Young Uganda urges climate action

Deforestation, wider environmental degradation and resulting climate change are serious problems for Uganda that demand urgent action, including deeper engagement in the FLEGT initiative. Mr. Charles Batte (28), a qualified medical doctor-turned-social entrepreneur, tells us why.

Team work has helped Dr. Charles Batte’s (right) Tree Adoption Uganda grow.

The founder and CEO of Tree Adoption Uganda, Charles has witnessed the inter-link between forestry, the environment and social and economic well being of people and communities since childhood.

I became involved in agriculture young, starting out by planting 10 hectares of maize. However, the crop dried up due to increasingly unpredictable weather patterns resulting from climate change, which in turn, I believe, is accelerated by deforestation.

There’s growing awareness of these issues in Uganda as farming is the main economic activity and adverse climate change impacts in the sector have become increasingly apparent.

Some people still feel incapable of doing anything about it – and it is a major task for us in Uganda given our lack of clear regulation and ineffective implementation of environ-mental laws we do have.

Poor governance also means illegal logging continues, while poverty and rapid population growth lead to community encroachment on forests. In addition, we face poor urban planning and corruption.

But while some feel powerless to make a difference, others are becoming more proactive, with greater involvement in environmental protection and, notably, tree planting initiatives.

People’s participation

One key moment that further raised public concern, but also showed that people can make a difference, came in the 2000s when government authorized destruction of part of the Mabira rainforest for sugar plantations. There was public uproar and the plan was abandoned.

My own personal loss caused by climate change motivated me to engage in environment sustaining activities, such as afforestation. My main interest is creating innovative ways for communities to build climate change resilience and simultaneously gain control of their future.

This led to the launch of Tree Adoption Uganda (TAU) and its associated Tree Capital programme, youth-led social enterprises that leverage tree planting to combat climate change, unemployment and illiteracy.

Young people in particular are looking for ways to get involved in these areas. TAU and Tree Capital not only create channels for their active engagement in environmental protection, they also give them the skills, including in tree planting and cultivation.

Working in partnership with environmentally responsible companies, these programmes fund young people to set up agri-businesses, including tree nurseries and plantations. This not only creates livelihoods, it gives them a sense of attachment to their environment and particularly highlights trees’ environmental role.

While such projects represent real progress, we still need the government to be more supportive and proactive. This should include, I believe, progressing its involvement with the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) initiative, leading ultimately to it signing a FLEGT voluntary partnership agreement (FLEGT-VPA).

Forest maintenance

Forest product-based industries can be a key part of forest protection and support strategies. We need their products and they can incentivise forest maintenance. However, it is imperative they are regulated to ensure the long-term good of forest and environment.

This is what FLEGT and the FLEGT-VPA are designed to achieve through establishing effective legality assurance systems. 

I also believe in a human-centred approach to these issues, involving all stakeholders. This ensures support from communities and programmes that work in their interest. While I’m not involved in FLEGT, I understand that stakeholder engagement is central and that it empowers local people to ensure rules are enforced.

The FLEGT-VPA also generates responsibility in both timber sellers and buyers by highlighting their social and environmental responsibility. 

Uganda’s involvement with a FLEGT-VPA is still at discussion stage and awareness of its potential impacts for communities and small businesses is not high. So it is important that it is publicised more widely, to give people the opportunity to get involved early in its development.

So there are positive initiatives underway in Uganda and I am optimistic for the future. But we still face big challenges and need to take further steps.

School curriculum

I’d like to see environment and forestry taught more in schools and higher education, along the lines of TAU’sTrees4school and book camp programmes. We additionally want the government to provide greater support for people and communities working in this whole space, especially the young, and give tax breaks to companies backing them and such causes as reforestation.

And, of course, I’d also like to see it advance our involvement with FLEGT. I was thrilled to be able to explain TAU’s vision at this year’s World Forestry Congress through its young speaker competition.

This created an unprecedented platform for young people to tell key players in government and industry that we are tired of words. We need action and action that has a meaningful impact.

As told to Mike Jeffree, Communication Consultant to the Global Timber Forum (mjeffree1@gmail.com)

 

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