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Deforestation in Uganda: causes and recommendations

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By Tukwatanise Bonnita

· 8 min read

The theme of this year’s Earth Day was “Invest in our planet”. This day was an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and advocate for change around the issues most impacting our planet and celebrate the beauty of Mother Earth. It’s important that we confront the realities of the problems we’re up against. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

The Sustainable Development Goals

At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand in hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth - all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. 

Sustainable Development Goal 15 advocates protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss. In order to mitigate this, Uganda has prioritized forest restoration as envisaged in existing targets provided in Vision 2040, subsequent National Development Plans (I & II), and the National Forestry Plan (2011/12-2021/22), in which the national target is to restore forest cover to 24% (1990 levels). In regard to the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003, it advocates for practicing afforestation and re-afforestation practices for degraded forest resources. 

Causes of deforestation in Uganda

Uganda’s forests have been depleted due to subsistence agriculture, charcoal production and poverty. We need to employ local communities to plant, protect, manage, and monitor reforestation on large 1000 ha+ plots of private land that have been leased for restoration purposes from the National Forestry Authority, using a combination of native species for rewilding, intercropping to address food security, and supporting community agroforestry to reduce pressure on existing forests and project future forests. Agro-forestry practices provide importance to the community, among which are the provision of food to homesteads, fodder for livestock, combating climate change through carbon dioxide sequestration and environment conservation. 

Consequences of deforestation in Uganda

Uganda has lost 41.6% of its forest cover in the last 100 years (1921-2021). In 1900, Uganda’s forest cover stood at 54% and by 2017, it stood at a miserable 12.4%. There is consistent pressure on land for cultivation and settlement and increasing demand for wood fuel. While efforts have been made to restore the forest cover, the population has not been adequately involved in this restoration process. It is against this background that we address climate change and deforestation as global problems that require a global response. 

94% of Ugandans rely on unsustainably sourced fuel wood, with gas being prohibitively expensive, the vast majority of Ugandans rely on charcoal or firewood that has been harvested from national forests or the private lands of impoverished farmers. There has been a 180% charcoal price increase in the past six years. 

As forests disappear, charcoal–the sole affordable cooking fuel available in urban areas–has seen prices nearly triple in the last six years. 500,000+ estimated acres of forests are cut annually throughout Uganda, this is equivalent to deforesting 43 football fields every hour. 62.5% of Uganda’s forest land has been logged in the last 3 decades, and it is estimated that by 2050, there will be no forests outside of protected areas remaining. 

Actions taken

Regarding the forest sector in Uganda, in the last one or so decades, Uganda has carried out several Policies, Legal and Institutional Reforms aimed at promoting the conservation and sustainable use of the country’s forest resources. 

The key reforms include: 

  1. Putting in place of the National Forestry Policy, 2001. 
  2. Enactment of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003. 
  3. New institutional arrangements including the Forest Sector Support Department, the National Forestry Authority. 
  4. District Forestry Services being made. 

To address the question of enforcement in the forestry and other environment sub-sectors, the government also established the Environmental Protection Police Unit. 

Despite these interventions, the country continues to lose forest cover at a very alarming rate. It was reported that Uganda was losing approximately 90,000 hectares between 1990 and 2010 of forest cover annually. 

Demand drives supply, according to economics. Thus, the demand for charcoal is driving deforestation across the country. According to Global Forest Watch, an international organization that provides data and tools for monitoring forests, from 2002 to 2019, Uganda lost 64.3kha of humid (rain) forest, making up 7.9% of its total tree cover loss in the same time period. The total area of humid primary forest in Uganda decreased by 13%in this period. 

And from 2001 to 2019, Uganda lost 844kha of tree cover, equivalent to an 11%decrease in tree cover since 2000. Deforestation is more in-tense in areas with high population densities. In districts such as Mukono, Mpigi and Luwero, Mubende, Kyenjojo, Kiboga, Mukono, Hoima, Mbarara, Mpigi and Gulu major tracts of land have been cleared in the last decade, accounting for more than 55% of this loss, according to Global Forest Watch. 

As districts such as Mukono, Mbarara and Mpigi also rapidly urbanize, trees and forests are cut down to set up houses. Urbanization is a key driver of permanent deforestation, Global Forest Watch data shows. For districts like Luwero, factors such as charcoal burning come into play. 

A government national charcoal survey in 2016 found districts in the Central region as the leading producers of charcoal (40.9%) followed by northern regions (39.5%). It also revealed that central region districts were the main source of charcoal supplied to Kampala (63.4%). The leading supplier districts of charcoal in the central region of Kampala were Nakasongola, Nakaseke, Luwero and Kyakwanzi. Kampala is the leading charcoal market. 

The survey also revealed that charcoal is the most preferred fuel for heating and cooking in urban areas, both by households and commercial enterprises. It said the annual consumption of charcoal was about 400,000 tonnes, 300,000 tonnes of this being consumed in Kampala. 


Despite the existence of forestry-related policies such as the Uganda forestry policy and the National Environment Management Policy, which was designed to protect and preserve forest ecosystems, there still exists rampant deforestation in Uganda today and the policies that currently exist are part of the problem. These need to be reformed as listed above, and the reform should involve all stakeholders so that implementation is simplified. However, institution irregularities such as corruption need to be given adequate attention for any success of reviewed policies to be achieved. 

  1. Promoting activities that reduce the pressure on the forest like agriculture, butterfly farming, improved beekeeping, development of fodder banks, bio-intensive agriculture and farm forestry. There should be increased activity around the forests' resources to increase per capita income and check on population growth. 
  2. Increasing income and improved literacy levels because with improved standards of living, over-dependence on forest products for example as a source of energy is checked and land-use changes due to literacy. 
  3. Private landowners with natural forest cover on their land should be given direct monetary or other incentives to encourage them to limit deforestation. Forest product and service valuation: monetary digits are more easily understood by the public. Forest goods and services should be explored, and a value attached to them so that a lay-man can understand. 
  4. Investment in research, education and extension services: Educating stakeholders helps them understand how to prevent and reduce adverse environmental effects associated with deforestation. Extension services are also crucial because certain classes of people have the information. However, passing it on to the stakeholders is another challenge that can be addressed through extension.
  5. The government should put in place a regulatory framework, which will create a positive investment climate to encourage private-sector investment in commercial forest plantations. The government should set out priority areas for the development of carbon storage plantations in different areas of Uganda. Through the restoration of degraded Central Forest Reserves (CFRs), the National Forest Authority has encouraged the establishment of forest plantations, opening forest boundaries, community engagements, strict protection, and peaceful removal of encroachers from CFRs among others which has led to increase of forest cover from 9% in 2015 to 12.4%in 2017. 


Over 80% of Uganda’s population is rural and depends on rain-fed agriculture, which is vulnerable to impacts of adverse effects of climate change. 

In many districts of Uganda, the declining forest cover has resulted in a fuel wood deficit hence raising costs and increasing the burden on women and children who collect firewood.

Therefore, if the situation is not reversed the knock-on effect will be catastrophic and contribute to exacerbating soil degradation, decline in food security, disease and conflict. There is an opportunity to work with communities and landowners to turn their degraded land into productive forests that sequester carbon, grow crops in the short term, fruit in the long term, and restore microclimates. 

By partnering with corporations, non-governmental organizations in the environment and investors, we have the opportunity to transform the futures of tens of thousands of farmers and communities by giving access to jobs, supporting education, health care, and wealth generation through environmental projects. 

References - National Forestry Plan, 2011/12 – 2021/22 - National State of Environment Report for Uganda, 2020. - State of Uganda’s Forestry Report, 2018.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Tukwatanise Bonnita is a Program Coordinator at Treescape Planet, a not-for-profit initiative and social enterprise dedicated to promoting reforestation and sustainable land management practices around the world.

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