Farm Research in Uganda – A students’ report

We are Max, Markus and Reinhard, students at the forestry department at TU Dresden. This March, we were the first students to set foot in Uganda for the WoodCluster project. The next days, we spent on the campus of Makerere University together with Professor Kapp und Maxi Domke who introduced us to the Ugandan partners and the field work procedures (see also WoodCluster Research Kick-Off in Uganda). Here we met the dean of the Faculty Forest and Nature Conservation, Prof. Mnason, the local project coordinator Dr. Justine Namaalwa as well as some Ugandan students, interested in the Tropical Forestry program in TU Dresden. Of course, we also used the time to get used to Ugandan cuisine (Matooke, Pocho, Rolex,…), traffic (Boda-Boda – the common motorcycles) und many other impressions.

After only a couple of days in Kampala, we mounted our Toyota Land Cruisers und set off to Mubende District in Central Uganda, the WoodCluster project region and our home for the next couple of weeks. We visited the district headquarters and got introduced to the local authorities and village officers, to ensure that we would have a safe stay. We were made to feel important, but also welcomed and safe. The next step was to find translators, as well as transportation. Godfrey, Mathias and John, villagers in the study site and knowledgeable of English, helped us to overcome the language barriers in the next weeks. To get around in Mubende District, we hired two Bajad Boxers, the most common means of transportation in Uganda.

Now, the research could begin. Reinhard (MSc.) conducted interviews on farms to produce an in depth analysis of the local farm system, Max (BSc.) was measured growth rates of indigenous tree species and Markus (BSc.)  interviewed farmers about their livelihood assets, in order to investigate connections between farm systems and socio-economic factors.

For the next weeks our days normally consisted of a 40 min bike ride from the hotel to the study site where we split up and indulge in our research for 4-5 hours. Then we met again, arrived back to the hotel, picked up some Ugandan dinner on the way and finished the day with a cool Nile Special beer on the hotels balcony enjoying a breath-taking equatorial sunset.

It was fascinating to experience a culture, so utterly different from our own. Of course, this applied on many levels, also forestry. With Eucalyptus species reaching diameters at breast height (DBH) of more than 30cm at only 18 years of age, the rotation time was a fraction of we were used to from our German tree species. The abundance of species and the richness of the landscape (cultivated or not) left a lasting impression on us.  Work in agriculture and forestry was almost exclusively done manually, which also was a contrasting experience to see. Overall, it was fascinating for us to observe the way in which the local population makes a living off the land, through agriculture and to a lesser extent, wood production.  We were surprised by the willingness of the local community to support us in our research. Our research efforts were received with a mixture of interest, curiosity and sometimes, hidden in a smile, skepticism.  However our questions were always answered readily.

We also had the chance to explore the country, for example Nakayima hill close to Mubende town, the source of the river Nile and the capital Kampala. Another highlight was our visit to the Budongo Conservation Field Station where we met up with Paul Okimat, a Ugandan MSc student at TU Dresden. Here we get to walk with the chimpanzees and enjoyed the atmosphere of a primary tropical rainforest.

One by one, our time in Uganda got to an end and we had to pack our gumboots and sunglasses and leave for Entebbe Airport. All of us had a great time in Uganda that was not only interesting academically but also a valuable personal experience in countless ways.

We would like to thank Dr. Justine Namaalwa and Ritah Kigonya for their constant support during our stay and up to today. We also want to thank the people of Mubende District and especially our translators for being so welcoming and patient with us. We hope our research will contribute to the process of bridging the wood supply gap in Uganda and hope to return some day to the pearl of Africa someday.

Max, Markus and Reinhard

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