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Milestone achieved with Eastern Africa’s First Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) Ecosystem Services Claim

Trees planted on a 1000 ha of degraded landscape at the West Bugwe Central Forest Reserve in Eastern Uganda. FSC

The Uganda Timber Growers Association (UTGA) receives Eastern Africa’s first the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) Ecosystem Services (ES) Claim for restoring and protecting 1,000 hectares of forest in the West Bugwe Central Forest Reserve in Eastern Uganda

KAMPALA, Uganda, December 15, 2023/ — The Uganda Timber Growers Association (UTGA) has obtained an Ecosystem Services Claim alongside the expansion of its FSC-certified (https://FSC.org/) forest area by 1000 hectares of the West Bugwe Central Forest Reserve (CFR) in Eastern Uganda. The ES Claim verifies and confirms UTGA’s positive impacts in restoring the CFR while reversing biodiversity loss and enhancing its protection.

FSC’s Ecosystems Procedure

In 2018, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) launched the Ecosystem Services Procedure, a pivotal tool that empowers FSC-certified forest managers to demonstrate the positive impacts of their management practices on specific ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are all the benefits that nature provides to humans, transcending purely economic perspective. Currently, the procedure enables forest managers to demonstrate their forest stewardship impacts on watershed services (water), soil conservation, biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and storage, and recreational services. Despite their invaluable importance, these aspects are commonly disregarded in economic assessments. Once an independent audit confirms a positive impact, a forest manager can make a verified claim on a given ecosystem service. 

An ecosystem restoration project

The West Bugwe Central Forest Reserve (CFR), spanning 3065 hectares, stands as one of Eastern Uganda’s last remaining natural forests. Over the years, it has faced encroachment for farming purposes, enduring degradation from charcoal burning and wood collection. The reserve lost an alarming 82 per cent of its tree cover between 1989 and 2016, with adverse effects on both the forest ecosystem and the livelihoods of nearby communities.

Tree nursery worker smiles as he nurses seeds at the West Bugwe Central Forest Reserve, Eastern Uganda.FSC-Smith

In 2020, UTGA partnered with the National Forest Authority (NFA) to reforest the West Bugwe CFR with native tree species, combat illegal logging and poaching, and ensure sustainable use of the reserve’s resources. NFA is the government agency responsible for the sustainable management of central forest reserves and the provision of quality forest products and services to government, local communities, and the private sector.

UTGA has so far planted over 18,000 native tree species including Khaya Anthotheca, commonly known as the East African mahogany, and the Prunus Africana, or African Red Stinkwood—an important and lucrative medicinal product, among others. The project has trained 150 residents from nearby local communities which it employs to plant trees and protect the forest.

“Essentially, UTGA is the body that promotes commercial forestry in Uganda but because of the multiple benefits of natural forests, we are now engaged in promoting natural forest restoration,” says Denis Kavuma, UTGA General Manager.

FSC Certification

Thanks to UTGA, the West Bugwe Central Reserve became FSC-certified as part of UTGA’s group scheme, thus doubling the scheme’s certified area to more than 2000 hectares. “Our aim was to have the forest management certification for the forest under FSC,” says Peter Mulondo, Programme Officer at UTGA. “Certification ensures that the forest is managed responsibly and sustainably and that local communities benefit from the resources,” he adds.

Applying FSC’s Ecosystems Services Procedure
 in West Bugwe

In March 2023, Soil Association, an independent FSC-accredited certification body (CB) audited the West Bugwe Central Reserve to verify and measure the positive impact of the ecosystem’s restoration project on the forest ecosystems. In June, UTGA was awarded the FSC Ecosystem Services Claim for the project, verifying its positive impact on biodiversity conservation and protection of the forest ecosystem. The Claim also recognizes its effort in driving positive change. UTGA is also pursuing certification for other ecosystem services including carbon sequestration and provision of watershed services.

“This achievement reflects UTGA’s commitment to restoring and conserving natural forests in Uganda in addition to the Association’s mainstream agenda of being the lead in Uganda’s commercial forestry,” says Annah Agasha, FSC Eastern Africa Coordinator.  She adds that UTGA plans to expand its certification and restoration program to cover the remaining area of the West Bugwe CFR.

“Local community engagement remains a pivotal aspect of this project, with community members actively working with UTGA in tree planting, forest patrols for protection including control of fires,” said Annah.

“The local communities have embraced the project’s principles of sustainable forest management, which include community-led initiatives to combat illegal activities. The project’s collaborative approach underscores its commitment to fostering both environmental conservation and social well-being,” says Dennis Kavuma, UTGA General Manager.

Partnerships for forest conservation and restoration

Key to the success of this project is its foundation on long-term collaborations and partnerships that support forest conservation and restoration. One such partnership is with the family business Hammerbacher, a German office furniture producer deeply committed to FSC principles, ensuring the sale of all wooden products as FSC-certified. In 2022, Hammerbacher and FSC Germany signed a partnership agreement to support the project to restore and conserve 250 hectares of the forest reserve.  The area selected for the project will allow the absorption of approximately 1,800 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the long term, equivalent to the company’s CO2 emissions.

Other restoration partners to the project include Danish Forestry Extension (DFE) and Grow For It.

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