The Australia Agroforestry Foundation, and Beyond Substance a non-profit Christian organization established to provide forestry and agroforestry support to aid organizations operating in third world countries among poor communities facilitated a course targeting promoting more trees on farms and landscapes for profit and environmental benefits
Farmers from Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda attended the fully sponsored course.
The training course was organized in collaboration with Government of Uganda program tree planting Sawlog Production Grant scheme for timber production supported by European Union and Government of Norway.
The six days training has been going on in Uganda’s cattle corridor and driest part of the country in Ntungamo district, 350kms west of Uganda’s capital Kampala at Ntungamu Resort Hotel.
Participants from three African Countries thanked Australians for building their capacity in tree planting and agroforestry mindful of the scale of farms while targeting a range of products beyond timber to non-timber products such as honey, fuel, wood, fruits, and ecosystem services.
Australian trainer, Curry David, who works with Australia Agroforestry Foundation and is also a tree farmer from Victoria Southeastern Australia commented that Uganda has an enormous agroforetry potential for quality timber production for a growing economy considering the good soils, climate and general environment for tree growing as well as protection of the environment.
“The biggest challenge has been that farmers think that trees destroys their farms especially pasture and other crops yet they can add value to these farms in terms of providing shade, adding nutrients to soils. Ugandan farmers have an unlimited potential since they integrate a large number of crops on their farms which they too can do to trees. They can do this for profit and for environmental benefits.”
He observed that the presence of bare hills particularly in Ntungamo shows farmers unwillingness to engage in tree planting for commercial purposes and instead are engaged in poor land management practices such as regular fires that destroy all cover and render most landscapes prone to wide scale soil erosion.
The eastern Africa representative of Beyond Substance, Joy Tuhakirwa said “Uganda is highly vulnerable to high rate of land degradation associated with depletion of land cover specially in cattle corridor where frequent fires in dry seasons. There are so many bare hills widely used for grazing by cattle keepers, and few trees initiatives amidst glaring effects of climate change. Farmers remain a great potential greening bare hills and integrating multipurpose trees on farm.
She said that Master TreeGrower course in Africa receives technical support from Australia and currently targets Ethiopia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Niger, and Kenya. The purpose is to enable farmers to master tree growing with a focus on timber and other products including carbon sequestration .
Emma Leislie-Mohr an Australian working with beyond subsistence emphasized farmers that they needed to see agroforestry as a business if they intended to grow trees for environment conservation.
“There is no way a person would wake up and just grow trees to protect the environment, they see land for utilization for crop growing and cattle, if a farmer is aware of a wide range of tree benefits and can easily compare how much he gets from agroforestry then would simply go for it. No one would graze on a bare hill where trees can grow if he has knowledge.” she said.
Peter Ronalds, an Australian trainer from Western port catchment land care network however cautioned that for agroforestry to be successful, a farmer driven model with possible government support like in Australia would add value to Ugandan farmers and the environment. Coreb Tayebwa a farmer from Ntungamo Uganda who attended the training said it was inspiring.
“We have been poorly getting the message about tree growing, we have not been looking at the economic part of it and the fact is that we have not been caring for the trees we grow, if all the farmers had this message, we would not be having any bare land. we can not afford these bare hills, we must utilize them with trees fill them and harvest the money.” He said
Kakono Simbarashe of Alfa Gokwe organization in Zimbabwe said the African potential can only be realized in environmental conservation and agroforestry as key.
“There is economic viability and environment conservation, the picture we look at is an old one, as Africa we need to realize how well we can grow trees, get money from them and be part of carbon trade, with this we may not cry of poverty and seek for aid from other nations of the world.”Simbarashe said.
In the six days the farmers were passed through a series of lessons including measuring the amount of timber in their forests, caring for the trees alongside other crops and animals, pruning and thinning of trees to have proper spacing for proper timber. The participants were also taken through several field visits to look at integration of trees in farming and look at model farmers who can be emulated in different fields.