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Chapter 4 - Successful Forest Management: The Importance of Security of Tenure and Rule Enforcement in Ugandan Forests

Abwoll Y. Banana and William Gombya-Ssembajjwe


Uganda's forest resources are an essential foundation for the country's current and future livelihood and growth. Over nine-tenths of Uganda's energy requirement, for example, is generated by forests (Background to the Uganda Budget 1993-1994). Forests are also important for timber and for their role in increasing agricultural productivity. They support wildlife and other forms of biodiversity vital for the country's future heritage, as well as for generating foreign exchange through a tourist industry focused on the diverse flora and fauna of Uganda.

These valuable forest resources are disappearing rapidly. The 1992 Uganda National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) estimated that deforestation was occurring in Uganda at the rate of 500 km2, while the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (1993) estimated it to be at 650 km2 annually. If the rate of deforestation were to continue unabated, most of the forested area of Uganda would disappear within the coming century.

The proximate causes of forest loss are clearing for agriculture, pitsawing and logging for lumber, charcoal and firewood production. However, not all forests are experiencing this problem equally; in some forests we do not find overexploitation. If we can come to understand why certain forests do not experience overuse, perhaps these lessons can help construct management schemes that are more effective and sustainable.

Among the more important independent variables that affect the level and type of consumptive utilization of forests in many settings are the security of tenure that local residents possess related to forests and the level of rule enforcement related to the use of forest resources. These variables are important because individuals who lack secure rights to continued use of forest resources are strongly tempted to use up these resources before they are lost to the harvesting efforts of others. Further, if rules regulating access and use of forest resources are not adequately enforced, the de facto condition becomes one of open access rather than secure tenure.

In this chapter, we argue that the condition of forests in Uganda is related to the uncertain status of land and tree tenure regimes. In our study of five forests, we find that in those areas where a system of property rights is well-known to the local population and is enforced, the condition of forests is arguably better than in those areas where locals play no part in forestry management and national laws lack enforcement (NEAP, 1992). We also find that in addition to government-enforced rules, the recognition of indigenous rights to forest resources management led to successful management practices.

Forest use in Uganda

In order to establish the effect of the independent variables described above on the outcomes (deforestation or sustainable use of the resource), studies were conducted during the fall of 1993 in five selected sites located in Uganda's four agro-ecological zones (tall grasslands, short grasslands, semi-arid, and highlands).

Two forests were studied in the tall grassland zone in Mpigi District about 30 km west of Kampala. Two forests from one site were included because they represented a "natural experiment" in which very similar natural forest lands were divided into two forests with different tenure regimes and use rights. One of the forest patches is known as Namungo Forest, which is privately owned. Adjacent to Namungo Forest is a section of the Lwamunda Forest, which is a Government Forest Reserve. Both of these forest patches are tropical moist evergreen with closed canopies (Barbour, Burk, and Pitts, 1987) and are locally classified as medium altitude Piptadenistrum-Albizia-Celtis, after the three typically dominant species in this area (Howard, 1991).

From the highlands agro-ecological zone, we studied the Echuya Government Forest Reserve, located approximately 500 km southwest of Kampala in Kabale District. It is a montane forest characterized by Arundinaria alpina bamboo species and scattered Dombeya-Macaranga tree species (Banana et al., 1993a, 1993b). From the semi-arid agro-ecological zone, we selected the Mbale Forest Reserve. This forest, a savanna grassland forest characterized by Acacia-Albizia-Combretum tree species and Cymbopogon afronadus and Hyparrhenia spp, is located approximately 70 km north of Kampala in Luwero District (Banana et al., 1993c).

Bukaleba government forest reserve, located 140 km east of Kampala in Iganga District, was selected to represent forests in the short grass agro-ecological zone. It is a wooded savanna grassland forest, characterized and dominated by Combretum, Teclea, and Terminalia tree species (Banana et al., 1993b).

Level of consumptive utilization

Local forest users consume a wide variety of forest products in all five forests. Some of these uses are legal; a great number are not. Significantly, the intensity and pattern of these consumptive uses vary across the forests.

In all five forests, local forest users are permitted to harvest forest products for subsistence use in "reasonable" quantities. Access to these forests for other benefits, such as recreation and cultural activities, is open to all local users. If forest users desire to harvest forest products for commercial purposes, however, they are required to purchase a monthly or seasonal license from the Forest Department.

The specific pattern of legal use in each forest, however, varies. In Namungo's Forest, the Namungo family (the private owner) has recognized the customary rights of the local residents located at the edge of his forest for the last halfcentury. These residents are allowed to harvest firewood, poles, craft materials, medicinal plants, water and fruits and wild foods from the forest (Gombya-Ssembajjwe et al., 1993). To monitor the use of this forest by local residents, Namungo employs a staff. The adjacent Lwamunda Forest Reserve, which is a government forest reserve, has also been used by local residents for harvesting similar products. Prior to 1981, selective logging of trees over 80 cm in diameter by logging companies had been permitted and carried out in both Namungo and Lwamunda Forests. Locals living near the Echuya montane forest use bamboo stems extensively for firewood, poles, thatch, and fibres. In Bukaleba and Mbale Forests, the Acacia-Albizia-Combretum tree species that dominate are used extensively for commercial charcoal production by the local people, and the Cymbopogon afronadus and Hyparrhenia spp. grasses are used as thatch and for grazing by local and transhumant grazers in the dry season (Banana et al., 1993a, 1993b, 1993c).

The pattern of illegal consumptive use by local people also varies widely. Table 4.1 contains data regarding illegal exploitation and disturbance collected from a random sample of 30 plots in each forest under study. The table categorizes five types of illegal activities observed in the plots: charcoal burning, pitsawing, commercial firewood collecting, grazing of livestock, and agricultural activity.

Table 4.1: Number of sample plots with evidence of Illegal consumptive disturbance (N=30 per forest)

Name of Forest



Commercial Firewood







































Note: In some sample plots, more than one type of disturbance was observed.

Distinct patterns emerge from the data. The plots in Lwamunda, Wale, and Bukaleba Forests endure considerable illegal consumption activities. Wale, for example, bears the highest level of disturbance, with all but four out of thirty sample plots showing evidence of illegal use; the grazing of livestock appears to be the most frequent of 'illegal activities within Mbale Forest. In the plots of Lwamunda and Bukaleba, the commercial collection of firewood seems to be the most regular illegal use, observed in at least a third of the sample plots in each forest.

Overall, about 70 percent of the sample plots in Lwamunda, Mbale, and Bukaleba forest reserves showed evidence of illegal consumptive utilization of one form or another. In Namungo and Echuya Forests, however, only 20 percent of the sample plots show such illegal consumptive use in each of the five categories. In Namungo Forest, no type of illegal use appears in more than 10 percent of the plots, while in Echuya Forest, three of the five types of illegal uses were not observed at all.

To investigate how the illegal consumptive uses presented in Table 4.1 affect the physical condition of the forests, physical data were collected in each of the sample plots as well. The methodology for the data collection began with the demarcation of three concentric circles in each plot. In the first circle (1-meter radius), the amount of groundcover by species was estimated. In the second circle (3-meter radius), shrubs and tree seedlings were identified and their heights measured. In the third circle (10-meter radius), all trees were identified, their stem diameter at breast height (DBH) measured, and their heights estimated.

It can be noted that the consumptive disturbances were not universally as high as they were observed to be in Lwamunda, Mbale, and Bukaleba Forests. Data collected for trees indicate that plant species diversity was slightly better in Lwamunda forest reserve (73 species/ha.) than in the privately-owned Namungo property (64 species/ha.) (Table 4.2). The higher species diversity value in the government reserve may have come about by gap formation associated with repeated selective harvesting (Becker, Banana, and Gombya-Ssembajjwe, 1995). When large trees are harvested, they form openings in the forest where a wide variety of seedlings may become established and compete leading to a higher species richness (Denslow, 1987). The fact that there were 30 species found in Lwamunda forest plots and not in Namungo Forest, and 13 tree species in the opposite comparison supports this view (Becker, Banana, and Gombya-Ssembajjwe, 1995).

Table 4.2: Summary of data collected for trees in plot samples of the pilot study forests


Species Richness


Mean Diameter DBH (cm)

Total Basal Area (M)





























* Bamboo

** Trees

Species diversity was generally low in all of the sites in the Savanna and Montane forest zones. The number of species observed in these zones was limited to 28 in Mbale Forest, 32 in Bukaleba Forest, and 18 in Echuya Forest.

The distribution of different tree-size classes were similar in Namungo and Lwamunda Forests (Table 4.2). Both forests were dominated by trees having diameter range of 10-40 cm. Very large trees with diameters greater than 80 cms were rare, representing less than 2 percent of the trees, thus reflecting past logging activities in these forests. Tree-size class distribution was also similar in Mbale and Bukaleba. Both forests were dominated by small trees having diameter range of 10-20 cm. Mature trees had been harvested for firewood and charcoal. Trees were larger in Echuya Forest, where tree harvesting is prohibited.

The data demonstrates that not all forests are being used at the same rate, or in the same manner, by the people living near them. Degradation was not found to be as extensive in Namungo and Echuya Forests as it was in Lwamunda, Mbale, and Bukaleba Forests. These latter three forests show serious signs of "open access" utilization that, if left unabated, could lead to a local fuelwood shortage, substantial forest degradation, and loss of useful biotic resources and amenities.

The role of tenure and enforcement

Security of tenure of natural resources is an important issue if local communities are to use sustainably natural resources in their localities. Tenure is a set of rights that a person or some private entity holds to land or trees (Bruce, 1989). It includes questions of both ownership and access to resources. Tenure determines whether local people are willing to participate in the management and protection of forests (Bromley, 1991/92).

During the colonial period, indigenous peoples' rights to harvest and dispose of trees was significantly restricted. Similarly, after independence, Uganda's forest policy, like many other developing countries, has been characterized by the strong concentration of power over forest resources in the central state apparatus, and the corresponding lack of local participation in forest and tree management.

Failure to recognize indigenous systems of forest management and indigenous rights to resources has led to:

Lawry (1990) argues that where forest habitats have little economic value to local people because of restrictive access rules, sustainable local management institutions are unlikely to emerge. Incentives for conservation by local people can be improved by increasing the value of the resource to local people by, for example, granting more access rights or by granting local communities a percentage of forest concession revenues. None of these measures have been adopted by the Forest Department.

Insecurity of land and tree tenure may explain the observed general degradation of the forests throughout Uganda. A centralized state policy that is not backed with enough resources to enforce its rules has led to the condition where most forests in Uganda are de facto open-access resources.

And yet insecure tenure alone does not explain the observed variance of degradation that we found in our study's forests. The most significant difference between the forests is the high level of illegal consumptive utilization of Mbale, Lwamunda, and Bukaleba Forests and the lower level of illegal use in Namungo and Echuya on the other. To account for this variance, we turn to an explanation that features the enforcement of rules at the local level.

Although all forest reserves had clearly defined boundaries, the study reveals that monitoring is difficult and costly in Lwamunda, Mbale, and Bukaleba because these reserves are large with long borders, requiring many forest guards to monitor them effectively. The financial and human resources available to the Forest Department, however, are inadequate to carry out the task of policing these forests. In addition, the government officials (forest guards, forest rangers, and forest officers) who monitor and enforce the rules are poorly paid and, thus, not motivated to carry out their duties. As a result, forest users who choose not to comply to the rules can easily escape detection. This allows individuals to use forests illegally and, hence, leads to forest overexploitation.

The Echuya and Namungo Forests, in contrast, have a much greater level of monitoring and enforcement. Namungo's Forest is small (60 ha.) with short borders and a path around two sides of it. Namungo's family lives on one side of the forest and the settlements are on the other side. Since Namungo values the forest for his own rights to harvest timber (after due notification of his intention to harvest) and employs farm workers who can be forest guards for part of each day, his forest has more guards than an average government reserve. Additionally, because local residents are allowed to exercise their traditional rights to harvest forest products (e.g., firewood, poles, medicines, fruit, fodder, and other forest products), residents tend to protect actively the forest against outsiders who try to use Namungo's Forest. Thus, the level of rule enforcement in Namungo's Forest is relatively high, both because Namungo employs private guards, but also because locals enjoy strong and secure rights to products within the forest. The advantage of the forest's small size, short borders, and perimeter path around two sides helps to make monitoring more effective.

Like the more illegally used forests of this study, Echuya is a large government reserve. But certain important features of Echuya help to limit the amount of illegal consumptive use. Although subject to the same constraints on manpower and resources that discourage other government guards from effectively enforcing the national rules, the Forest Department staff in Echuya has augmented its monitoring capabilities by using the help of a pygmy community. The department allows the pygmies the right to live within, and appropriate products from, the forest on a daily basis-rights that other local residents do not possess. Because they live within the forest, the pygmies are in a good position to monitor who is harvesting from the forest, especially since locals are allowed by law to enter the forest only once per week (on Thursdays). Echuya's physical layout also helps protect it from over-exploitation. The Kabale-Kisoro road is the only road passing through the reserve and can easily be patrolled. Thus, while Echuya is large when compared to Namungo's forest, accessibility is difficult, the level of monitoring is significant, and the likelihood of being caught is quite high when harvesting illegally.

The department's reliance on the pygmies as forest monitors is effective for three reasons. First, because the pygmies do not live with the rest of the community, they do not fear retaliation from those they report to the Forest Department staff. Second, pygmies are less likely to collude with other local residents in breaking rules since there is no social interaction between the two communities. Third, pygmies have an incentive to protect the forest on which they depend on a daily basis.

In the other three forests, actions of local people suggest that unrestricted, unplanned, and illegal exploitation-as indicated by the levels of disturbances or illegal harvest-is not effectively prevented. The officials who govern these three resources have not minimized opportunities for activities that lead toward the rapid deforestation of these sites.

In Lwamunda, Wale, and Bukaleba, the local people are aware that there is no effective rule enforcement. As a result, the state has created a de jure state property, but de facto open access. The absence of effective management and enforcement has turned these forests into a resource that can be exploited on a first-comefirst-served basis leading to their overexploitation.


While it is difficult to address many of these issues with cross-sectional, rather than time-series data, this chapter has put forward a few assertions about the importance of tenure, enforcement, and forestry management at the local level in Uganda.' In this chapter, we argued that security of tenure and level of enforcement of rules are critical issues in forestry management. Using five cases from Uganda29, we provided some evidence that supports the view that for successful forest management to be achieved in Ugandan forests, attention must be paid to both the rules that allocate property rights over forest products and how those rules are enforced.

This chapter indicates that forest resources are more likely to be sustainably utilized if an effective structure of institutional arrangements exists that gives rise to an authority system meaningful at the local level. A government forest reserve (state property) and a private forest (private property) can be as degraded as a communal forest (common property) if there are no effective institutional arrangements and associated organizational mechanisms to monitor and enforce rules in order to prevent wanton harvesting of the resource (Bromley, 1991/92). Regardless of the de jure property regime, all forests can be de facto open-access regimes if there are no effective institutions and mechanisms to enforce the rules.

Land and tree tenure insecurity discourage local participation in forest management and forest protection activities. This in turn increases the cost of monitoring and rule enforcement by the state. Part of these increasing costs can be met by employing locals to monitor in the place of regular national staff, as is the case in the Echuya forest reserve. But the long-term sustainability of a strategy that merely strengthens the enforcement of national laws is questionable. First, it would be difficult to replicate the situation in which a community of individuals is willing to provide monitoring services at an extremely low rate of renumeration, as are the pygmies. Second, a great deal of tension exists between the pygmy population and the others living around Echuya Forest. Pygmies, considered an inferior social group by most Ugandans, are generally treated quite poorly by the nonpygmy residents living near the Echuya reserve. This social tension could vitiate the forest management scheme that uses the pygmies as an extension of the Forest Department.

Given management institutions wherein local residents have a greater stake in the resources and management of a forest, it appears that successful forestry management might endure. Namungo's Forest appears to be sustainably used not only because of its guards, but because community residents are allowed to use the forest according to traditional custom. This makes residents more motivated to discourage outsiders from invading the forest.

As Uganda searches for ways to manage its forests, the lessons from these five cases may be instructive to policymakers. State-centered policies appear to have failed in most Ugandan forests; the costs of maintaining a top-down institutional arrangement necessary to protect forestry resources are far too high. Alternatives that appreciate the preferences and capabilities of local communities should be weighed, not only because they appear to reduce the costs to the central state but because they appear to be more effective in maintaining forests in relatively good condition.


Banana, Abwoli Y, Pius Kizito, Joseph Bahati, and Anne Nakawesi. 1993a. "Echuya Forest Reserve and Its Users." Kampala, Uganda: Makerere University, Forestry Department, Uganda Forestry Resources and Institutions Center.

Banana, Abwoli Y., George Mwambu, Monica Kapiriri, and Gorretie Nabanoga. 1993b. "Bukaleba Forest Reserve." Kampala, Uganda: Makerere University, Forestry Department, Uganda Forestry Resources and Institutions Center.

Banana, Abwoli Y., George Mwambu, Gorretie Nabanoga, Monica Kapiriri, David Green, and C. Dustin Becker. 1993c. "Mbale Forest Reserve and Its Users: A Site Report." Kampala, Uganda: Makerere University, Forestry Department, Uganda Forestry Resources and Institutions Center.

Barbour, M. G., J.H. Burk, and W.D. Pitts. 1987. Terrestrial Plant Ecology. 2d ed. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings Publishing.

Becker, C. Dustin, Abwoli Y. Banana, and William Gombya-Ssembajjwe. 1995. "Early Detection of Tropical Forest Degradation: An IFRI Pilot Study in Uganda." Environmental Conservation 22(1) (Spring): 31-38.

Bromley, Daniel W. 1991/92. "Property Rights as Authority Systems: The Role of Rules in Resource Management." Journal of Business Administration 20(1 &2):45370.

Bruce, J. W. 1989. Rapid Appraisal of Tree and Land Tenure. Community Forestry Note 5. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

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Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. 1993. Forest Resources Assessment 1990, Tropical Countries. Rome, Italy: FAO Forestry Paper no. 112.

Gombya-Ssembajjwe, William, Abwoli Y. Banana, Joseph Bahati, Monica Kapiriri, Pius Kizito, George Mwambu, Gorretie Nabanoga, Anne Nakawesi, David Green, Cheryl Danley, C. Dustin Becker, and Elinor Ostrom. 1993. "Embassy and Namungo's Forest: A Site Report." Kampala, Uganda: Makerere University, Forestry Department, Uganda Forestry Resources and Institutions Center.

Howard, P. C. 1991. Nature Conservation in Uganda's Tropical Forest Reserves. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Lawry, S. W. 1990. "Tenure Policy Towards Common Property Natural Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa." Natural Resources Journal 30:403-404.

Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. 1993. Background to the Budget 1993-1994. Republic of Uganda.

NEAP (National Environmental Action Plan). 1992. National Environmental Management Policy Framework (draft).

Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. New York: Cambridge University Press.

29 IFRI protocols are designed to collect data over time, so we will return to these forests in the future in our attempt to untangle further these issues.

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