The authors of the report found that forest products such as charcoal and firewood contributed between 8 and 36 percent of the annual income of local people living next to forests. These items were of particular importance during times when little food was available in their fields and access to cash was limited. The authors also factored in non-marketable values such as watershed benefits, soil conservation and biodiversity values, estimating that Uganda's forests were worth $353 million each year, or more than five percent of Uganda's gross national product.
"This report shows the importance of forests in Uganda in supporting the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in Africa and helping alleviate their poverty," said WCS conservationist Dr. Andrew Plumptre, a co-author of the report. "However, at present only $7.5 million - mostly from donor funding -- is spent on conserving these forests in Uganda, yet there are huge pressures by government to convert forests to agriculture without taking into account their true value."
Ironically, the report also found that forests with important timber stocks, such as mahogany, were of lesser value to local farmers in comparison with other forests, since much of the economic benefits from timber were realized away from rural areas or by outside businesses. The authors warned, however, that it is likely that the current use of the forests is not sustainable, although the management of forests in Uganda is relatively good compared with other countries on the continent. Forests have an important role to play in alleviating poverty on the continent and that resources should be used to ensure they are used wisely. The report concludes that supporting the conservation and good management of forests is one of the tools that can be used to alleviate poverty.
"Many development projects working with conservation assume that making people richer, by giving them alternative ways of making an income, will reduce the impact on the environment. There was good evidence that this assumption does not hold in Uganda," said Plumptre.
Copies of the report available through WCS