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Uganda: Women raise tree seedlings to generate income and fight deforestation

It’s ten o’clock in the morning and the sun is shining brightly. Along with several other women, Rose Aroke is watering tree seedlings. The women irrigate the seedlings three times a day.

Growing the seedlings as a group fulfills two purposes. Mrs. Aroke explains: “We decided to work together as a group because by doing so, we can raise more tree seedlings and generate more income for our families and also restore the environment by planting the trees in our communities.”

Mrs. Aroke lives in Atek village in Kole district, about 400 kilometres north of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. She is a member of Par-Pi Anyim women’s group, which means “care for the future.” The group was established in 2002 and has 30 members and a one-and-a-half acre piece of land.

The majority of the women in the group are widows who lost their spouses due to HIV and AIDS and the 20-year-long civil war in northern Uganda that started in 1986. Mrs. Aroke says the war devastated many people’s lives.

She explains, “Many people lost [their] lives, including our husbands, and we were forced to go to refugee camps for many years.”

The women learned about the business of raising and selling tree seedlings in 2001 through an organization called Canadian Physician for Aids and Relief, or CPAR, that supports persons living with HIV.

Gizaw Shibru Tessema is the regional and country director at CPAR. He says there was environmental degradation in Kole district, and CPAR encouraged the women to start raising tree seedlings to generate income and fight deforestation.

Anthony Ocen Ariko is the director of the women’s group. He explains: “We have made a great change in both our financial income and the environment because we now own gardens with fruit and pine trees. We also sell our seedlings to customers and save the money. We share the money equally at the end of the year.”

Mr. Ariko says the group members raise various kinds of seedlings, including pines, eucalyptus, oranges, and mangoes. The prices for seedlings range from 1,000 to 5,000 Uganda shillings ($0.27–1.35 US).

He says the group makes profits that benefit the members’ families. He says: “We sell our seedlings to the local community members within and outside our district, but the highest buyers are mostly the non-governmental organizations and government.”

He adds: “Recently, we supplied over 500 orange seedlings, 2,000 grafted mango seedlings, and pines to a community-based organization that distributes tree seedlings to farmers in a bid to fight environmental degradation. We earned 168,750,000 Uganda shillings ($45,700 US) from the sale.”

Betty Awor is the treasurer of the group. She is excited that she can earn money to support her family by selling the tree seedlings. She says: “My family always has money … from the group. I was able to buy a bull last year with money from the group, and I expect to buy another for ploughing this year in order to fight poverty.”

Mr. Ariko says raising tree seedlings is helping to protect the environment and improve the women’s living standards. He says, “All the members now have constructed permanent houses. The group has also bought eight motorcycles for easy movement of the members.”

Suzan Akany is the district forest officer in Kole district. She says it’s very important that people in the district protect the environment. She says: “We lack reliable rainfall because people have cut down trees for their own activities without replacing them. Communities should embrace the idea of planting trees.”

Mr. Ariko says the women’s main challenge is a lack of markets. To address the issue, they plan to buy a truck to help transport their seedlings to distant markets.

Mrs. Aroke remembers that, when she was in the refugee camp, there was nothing she could do to get money other than waiting for aid. But now, selling tree seedlings has improved her life.

She explains: “We could not afford to pay school fees for our children [or] provide basic needs for the family like food, clothes, and shelter—which our husbands used to give us. But last year, I received 3,800,000 Uganda shillings ($1,029 US) from the group from our tree seedling activity which helped me provide basic needs for my family.”