (crops and livestock), urban areas and land reserved for conservation (forests, wildlife and wetlands). Buffer zones, such as wildlife reserves, community wildlife management areas, municipalities, animal sanctuaries and urban agricultural areas are areas of potential land use conflict. Woodland, bushland and grasslands constitute the largest land use form (44 per cent) while small-scale subsistence farming areas cover about 35 per cent. THF covers about 2.5 per cent of which 32 per cent is degraded forests. Uganda's water resources cover 17 per cent of the area while the protected wildlife areas account for 30 per cent of the land use forms. Table 1 provides the Land Use /Cover Types in Uganda.


The tropical high forests occur in three distinct geographical zones, characterized by rainfall regimes: the eastern rim of the Western Rift Valley in the west, the broad belt around the north-western shores of Lake Victoria, and the mountains in the east of the country. Over the past fifty years the forests have been extensively disturbed through selective mechanical logging, clearance for agricultural settlement, forest excisions and policy failures. Very little of the original forest remains outside the government managed forest reserves; represented in a system of the National Parks (10), Wildlife Reserves (10) and Forest Reserves (710) covering about 33,000 kmē or 14 per cent of the country's area.

Many of the relatively natural vegetation in the THF zone represented in the protected area systems have a long history of human occupancy: cultivation, fires used to maintain grazing lands, and areas whisch later became colonized by the present forests. Many areas were abandoned due to rinderpest, sleeping sickness or tribal wars, especially around Lake Victoria, and forest areas along the western rift. The forests were further modified by the modern forest management practices applied over the last century involving heavy (mechanical) logging by saw millers, selective logging (including by pit-sawyers), and agricultural settlements. An important factor in the practice of the tropical forest silviculture in Uganda involving artificial forest regeneration was the impact of elephants, especially in Budongo, Kanyawara and Kibale forests that lead to the establishment of the Cynometra alexandrii climax forests. Significant forest management practices include selective logging followed by chemical weeding of "undesirable" tree species, charcoal production and enrichment planting.

The tropical forests have been adequately described by earlier ecologists. Recent forest inventories have shown that there has been little change in the vegetation from the earlier descriptions. The THFs vary considerably in structure and composition from one area to another, largely related to altitude of occurrence, climate, soil and historical factors. Langdale-Brown et al (nd) classified the tropical high forests into medium altitude moist evergreen forest, medium altitude moist semi-deciduous forest, and high altitude forest.

Generally the different THF types are associated with altitude and climate. However local variations related to site factors resulting from human activities i.e. past management, soil type and drainage conditions, have been noted to exist. The variability that exists in the relatively small forest areas is a characteristic feature of forests in Uganda and the factors are yet poorly understood although past human activity is important. Three stages of forest succession are recognizable by which grasslands are colonized by forests and eventually a mature climax forest is established. The first stage is the colonization of the savanna by either of two types of colonizing forest. One is a young forest in which Maesopsis (a genus of Rhamnaceae) is dominant. The second type of colonizing forest is characterized by two genera, Olea (Oleaceae) and, Phyllanthus (Euphorbiaceae). The former colonizing forests appear on deep and well-drained soils while the latter occur on poor rocky soils. The first stage lasts for one rotation as neither Maesopsis nor Olea species are able to regenerate under shade. It is then replaced by mixed forest that is the richest with species that produce large sized stems, characterized by mahogany species (Entandrophragma, Khaya). The mixed forest is in turn replaced by the last stage, the climax forest type with the Cynometra alexandrii (Ironwood), making the dominant species and it is able to regenerate under its own shade. C. alexandrii forest type is dominant in most of the western Uganda forests, especially in the low altitudes (e.g. Budongo, Kibale, Semuliki and Maramagambo) but only becomes dominant in poor soils with impeded drainage.

The three stages of forest succession are also common forests in the Central Region of Uganda. However the climax stages tend to be dominated by Moraceae and Ulmaceae genera, namely Antiaris and Celtis species. These forests have been cut over a long period and have lost much of their original character and now occur between mixed and colonizing forest types depending on the duration of exploitation. Celtis spp still constitute the largest basal area.

Forests heavily logged and further modified by modern management practices are characteristically multi-layered, closed and open canopies with open gaps and herbaceous layers, especially in the open canopies. Tree climax communities tend to single species dominance depending on altitude. At around 1,500 masl, Parinari excelsa, Newtonia buchananii, Chrysophyllum gonanghosanum species are dominant. In the valleys and better soils, Entandrophragma spp associated with Newtonia spp, Aningeria, Symphonia spp occur. In the wetlands (swampy areas) stands of Syzygium guineense, Ocotea usambarensis, and Podocarpus spp occur. On the perimeter of the forests, colonizing species of Albizia milletia and Canthium spp tend to be replaced by Ficalhoa, Polyscias, Nuxia, Hagenia and Maesopsis eminii on the higher grade of the forests.

Forests present a complex of cover types and variety of plant species. In some forests, grasslands and thickets are interspersed within the forests, giving a complex and irregular mosaic of vegetation. Typically there are forests dominated by trees, grassland, woodland thicket and a colonizing forest representing stages in the succession of a natural forest. The tropical high forests at maturity rise to over 30 m and closed canopy of stratified crowns that allows little light to the forest floor. There is sparse undergrowth consisting of shade tolerant shrubs and herbaceous plants. The forests are a profusion of broad-leaved tree species, except Cynometra alexandrii, which seldom form pure stands but occur in various combinations or mixtures of species i.e. Chrysophyllum spp, Celtis spp. The forests tend to vary. In the moister areas they are evergreen, and semi-deciduous in the warmer and drier areas. The Colonizing forest is intermediate between young forest and grass or scrub vegetation type, tree and shrub species are dominant or co-dominant and emergent young tree canopies are conspicuous. Herbaceous and shrub vegetation is prominent.

Three types of forest structure can be differentiated, characterized by the dominance of herbaceous vegetation in the understorey as influenced by the quantity of light penetrating through the tree canopy. Open canopies have most luxuriant herbaceous understorey. There is a succession from young forest that advances from colonizing forests characterized by very open canopies with prominent but non-dominant herbaceous vegetation, to young forest. Older forests that were affected by felling (logging) operations have greatly reduced canopies. The older forests with closed canopies have non-prominent to totally absent herbaceous understoreys. Forest openings or clearings in continuous stands of forest trees often caused by pitsawyers and natural death/fall of trees tend to create isolated patches of grass-scrub type vegetation. As the forests receive more overstorey shade, they generally support fewer shrubs.

The heavily felled and encroached forests within the fringes of the Lake Victoria rain zone and the River Nile are characterized by abundant Celtis mildebraedii, C. zenkeri and Hoptelea grandis as dominant species, with Maesopsis eminii and Abizia spp as colonizers. Important timber species include Entandrophragma utile, Lovoa brownii, Alstonea boonei and Chrysophyllum spp. The forests in the southwest of the Lake Victoria belt are colonized by tree species of Maesopsis eminii, Piptadeniastrum africunum, Antiaris toxicaria and Albizia spp.

Selectively logged and chemically weeded forests in the rainfall belt bordering the Western Rift Valley (most important is Budongo forest) supplies most of Uganda's mahogany species i.e. Khaya anthotheca, Entandrophragma angolense, E. cylindricum and E.utile. The species occur in various stages of development of the forest with a single generation of Maesopsis eminii. Cynometra alexandrii, Celtis spp and Chrysophyllum spp characterize the forest climax. On the poor soils, C. alexandrii forms nearly pure stands. The mono-dominance of C. alexandrii is due to the species being superior to competitors for light and nutrient within a certain climatic regime. The species dominance of the forests is also elephant induced. Elephants de-barked most trees except those of C. alexandrii, Holoptelea grandis and Celtis mildbraedii. Mixed species tree stands tend to maintain themselves on the richer soils and have sparse herb layers. In the southwest of the country, Parinari excelsa forest forms the climax. Dominant species include Strombosia scheffleri, Drypetes spp and Carapa grandiflora while Diospyros abyssinicum and Funtumia latifolia form common understorey species and Olea welwitschii and Sapium ellipticum are colonizing species.


The tropical high forests are the most diverse ecosystems. It is estimated that Uganda has about 250,000 - 500,000 species of fauna and flora altogether, mostly insects. Flowering plants number about 4,000 and birds about 1,000 species (33 per cent are forest-dependent and 10 per cent are water-dependent).

The THFs in the protected areas are managed for timber production, fuel wood, watershed protection, and other values. The forests that were exploited since the early 1900s, initially for rubber and later for timber, are now being managed for sustainable utilization of all the forest resources, i.e. timber, poles, firewood, clean water, soil protection, recreation, wildlife, and other uses. The forests are zoned for the different uses and purposes, such as low impact timber harvesting, buffer zones, strict nature reserves, recreation zone and other uses.

A large portion of the tropical high forests have been harvested and treated and carry commercial species of trees and provide economic bases for the country's wood economy. In many areas they have been treated after harvesting or encroachment, and demonstrate conditions of sustainable forest production and conservation of large vertebrates, especially elephant, buffalo, mountain gorilla, chimpanzee and other forest ecosystem products where forest management use of harvesting machinery is regularly applied. Government derives revenues from the timber logging, eco-tourism and tourism products and game utilization.

The forests contain a high proportion of the 94 vegetation types recognized in Uganda, thus contributing to conservation of biodiversity. They provide habitats for wildlife and the forest biodiversity values and natural beauty support tourism that contribute to socio-economic development and wildlife conservation. Many species of insects, smaller and larger vertebrates, and small plants that are not as conspicuous as trees are found in the forests and are important components of the forest ecosystem. Among the larger vertebrates, the endangered and endemic groups such as the Mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants, are still protected by the forest cover.

More than half (400 of 650) of the entire world population of the highly endangered sub-species of the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla berengei) is found in the THF of Bwindi and Mgahinga. The Mt Gorilla is one of Uganda's heritages and of a very high tourist value. In addition, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest/Mgahinga Park and the Semuliki National Park in the west of the country provide home and livelihood for the indigenous forest community of the Batwa people, who still largely live as hunter gatherers in the forest.

Some of the large forests serve dual purposes as Forest and Game Reserves administered by both the Forest Department and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), such as Budongo, Kibale Semuliki, Maramagambo and Bwindi forests. Due to pressures from the local and international conservationists, some of the forests were converted into National Parks and under the new management, timber harvesting, hunting and mining of minerals is prohibited.

Forests surrounded by dense human populations and proximate to urban centers are under heavy pressures for building poles, firewood and charcoal. Those forests situated in areas of low population density and difficult terrain largely remain un-exploited except for non-timber forest products. Local populations that live in areas surrounding the forests use the resources directly to meet household subsistence needs for food, household products and cash income, such as poles, firewood, medicinal plants, fruits, nuts, oil seeds, resin gums, ornamental plants, rattan, bamboo and bush meat.

Forests also provide for indirect benefits, such as higher rainfall and the moderation and stabilisation of local microclimate that benefit agricultural production and human well-being. The ecological functions of the forests for water catchment and bio-diversity conservation indirectly benefit users both near and at distant locations from the forest. The large areas of THFs protect water catchments for Lake Victoria and Lake George that are very productive for fresh water fisheries. The rivers that flow out of the forests are abundant in aquatic life, including fish that are important for the diet and cash income of local communities. Some rivers with waterfalls are scenic and provide resource for eco-tourism have potential for hydro-electricity production. The forests provide soil protection and conservation of soil nutrients, biodiversity, including genetic resources and life-support for forest fauna and flora, and aesthetic, spiritual and existence values.

The forests also provide a reservoir for remnants of the original fauna and flora, offering a vital gene pool for posterity. The Afromontane forest types are notable for the rare vegetation types that are high in biological diversity comprising trees, butterflies and bird species, including some world threatened species. In addition, the existence of extraordinary biodiversity in the forests offers scope for research and education.

The THFs also stabilise global climatic conditions through their roles in carbon sinking.


Uganda has a long history of tropical high forest management within protected areas dating from the 1900s. The main goals of forest management are to maintain and safeguard adequate forests to ensure sufficient supply of timber, fuel wood, poles and other products; to optimize economic and environmental benefits and to promote an understanding of the forests and trees. Early management roles included forest reservation and demarcation to separate them from private and public lands to ensure their security. Initially the forests were managed on sustained yield basis for rubber and later for timber, based on forest management plans (FMPs). During exploitation, forest yield was regulated by polycyclic method of working with 30-40 year felling intervals. This method could not yield enough volume of exploitable timber sizes and the monocyclic method of yield regulation was adopted involving rapid development of regeneration through drastic opening of the forest canopy. The silvicultural system known as `tropical shelter-wood' was adopted to regenerate the natural forests. It involved assessing the adequacy of forest regeneration and development and monitoring through diagnostic sampling.

Many interventions regarding silvicultural treatments and tending were practiced to increase the productivity of the forests and the economic benefits. Various underplanting of natural forests were tried including small stands of THF, planting of introduced tree species in felled areas, direct sowing of indigenous tree species and management of the system of natural regeneration. The enrichment planting of THF using fast growing species reduced the rotation from 60-80 years to 25 years and forest yields were higher. Artificial regeneration tends to increase the commercial timber volumes, but large sized seedlings need to be used that can withstand wild game damages. On the contrary, the natural regeneration offers larger volumes of timber per hectare. Fast colonizing species, characteristic of the first and second stages of the rain forest would be more suitable. The underplanting of indigenous tree species is labor intensive and maintenance costs are high.

A technique of arboricidal (chemical) tending of the mixed forest was introduced by the early 1950s and extensively used for selective weeding or `refining' at all levels of the forest. About 21,000 ha of THF had been treated by 1961. Charcoal burning was also introduced in the forests and it created an ideal condition for enrichment planting. The practice was standardized where charcoal production was possible but it declined when charcoal burners became unwilling to operate in forest areas where refining was required. Charcoal burning technique utilized `weed' species.

Nature conservation has been carried out in Uganda since the 1940s. Areas of virgin forests were set aside as Nature Reserves within the Forest Reserves. They act as benchmarks to compare evolutionary trends and effects of man on the rest of the forest where timber harvesting and other management activities were carried out. In addition, Permanent Sample Plots (PSPs) were established in the 1960s and early 1970s in various Forest Reserves. They provided the basis for assessing growth, mortality, and regeneration in relation to stand density for growth and yield models necessary for forest management. By 1974 a total of 745 PSPs had been established but their continued assessment was abandoned during the years of political turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s. Documentation of all these have scientific and practical values.


Prior to 1980, the forest management effort was largely to conserve the forests for timber production. An increasing awareness of the biodiversity and environmental values of the forests led to a policy decision to zone the natural high forests to provide products and services to an increasing population and various stakeholders. Management focus changed from solely timber to sustainable utilization of the diverse resources in the forests. The Forest Department adopted the method of forest zoning with the aim of conserving the biodiversity, environment and providing timber. The zoning is based on the Man and Biosphere proposals where management of the forest is for different purposes i.e. low impact sawmill harvesting, buffer zones, strict nature reserves, recreation zones and other uses.

In the Permanent Forest Estate, zoning has been devised according to the biodiversity rating and the degree of usage. About 20 per cent of the forest area is set aside for biodiversity preservation as Strict Nature Reserves; 30 per cent is a buffer zone for light or low impact forest uses and 50 per cent of the forest is a production zone to be used for forestry products. The objective of nature conservation today is mainly to conserve the desirable varieties of ecosystems and species to protect genetic pools.

Six of the large THF transformed and gazetted (1991) into National Parks (NP) under Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) are managed largely for non-consumptive uses. However, the realities on the ground are leading UWA to adopt the management by zones with prescribed activities for various geographical areas of the National Parks in question. The Tourism Zone is managed for nature walks and scenic viewing. Multiple use (harvest) of forest resources by the local communities is permitted. The Integrated Resource Use Zone is managed for sustainable resource harvesting by the local communities based on Memoranda of Understanding (MOU). In the Administrative Zone tourist facilities and infrastructure are established. The highly protected area is the Wilderness Zone. Minimum human impact is permitted and it is managed for research, nature walks and no tourist infrastructures are developed. Parts of some NPs are being managed through the strategy of `development through conservation' (DTC). The main objectives of management are community conservation, participatory park planning and management, institutional development and sustainable agriculture as well as income generation to benefit the local communities from the conservation of the forests.

THFs in the Forest Reserves under the management of the Forest Department are managed according to the Nature Conservation Master Plan (NCMP) 1977. Provisional Forest Management Plans (PFMPs) have been prepared for some of the largest and the most important THFs within the framework of the NCFMP and zoning. Many researches related to the tropical forest management, zoology and botany and the forests have been carried out and documented. They are of scientific and practical values and have formed the knowledge base to the current broad based THF management practices contained in the Forest Management Plans which take account of the needs for production, conservation, and non-consumptive uses.

The management strategy for non-consumptive uses is involvement of the local people surrounding the forests in their management. This is being promoted through collaborative forest management (CFM) and eco-tourism initiatives so far being piloted on the major THFs. Forest conservation is promoted by integrating community development and involving the communities in management of the forest. Through eco-tourism, the Forest Department provides tourist facilities and the income that accrues provides modest regular income shared between the local people and the government. Some awareness has been generated for the forest protection. Eco-tourism is being piloted in the following Forest Reserves: Budongo, Mabira, Mpanga and Kasyoha Kitomi. The forests which provide recreation and eco-tourism potential are selected on the basis of historic sites, remnants of original flora/fauna, scenic sites (rivers and waterfalls), existence of extraordinary biodiversity, scope for research and education. Collaborative Forest Management is currently piloted in the following Forest Reserves: Budongo, Namatale (Mt Elgon), Sango Bay Forests, and Nabbanga.

Community conservation is newly introduced in the resource conservation strategy. Institutional frameworks are being developed to provide the links between the local people and the THF in the protected areas (PAs). The objective is community participation in the resource management, conflict resolution, revenue sharing and capacity building as well as conservation awareness and education development. The eco-tourism and collaborative forest management development entail the management of the forests for community needs, involving community outreach programs. Tree planting is promoted outside forest reserves to provide alternative products to reduce the impacts of the local population on the Forest Reserves in the future.

Stock mapping/surveying is carried out in areas where logging is to be carried out to determine the trees due for harvesting. Each tree is marked with a number, some selected as mother trees for seed and to be preserved during harvesting. Not all trees >50cm dbh (Merchantable Diameter) are harvested. Certain trees are retained to maintain the forest ecosystem. A selective felling system is used.

The Integrated Stock Survey and Management Inventory (ISSMI) system of forest management inventory, stock survey (mapping) and diagnostic sampling is practiced as integrated operations to reduce cost and double operations, and was introduced in the Forest Department in 1989. Dr Dennis Alder (Oxford Forestry Institute) has done a tremendous work on improving the system. A short felling cycle of 15 years has been adopted and 200 m x 200 m block in the survey stock have become semi-permanent structure for forest control. The short felling cycle (15-year silvicultural cycles) has been found to represent optimum solution for the selection management in the THFs. The forest is brought under management through an initial assessment of the forest resources (inventory). Then a management plan is prepared. Subsequently demarcation of the main working cycles i.e. production, conservation (nature reserves, buffer zones), research, eco-tourism etc is done, including demarcation of compartment boundaries where they do not exist or are insufficient. A cyclic operation is started with a stock survey and management inventory, leading to detailed silvicultural planning using sub-compartments as the basic units. Other operations would then follow. The 200 m x 200 m block lines are maintained and used for controlling operations throughout the cycle.

Forest protection is a very important management aspect to maintain the integrity of the THFs. Regular patrolling is conducted aimed at reducing illegal activities, especially felling and conversion of trees into timber and firewood (informal management). In addition the forest boundaries are re-demarcated through re-opening, surveying and marking with cairns, concrete beacons, sign boards at paths and roads, and replanting with trees.

Regional co-operation in the management of the contiguous THFs (cross-border forests) e.g. Mt Elgon Forest (Uganda /Kenya) and Sango Bay Forests (Uganda /Tanzania) has become a vital conservation strategy. The management of the cross-border forests is under synchronized programmes i.e. management plans, research etc.

Planting in larger clearings and grasslands in the THF areas is being promoted under the FACE (Forests for Absorption of Carbon Emissions) in Mt Elgon and Kibale National Parks under UWA. Financed by the Netherlands Electricity generators the main aim is to offset the carbon dioxide emissions by sequestering carbon in the tropics. The areas planted were formerly encroached by farmers evicted some years ago. It is planned to establish species of THF directly in the abandoned farmland and undisturbed grassland. In Kibale NP planting in 1994 comprised 32 species obtained mainly from wildlings collected in the nearby undisturbed forests and others that were raised in the nursery. Seedlings were planted at 5 m x 5 m spacing in cleared strips, but most of them did not survive. From this experience few species, mainly natural colonizing or forest edge species, are being used such as Bridelia, Prunus, Albizia sapium, Spathodes, Markhamia, Warbugia. Also species tolerant of partially shaded areas such as abandoned banana plantations or young colonizing bush, are used including Uvaropsis, Diospyros, Funtumia, Lovoa, Mimusops and Chrysophyllum.


There have been several changes in Uganda in the recent years that affect the forest sector in general. A number of new national policies and laws were introduced that have changed the environmental and natural resources management practices as well as government commitment to international obligations to conservation. Annex I provides the list of some of the key national policy and legal changes and international obligations affecting the forest sector. Through the various national and international institutional frameworks, the government recognizes the forests are vital for sustainable development i.e. for the economy, society and environment. On the whole, strict forest conservation has been practised, at the same time liberal economic use of the forest resources is guaranteed.

The formally managed tropical forests in the protected area systems of National Parks, Wildlife Reserves and Forest Reserves are currently managed under the two different administrations of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Forest Department (FD) (Table 3 and 4). The different policies and legislation (UWA Statute and Forest Act) generally focus on different components of biodiversity (wildlife), especially the fauna and trees. The Wildlife Statute provides for wildlife use rights, restricted use of resources in protected areas that have a bearing on forest resources management. For example wild plants fall under wildlife yet FD has a claim to it. However, the Statute does not deter FD from executing its duties as a Lead Agency.

Table 3: Forest Areas (kmē) by type and management status

Forest Category

Gazetted Forest

Non-gazetted Forest

National Park

Total Area (kmē)

Total Area (%)

Tropical High /Montane






Plantations (Broadleaf)






Plantations (Coniferous)






Savanna Woodland






Total Area (kmē)






Total Area (%)






Table 4: Status of the Tropical High Forests in Uganda, by area (ha)

Forest type

Private /public land

Protected forest area

Protected wildlife areas



Central Forest Reserve

Local Forest Reserve

Collab. Forest Manag.



Game Reserve

Animal Sanct.





























Based largely on political considerations, large parts of THF were transferred to UWA and the current management is for habitat and wildlife preservation. This management objective has not accommodated the interests of the local populations, and this causes regular conflicts in resource management.

The tropical forest resource base has generally declined, underscored by factors such as policy deficiencies relating to the private sector, and local community conflicts over land tenure access rights and responsibilities for forest management. The current institutional mechanisms for the management of the remaining forest areas outside the PFE, consisting of 70 per cent of the forested land, is weak because there is no formal policy that determines forestry as land use on the private or customary lands. (The National Land Use Policy and the Land Policy are processes of formulation).

From the initial forest policy formulated in 1929, and subsequent revisions in 1948, 1988 and 2001, all recognize the direct and indirect benefits of the forests. The new policy recognizes the wide range of stakeholders (forest resource producers, farmers, commercial tree growers /owners, resources users, processors, concerned general public, government, civil society, NGOs, and individuals involved in management, training research and other support). The Policy and the National Forest Plan provide guidance on the principles and strategies for ensuring that forestry and forest land use are sustainably managed to meet socio-economic, ecological and environmental needs. The roles of the government, private sector and rural communities in the management of the forests are also clarified as well as the linkages with other sectors and land use.

The proposed Forestry Bill and the National Forest Plan (already approved by the Executive and now awaiting approval of the Legislature) lay out the roles, responsibilities and means for the policy co-ordination. They also provide institutional frameworks for forestry development outside and inside the protected areas that will ensure a balance between production and conservation. However the Forestry Bill provides for the THFs within the Central Forest Reserves (CFR) to be managed by the National Forestry Authority (NFA) based on business principles while the forests in the Local Forest Reserves (LFR) and outside the Local Councils will manage the protected areas.

The government public sector reform Programme has delegated some functions of the central government departments, including the transformation of the Forest Department into a NFA, to manage the CFR. However, an earlier government attempt to decentralize forestry management in 1993 resulted in massive deforestation by the District Local Governments that to date considers forests solely as a source of revenue. The Local Government Act 1997 that has decentralized civic and political administration to the District Councils and the Land Act 1998 include some aspects of forest management. These statutes and decentralization policy have enhanced opportunities for working with the Local Governments and local communities, but at the same time they complicated the management of forests. There is still limited institutional capacity and resources both in the Central and Local Governments to plan, regulate and provide necessary incentives for the private sector to improve performance. Furthermore there are weak regulations and there is weak enforcement of professional standards.

New government development initiatives including the Poverty Eradication Action Program (PEAP), Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA) and the sector-wide planning approaches to implement the poverty eradication policy have significant importance for forestry development. They are intended to integrate agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry and provide a holistic framework for poverty eradication through multi-sectoral interventions to improve livelihoods in a sustainable manner. However forestry is still accorded a very low priority in the Programme.

Forest clearance arising from poverty and population growth and migration and internal displacement of populations is increasing. Consequently the increased demand for agricultural land, food and energy (96 per cent of national energy used is woody biomass) is leading to encroachment on the forestland. Rural poverty has further lowered abilities of the population to invest in sustainable land use practices. Also urbanization and industrial growth is putting a lot of pressure on the forest estate and many forests in peri-urban areas are under pressure for degazettement. This is worsened by many forest reserves boundaries being unclear and requiring re-demarcation and re-opening. Land use conflicts still persist with local communities, threatening the state of the forests. These issues require political solutions.

Market failures, including inappropriate royalty rates, poor market infrastructure, trade restrictions (export of timber ban since 1999), and hidden subsidies, distort the market for forest products. Consequently there is increasing uncontrolled harvesting of the THFs outside the protected areas, and illegal timber harvesting activities in the protected areas are also increasing.


Uganda's rich tropical secondary forests are largely located on the forest estates and national Parks. Important THFs also exist outside the protected areas system for which there is yet weak legal provision for protection. The forests are very important for the socio-economic and environmental values and need adequate protection and well-regulated exploitation of the forest resources to ensure their sustainability. There is increasing demand on the THF resources and the forests are threatened through un-controlled and unsustainable harvesting, and habitat conversion.

Natural regeneration of the logged over forests, and enrichment planting of encroached or degraded forests increase species richness and timber volumes. The conservation of the THF needs to incorporate forest plantation development to provide alternative sources of products to reduce the pressures on the remaining undisturbed areas of THFs. Furthermore, the THFs should be justified as optimum form of land use.

Low impact logging is necessary to improve the tropical forest management for production of timber, non-forest products and biodiversity conservation. Exploited forests contain many more tree species than un-exploited climax stages, suggesting that logging does benefit preservation of the natural forest ecosystems. Logging and removal of the tree canopies encourages regeneration and more species, e.g. Ficus spp that provide food sources for primates. Number of trees per hectare is also increased. However there are also negative impacts such as reduction or loss of species adapted to the closed canopy forest and the characteristic tree species as well as loss of the species breeding sites. Very little is still known and understood of those irreplaceable things that are lost and there is yet scarce information regarding the habitat requirements of many spp of animals and plants which depend on the forests.

Appropriate legal and administrative frameworks should be provided to promote sustainable management and conservation of the forests. The Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Forest Department are both promoting THF conservation and address similar management issues of forest protection, beneficiary participation and sustainable utilization. Both institutions are promoting THF conservation through local community management.

Uganda has national and international responsibilities and obligations to conserve its tropical forest biodiversity and it is costly. Uganda has been receiving international aid to support the biodiversity conservation through a consortium of donors including IDA. USAID, DFID, EC, GTZ, NORAD, The Dutch Government, UNDP-GEF etc.


There is a wide range of stakeholders involved in the management of THFs today. A strong forest management and conservation capacity in the various institutions and local communities should be developed. Public awareness of the values and importance as well as management issues of THFs needs to be improved to foster more public support and increased government funding. Relevant information should be generated and shared targeting all stakeholders, locally, nationally and internationally to promote effective management of the forests. In addition appropriate information regarding the THF should be integrated into the formal and vocational forestry training curricula.

The proposed system of strict nature reserves and buffer zones is being developed and will need long-term monitoring of forest values i.e. biodiversity, human use, and environment. The PSP need to be integrated into the forest monitoring programme and located in the various forest management zones i.e. SNRs and BZs as well.

The tropical forest management practices, based on sound management plans (FMPs) supported by ecological and silvicultural research, promote sustainability of the forests. Continuous forest management applied research has been poorly funded and declined and up to date information needed to promote sound management is scarce. Information regarding THF habitat requirements of many forest dependent species (the complex species and ecological interactions) of the forests need to be clearly known and understood to improve the current forest management techniques.

The sustainable management of the THFs will require adaptive management of the forest biodiversity conservation to balance up with development needs. There should be a continuous process of developing forest management techniques based on research and monitoring programmes. Strong institutional linkages need to be established to share the research information, knowledge and experiences gained in the management of the forests.

Nature Reserves and eco-tourism are vital for THF conservation. They need to be legally recognized to safeguard the sites against any changes in status in future, while the National Environment Management Statute provides for environmental impact assessments to be conducted in forestry management. Practically no forest operations i.e. timber concessions, planting and infrastructure development and other strategies in the THF management are subjected to the details of the law which has implications for the sustainability of the forests.

THF conservation is a long-term investment. Public funding of THF management activities is grossly inadequate. Funding mechanisms that ensure funding for research, management operations and monitoring programmes on a sustained basis are imperative. In addition, considerations should be given to mange the THF on regional ecosystem approach entailing co-operation in cost sharing, and development of THF on a global network basis.


1. Aluma, John R.W.; 1998; Uganda Forest Resources and Action Program.

2. Buss, O. and L. D Wing; 1983; Elephant use of a Tropical high Forest in western Uganda.

3. Forest Department (2000); The Uganda Forestry Outlook Study (A critical input in the Forestry Outlook Study for Africa).

4. Forest Department (1999); Forestry Nature Conservation Master Plan (Volume 1)

5. Forest Department (1999); Protected Area Planning in the Tropics: Uganda National System of Forest Nature Reserves.

6. Forest Department (1996); Biodiversity Report Series

7. Forest Department (1994); Proceedings of Workshop on Nature Conservation for Senior Forest Officers.

8. Forest Department; 1991; Nature Conservation in Tropical Forests: Principles and Practice: Proceedings of A Symposium.

9. Government of Uganda; (2001); The Uganda Forestry Policy.

10. Government of Uganda; (1996); The Uganda Wildlife Statute.

11. Government of Uganda; (1995); The National Environment Statute 1995 (No 4 of 1995).

12. Government of Uganda; (1961); The Forests and Forest Administration of Uganda.

13. Government of Uganda; History of the Uganda Forest Department, 1898 -1929.

14. Government of Uganda; A History of the Uganda Forest Department, 1930 -1950.

15. Howard, Peter (nd); Nature Conservation in Uganda's Tropical Forest Reserves.

16. Infield M. and W .M Adams (1999); Policy arena, an Institutional Sustainability and Community Conservation: Case study from Uganda.

17. Karani, P. K.; 1993; Sustainable Management of Tropical Rain Forest in Uganda.

18. MWLE; 2001; National Land Use Policy-Issues Paper.

19. MUIENR; 1999; A review of Environmental aspects of Forestry activities and Management practices.

20. Odegaard A. et al (1998); Pre-audit for FSC Certification of the Budongo Forest Reserve in western Uganda.

21. Osmaston, Henry; 2001; The Management of Natural Forest (Tropical High Forest) in Uganda (Draft Report for Natural Forest Conservation and management Project -EC funded).

22. Plumtre A. J, et al. (1997); The Effects of Selective Logging in Mono-dominant Tropical Forests on Biodiversity.

23. MWLE; 2001; National Land Use Policy-Issues Paper.

Annex I

National policy and legal changes

Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995

The National Environment Management Policy for Uganda, 1994

The National Environment Management Statute, 1995

The Water Statute, 1995

The national Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wetland Resources, 1995

The Uganda Wildlife Statute, 1996

The Local Governments Act, 1997

The Land Act, 1998

The Gender Policy, 1997

The forest Reserves Order, 1998

The Wildlife Policy, 1999

The National Water Policy, 1999

International obligations

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 1971

The Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, 1973

The Bonn Convention on Migratory Species, 1979

Agenda 21, 1992

The International Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992

The Convention to Combat Desertification, 1994

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