My name is Sherry Kyamagero. I come from Uganda. I am a master’s student in the international programme Tropical Forestry at the Institute of International Forestry and Forest Products, Technische Universität Dresden. Here are my field research experiences amid the pandemic.
With the objective of stimulating the production and ensuring supply of industrial wood, larger timber enterprises in Uganda have found ways to effectively engage small-scale farmers through outgrower schemes. This system involves signing contracts or agreements with smallholder tree growers located in the surrounding areas of large forest-based enterprises to supply wood of certain quality, usually at a pre-determined price and at a specific time. Such arrangements help to avoid the problem of displacement of local people, provide improved market access to the farmers, and create ‘win-win’ outcomes for local communities and private investors. While this remain a relevant initiative, the central question of concern is how smallholder tree farmers are adopted and motivated for such arrangements.
My research explores the motivation of smallholder commercial tree farmers in Uganda for the outgrower schemes. The idea is to generate comprehensive understanding of the expectations and perceptions of these key stakeholders of the scheme. Such understanding is imperative for forest enterprises to initiate and/or improve their outgrower schemes by considering the expectation of the small-scale tree grower partners. The research is linked to the on-going WoodCluster project and the topic complements the works of MSc students at Makerere University, who did their research on collective action (Joab Nuwasasira) and value chain (Abdul Samanya).
I conducted the field research from May to July 2020 as a case study with the New Forests Company, Namwasa plantation. This is located in Kassanda district, central Uganda. Data collection was done by semi-structured interview with 80 randomly selected smallholder tree farmers (i.e. 40 non-participants and 40 participants in the Namwasa forest outgrower scheme). These farmers were from Kalwana, Kassanda, Kitumbi and Bukuya sub-counties in Kassanda district. The interview was followed by observations/site visits to the smallholder farmers’ plantations, focus group discussions, as well as key informant interviews with the forest company officials, local council chairpersons, service providers/contractors, outgrowers’ association leaders and the District Forest Officer.
Generally, I received a warm welcome from the tree farmers, the local leaders and the company officials and they were willing to answer my questions. The company officials helped me to find accommodation, connected me to local council leaders and the leadership of the Namwasa outgrowers association. My introduction to the leaders was relevant as this made it easier to identify and mobilize farmers for focus group discussions and interviews, thereby easing the entire data collection process.
Despite this assistance, I encountered challenges, mainly due to the current situation of COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly affected my plans for data collection with several constraint in timing and interacting with people. Like most countries around the world, Uganda also went under a total lock down from March to May 2020 so as to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus and this led to unexpected and continuous postponement of my fieldwork. The cost for my data collection process also increased due to some strict rules and requirements that were imposed for example, buying masks for all farmers that participated in the focus group discussions. Furthermore, traveling was a big problem as a result of the ban on the operation of motorcycles which is the only means of public transportation in the area.
Additionally, there were some difficulties in reaching some farmers to obtain more data as their locations were scattered over long distances. Also, since my fieldwork coincided with the growing season in Uganda, farmers were much occupied with their farm work (i.e. sowing food crops) which made it difficult to meet some of them for interviews. I also faced a challenge with standardised translating of the questionnaire into the local language (Luganda), as this was only language understood by the farmers.
The majority of farmers interviewed were males and have customary land tenure/ownership. The outgrowers are organized in an outgrowers association with a total of 76 members. The outgrower scheme is currently operating on a verbal agreement, without any written contract. Participants in the scheme acknowledged that they have benefited from the outgrower scheme mainly through trainings and study trips conducted by the company. Through the outgrower association, the company also provides employment to its outgrowers to protect the forest from theft, animal grazing and fire. Also, as part of corporate social responsibility, the company permits the local people to collect firewood for subsistence consumption from its plantation and provides financial support for some schools in the community.
The study also found out that farmers are highly motivated by access to good quality seedlings, farm credits, and extension services, such as frequent farm visits by experts and trainings on proper tree management. Despite these motivating factors, many non-participants pointed out the fear of being restricted to sell their wood produce only to the company – a factor which limits them from joining the outgrower scheme. According to them, they prefer to sell their wood produce at any time, especially in case of urgent need of cash.
Finally, the outstanding challenge faced with this outgrower scheme is the long process of inspections and verifications involved before approval and purchasing of wood by the company.
I express my sincere appreciation to the German Academic Exchange Service or DAAD for funding this field research and my masters study in general. I also express my gratitude to my supervisors, Prof. Gerald Kapp of TU Dresden and Prof. Nelson Turyahabwe of Makerere University Kampala for their relevant support. I also thank the managing staff of the New Forests Company of Namwasa plantation, local leaders in Kassanda district and the entire tree farmer community for their cooperation and support during the fieldwork. Special thanks goes to Mr. Babeku Minsi and Mr. Kyeyune Stuart for their efforts and research assistance. Lastly, I thank my entire family for the love and encouragement, especially in the face of several challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Sherry Kyamagero