With increasing scarcity and spatial dispersion of tree resources, Uganda’s forest sector – similarly to several other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa – has experienced a shift from the large-scale concessionary model historically used to access and harvest forests, to more versatile models involving smaller-scale operators. The timber they produce is sold not only locally in producer countries but also across borders and beyond. Yet small-scale operators largely work outside established regulatory frameworks and as such remain invisible to national and international production and trade statistics, rendering these players voiceless during policy-reform processes. Uganda is no exception, and little is known about the nature of people involved in various small-scale forestry activities, the constraints they face in day-to-day operations, and the dynamics that influence these aspects. Through 452 interviews, of a random sample of actors engaged directly in the sawn wood value chain, conducted between 2016 and 2019, this paper describes sawn wood flows from production areas to markets in Uganda. It assesses the socioeconomic characteristics of operators and the organisation of activities. Findings indicate that the majority of actors in the informal sawn wood value chain are adult males, belonging to a limited number of ethnic groups, exogenous to logging areas and generally deriving their income from the timber business. The sawn wood value chain shows a high degree of fragmentation, with low levels of organisation and lack of vertical and horizontal integration. We conservatively estimate the total volumes sold annually between 386,000 and 467,000 cubic meters of sawn wood. With the expected progressive shift from natural forests to plantations as the primary source of wood, it is key for the Government of Uganda to embrace a paradigm shift on the current policy framework, to ensure that it facilitates rather than constrains the sawn wood value chain, since most of the timber will be sourced from privately owned forests instead of State-owned forests. If most legal provisions remain based on the latter, it is likely that legality will remain the exception rather than the norm.


Kambugu, R.K.,Banana, A.Y.,Byakagaba, P.,Bosse, C.,Ihalainen, M.,Mukasa, C.,Schoneveld, G.C.,Zziwa, A.,Cerutti, P.O.

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