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Providing water, generating rain

Millions of people depend directly and indirectly on Mabira for water for themselves, their crops and electricity. That is part of the wonder of this forest, which at almost 30,000 hectares is the largest tropical forest in the Lake Victoria crescent. Compared to other Ugandan forests, it is well-stocked with trees. Currently no part is encroached, and, according to Nature Uganda, it has "regained its original integrity" after banana growing was halted in the forest in 1989. Water from Mabira runs northwards into Lake Kyoga. The forest is also critical for the "hydrology" of Lake Victoria to its south. It is, therefore, part of the package that allows Uganda to generate power at Owen Falls, Bujagali and in future at Karuma Falls. Inside the forest, after a rain storm, you hear the sound of raindrops gently falling on leaves through the forest canopy and undergrowth and eventually softly striking the ground. Xavier Mugumya, the Coordinator Climate Change at National Forestry Authority says, When the rain falls on the leaves, they release the water slowly into the soil.

When it enters the soil, some is held by the roots of the trees and some slowly enters the ground to form underground water. The water held by the roots moves slowly through the soil and ends up in River Musamya and River Ssezibwa which flow into Lake Kyoga. Griffin Falls on River Ssesibwa has hydro electric potential. As he speaks, Mugumya emphasises the words "slowly, softly and gently". He explains that Mabira mitigates extreme weather, stopping flooding and violent wind and releasing water during the dry season. Mabira has over 50 streams supplying the dense population around it. Soil fertility is declining on the land cultivated by these communities. In contrast, in the forest, trees recycle nutrients in the soil, and generally in the area, the trees in Mabira slow run off from rain.

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BruceTumwesigye feeds a baby elephant at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. Elephants used to roam in Mabira just 100 years ago. Read more about this orphaned elephant from Kasese on page 3. His name is Ham.

Tree Talk's Gaster Kiyingi holds a fern, which is dripping with water after a rainstorm. The forest captures water, slowly releasing it into rivers, wetlands and the groundwater.
By so doing, Mabira reduces soil erosion, which in turn protects the rivers from sand, mud and other objects. These could clog the mouths of the rivers and accumulate along their river bottoms. Tea and sugarcane plantations around Mabira like Kasaku Tea Estate and SCOUL are well watered as a result of the forest. Kitamirike Jackson, senior hydrologist with the Directorate of Water Resources Management in Entebbe, says Mabira slows down the winds from the Indian Ocean. Clouds form, bringing plentiful rain around the Lake Victoria basin. Dr Callist Tindimugaya, a Commissioner in the Directorate of Water Development, says Uganda is heading to "water poverty", measured as less than 1000 m3 per person per year. Mabira and other forests can prevent this.

Africa and the world mourns Wangari Mathaai, who led Kenyans, especially women, in planting 47 million trees and protecting many forests. She passed away on 26 September. May her soul rest in eternal peace.

For free tree seed for your home, school or institution, contact Tree Talk at 4 Acacia Ave, Kampala or PO Box 22366 or 077-2564941 or info@ Millions of pupils are planting trees with Tree Talk.

Free tree seed!

Mabira cleans air, holds and captures carbon

Tree Talk, October 2011

Mabira forest is one of Uganda's protectors against climate change. At 29,294 hectares in size, it contains over 8.5 million mature trees each of which holds carbon. These trees and about another four million young trees absorb carbon on a daily basis. By absorbing carbon, they slow the dangerous process of global warming. Global warming is caused by too much carbon (and other gases) being released into the atmosphere. In Africa this happens mostly when forests are cut for agriculture and during bush burning. "Human activities are now causing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, tropospheric ozone, and nitrous oxide to rise," explains the UN. These gases are forming a thick blanket around the earth, and this is making the world hotter. As a result, there are more droughts, crops often fail, glaciers on mountains like the Ruwenzoris are melting, and insect and water-borne diseases like malaria, yellow fever and cholera are becoming

A forest guide in Mabira stands next to an ancient tree from the fig or Ficus family. These have fruit which support many mammals, like monkeys, and birds, such as the great blue turaco (below). common in places that were once cool. Global warming also causes "extreme weather" such as floods and strong winds. Uganda has suffered floods three times in the past decade, far more than in earlier decades. This is a sign of climate change. By holding existing carbon and capturing carbon that has been released by human activity, Mabira is like medicine for global warming. Trees feed on carbon, sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil. The bigger the tree, the more carbon dioxide it takes in. So Mabira forest is a vital "carbon sink", taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Mabira sinks 17.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Dr Yakobo Moyini and Moses Masiga say that each hectare of standing primary (undisturbed) forest in Mabira holds 283 tonnes of fixed carbon. Compared to the rich world, Africa emits little carbon and has contributed little to climate change: countries in the northern hemisphere have been pumping out carbon since the Industrial Revolution in 1700s;

The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, petrol, diesel) in vehicles and factories causes the majority of "carbon emissions" in the world. Like trees all over the world, trees in Mabira absorb carbon. New York is said to use more petrol in a week than Africa does in a year. Yet, Africa is the continent most vulnerable and least able to adapt. In just one example, some of Uganda's most profitable tea plantations could be "wiped off the map" as temperatures rise: 60,000 farmers could face declines in output and optimum tea-producing zones will shift uphill to cooler areas, wrote scientist Peter Laderach, in Future Climate Scenarios for Uganda's Tea Growing Areas. Tea researcher Patrick Wetala agreed that: "the rise in temperature is likely to lead to the plant wilting or utterly drying. The plucked leaf of the surviving plants will give poor quality tea as the leaves will be brittle. Another impact is the coming into prominence of previously minor pests and diseases and the emergence of more virulent ones." Tea growing supports half a million people in Uganda and brings in US 90m a year. Climate change has already begun. Conserving Mabira is a critical way to slow it down. Protecting the forest protects our water, agriculture and fisheries and makes economic sense. For a report about

Mabira, send an e-mail to or call +256414 540719

Mabira: strategic forest

Facts on Mabira
Mabira Central Forest Reserve was gazetted as a central forest reserve in 1900 under the Buganda agreement. It is found in Buikwe, Mukono and Kayunga districts and covers an area of 305 km2. The forest is the largest natural high forest in the Lake Victoria crescent. It is an important water catchment forest. It is the source of two main rivers -- Musamya and Sezibwa -- which flow into Lake Kyoga. It helps regulate temperature in central Uganda. It helps maintain the level of Lake Victoria at over 1137m above sea level. This is essential for Uganda's hydroelectric power.

A living laboratory rich in biodiversity

Mabira forest has unique bird, plant, primate (monkey), butterfly and tree species. There are 287 types of birds, 365 types of plant, 50 species of mammal and 23 species of reptiles. This is astounding biodiversity! Biodiversity is like a safety net for human beings. Inside biodiverse environments like Mabira forest are many marvellous discoveries waiting to happen. "Our great grandchildren may discover in Mabira something that we do not know that may save the human race," says Dr Fred Babweteera, lecturer at the Faculty of Forestry and Nature Conservation, Makerere University. "We already know that one of our trees, Prunus africana, is useful for treating cancer! Mabira is a living science lab. Students from over 200 schools a term visit the forest and do not pay entry fees. Universities use Mabira for research and training. The forest has picnic spaces and camping sites.

Local people benefit from Mabira

abira is surrounded by 12 subcounties with a population of about 200,000 for whom the forest is a source of livelihood. They depend on the forest for medicinal plants, fuel and much more. They also trade with tourists who come to the forest.

Tree Talk, October 2011

We use kabombo for treating measles and treating our chicken. Moses Bajwaha of THETA, an organization which linkers herbalists to medical practitioners, says the forest provides medicine from the Erythrina abyssinica (Muyirikiti) tree for treating peptic ulcers and from the Warburgia ugandensis (Mukuzanume) tree which treats fevers.

for firewood for their own use. The value of firewood from the forest is an estimated 61m/= a year. The forest also supplies local people with timber for building, worth about 986m/= per year.

At Najjembe and Lwankima markets, vendors sell chicken on clean pieces of wood cut from a special forest shrub called Acalypha nepotunica, which resists fire and keeps the meat fresh. It regenerates quickly so the traders have a constant supply. They also sell handicrafts, baskets and chairs made from forest products. The forest provides the community with enough fuel for cooking. Under the National Forestry Policy, people are allowed to pick dead (dry) wood

Communities around the forest can farm all year round because they get two rainy seasons. Imana Mukisa of Nagojje subcounty says they raise seedlings of cabbages and tomatoes in the forest. Saudha Nakibuuka says, "We get rainfall more than any other part of the country. The trees help us to shelter our houses and crops from violent winds."

Timber - UGX 8.2 billion/yr Carbon stored - UGX 2.45

Forest Value
billion/yr 2.44 billion/yr million/yr

Watershed protection - UGX

A hardworking boy sells traditional medicine. Above right: Forest-based crafts, women with firewood. The community refers to the forest as Jajja Mabira -- meaning traditional healer -- because of its medicinal value. Luyima Badru says, When we are sick, we get herbs like omwolola, which treats skin diseases. There is also the tree Spanthodia campanulata (Kifa bakazi), which is used to ease and shorten labour pains in expectant women.

Medicinal value - UGX 477 Art and craft value - UGX 508 Community water supply


Total fixed value of Mabira -

value - UGX 157 million/yr Ugx 15.3 billion/yr

The dangers of deforestation

Between 1975 and 1989, about 24% of Mabira was lost to encroachment. Severe agricultural encroachment started in 1975 following Idi Amins double crop production campaign that targeted natural forests. Rainfall began to decline in the area as trees were cleared. "This clearly shows that with less forest cover, there is less rain," says Mabira forest manager, John Giribo. Later, the soils became degraded. But by 1989, encroachment was halted. "The people who had settled here cut down trees to grow bananas," said forester CD Langoya. "In 2006, after their eviction, the forest is going back to its original state. The trees have regenerated without anyone planting more." There was an upward trend in rainfall in Jinja and Mukono as Mabira recovered. Loss of rain is a great danger associated with deforestation. A second is soil erosion. A third is damage to watersheds. Experts Y Moyini and M Masiga explain that forests prevent siltation and sedimentation of watersheds. "The effects of forest cover removal can be dramatic." Finally, desertification is a danger. The famine in the Horn of Africa has been largely caused by decades of deforestation which has turned fertile land into desert. Somalia, which has lost a significant amount of its forests, is the worst hit by the crisis. Illegal charcoal exports to Gulf states provide income for radical groups. "Corrupt businessmen export charcoal, and the money is used to perpetuate the killing of civilians," said a Somali environmentalist sadly.

Simon's job well done

Simon Peter Amunau joined Tree Talk in 2002 after University. He was Straight Talk's first forester. He built up Straight Talk Foundation's work in trees and was responsible for leading the planting of over 3 million trees. Today STF has 25 foresters and in 2010 planted over 70% of all trees grown by civil society in Uganda.

He was hardworking, fair and Christian. He now moves to a new job but remains our friend and colleague. Above, you can see him hugging a Mvule that Tree Talk planted in Pader in 2006. Forestry is satisfying because you help the world.

A baby elephant called Ham

The most important thing in the world to a baby elephant is its mother and extended family. When a baby elephant loses its parents, it can fall into despair. At UWEC in Entebbe, animal technician Bruce Tumwesigye is a mothersubstitute for Ham. You can see how Ham has to be close to Bruce at all times. "It is imperative to take care of the mind of the orphan as well as the physical aspect, so that they grow up psychologically stable," explain keepers at Kenya's Daphne Sheldrick Animal Orphanage. If you see a wild animal in distress, call UWEC on 0414320520 or 0414322169. They can stage a rescue.

Would you like to be a forester?

Pauline Lanyero is one of 152 young people that Mvule Trust has supported to study forestry at the National Forestry College. Forestry is a "hot cake". You can work for the district, a private tree grower, NFA or an NGO. And you can raise trees on your family land. For more information contact National Forestry College, Private Bag, Masindi or call 0392-301114

Tree Talk, October 2011

ree Talk has finished a three year project with Wildlife Conservation Society. We planted 1.7 million trees in the north. This was not enough: many more were cut down in those years than we planted. But we are proud of the achievement nevertheless. We thank all district officials, schools, teachers, parents and learners who made this possible. We also thank the prison, police and army officers and men who requested seedlings and made sure they grew. We can never replace a forest like Mabira. It is a complex ecosystem of thousands of tree, insect, bird, reptile and mammal species that humans cannot recreate. That is why natural forest is irreplaceable. But by growing new trees we can take pressure off indigenous forest. In July C Watson and SP Amunau went to look at the trees. At Pai Pii PS in Pader, a teacher said, The woodlot has benefitted us so much. We made UGX1.5 million by selling wood. It paid for teachers and school activities. It is a mixed woodlot of eucalyptus, Grevillea, Mvule, Senna and Lusambya. At Olwor Nguu P7 PS, a teacher says they harvested half a Tree Talk woodlot of Albizia gummifera and made UGX 2 million that was used to buy a school motorbike. We also heard that Patongo Prison in Agago wanted 1000 mahoganies to mark their boundary.

Tree Talk is on schedule to plant 1.6 million trees in 2011

ABOVE: Thousands of Markhamia (Lusambya) seedlings being hardened off at Ogago Tree Talk nursery in Pader. They will soon be transported to schools. If you live in Pader or nearby and want to plant trees, call Stephen Komakech on 077- 2-346486 or Patrick Nyeko on 077-4-351132. Tree Talk is happy to train community groups. A magnificent line of mahoganies planted in 2006 by Tree Talk along the Gulu-Kampala highway at St Thomas Kulu-Otit P7 PS. Mahoganies are fast growing!

ABOVE: Forester Lucy Edea is Tree Talk's Gulu manager. She runs a large nursery at Awach, which produces 400,000 seedlings a season. Contact her on 077-2-994618 if you have land and would like to plant trees.

LEFT: Tree Talk's Joseph Otim next to

a young mahogany. Otim runs the Tree Talk nursery in Kitgum. If you live near there and need seedlings, contact him on 0774046873. His nursery has 35 beds. Each bed contains 10-12,000 seedlings depending on the pot size.

RIGHT: Forestry is a big employer. At top is Sam Okot in Tree Talk's Awach nursery with Mvule seedlings that he raised. Bottom right is Charles Ochora, 20, also at Awach. Orphaned during the war (rebels killed his mother), he now supports himself, earning 65,000/= month with Tree Talk as a nursery attendant.

Your letters

WRITE TO PO Box 22366 Kampala SMS 077-2-564491

Quiz winners!
The June Tree Talk asked readers to Ayet Ruth, Muni Girls SS, Arua wrote, "Our school is surrounded by describe or draw a forest near you. a forest. There are snakes, monkeys What trees and animals does it have? and different kinds of birds that live What is happening to deep in it. They come it? Our three winners out to look for food and are worried about sometimes disturb homes. Drawing by Brenda AziThe green environment, their forests. We are zuyo, Muni Girls, Arua cool and gentle breeze sending them tree provide beautiful scenery. seed and T shirts! Unfortunately, people are Kansime C, 17, S4, Ntungamo High School wrote, A forest near our home is thick and has animals like leopards and hyenas. It has many eucalyptus trees which we use for firewood and timber. There are also lots of insects. However, timber sellers cut it almost daily and it is disappearing. I fear this might lead to a serious
cutting down the forest for timber and firewood.

Pupils play peacefully in the shade of a tree. We were happy to get Tree Talk. We planted trees in Feb 2008. The school now has nice shade trees. We wish to plant more. We request seeds. Munerezo A, head teacher, Maaya PS, Mubende Thank you, Tree Talk, for teaching me about trees and giving me skills. I planted eucalyptus along Manafa stream. This stopped the soil from washing away like it used to. Please send seeds of Lusambya, Musizi, Mahogany, Mvule and Mahogany. Wekoye M, S2, Nalwaza SS Good work, Wekoye. But do not plant eucalyptus near water. It is a useful tree but should be at least 30 m away from waterbodies. Thank you for sending Tree Talk so we learn how to plant trees. I request seeds. Alowo J, P6, Yona Okoth Memorial School, Tororo We used to buy firewood at 60,000/= per month. Very expensive! We then learnt how to plant trees and planted Grevillea because they mature quickly. We have already started using them for firewood and saved a lot of money. Wejuli T, Buwembe Straight Talk Club, Busia Dear Tree Talk, our area is often invaded by elephants which destroy crops. I need to plant trees to protect our school, church and home. Eric Mbusa, Kiburara PS, Kasese Eric, sorry about the elephants. Talk to UWA and mobilize your community to dig a trench to block them. You can plant red chillies and put bee hives. Elephants do not like them.

Who owns trees in your culture? Men or women? What is the reason for this? Write, explain and win prizes.



This Tree Talk was funded by DANIDA. Tree Talk is a project of Straight Talk Foundation, Plot 4 Acacia Ave, Kololo, PO Box 22366, Kampala Tel. 256-312-262030/1. Website:, E-mail: Editors: C Watson, M Akello. Reviewers: G Kiyingi, F Ouma, T Agutu. Design: George Mukasa