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Consolidating Experiences from Training and Capacity Building in Forestry Extension

Translating Lessons into Design Features in Uganda.

Byabashaija Mujuni Denis

Forestry Resources Research Institute (FORRI)
PO Box 1752, Kampala, Uganda.


The ultimate aim of training and capacity building is to improve performance through change in attitude and enhancement of knowledge and skills. Training and capacity building in forestry extension are part of the overall national education and manpower or human resources development. To be effective, these two should deal with the dynamics of both physical/biological and socio-economic aspects of forestry in the country.

Despite the need for forestry extension in Uganda being expressed in varying degrees in the national forest policies enacted in 1948, 1970,1988 and 2000, a large portion of foresters and the general public in the country has limited awareness of the value of forestry extension.

The fundamental forest extension problem in Uganda is logistics. Trained staff and extension facilities are few or absent in most parts of the country. This is connected to lack of appreciation for forest extension, particularly among the decision-makers. Many don’t understand what forestry extension is, what it does or why it is important. Fortunately, the recent changes in government policies as expressed in the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture, places emphasis on decentralization and broader participation in the provision of agricultural services. The recently created National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) is an effort to empower the resource poor families to make effective demand for extension services, directly and via agricultural service providers.

The paper reviews experiences of many years of attempts to train and build capacity in forest extension in Uganda. Errors like missing or incomplete training needs assessment at both technical and professional levels are accentuated. Positive efforts taken in the recent past like creation of a dynamic organizational system (National Forestry Authority) to cope with changes and developments and manifesting qualities of creativity and innovations are stressed.

Acronyms And Abbreveations


Community Based Organisations


District Forest Officers


Forestry Resources Research Institute


National Agricultural Advisory Services


Non Governmental Organisations


National Forest Authority


Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture


Uganda is a small landlocked country in East Africa lying between 40N and 10S and from 290E to 350E longitudes. It has an area of 236, and an average altitude of 1,400 meters above sea level. Forests and woodlands cover approximately 4.9 million hectares of which 40% is under government ownership, control and protection while 60% is in private hands.

Formal forest management in the country started over 100 years ago and has been guided by a series of national polices. The first ungazetted policy was that which created the Forestry and Scientific Department in 1898 with a mandate covering forestry, botany, agriculture and veterinary. The current Forest department has got its origin in the Forestry and Scientific department. In 1929, the first definite official forest policy was written and adopted by government. Subsequent to signing this policy, the Forest Department was organised to more or less its current form. This policy has remained in force till today with minor changes in subsequent revisions.

Training of local staff appeared as a definite aim for the first time in the 1939 revision. A revision of the policy in 1948 gave allowance for education and propaganda on forestry. The 1970 Forest Policy was an expansion of the 1948 Forest Policy, still emphasizing forest management and protection, but specifying suitable measures for carrying out forestry extension services. A popular version of the forest policy (2000) clearly spells out forestry extension and advisory services as a priority area.

Forest extension

In Uganda, forest services have traditionally been organised along the lines of our British colonial masters’ models. This is associated with the technical activities of managing forests, basically for wood production while other goods and services are treated as incidental.

Currently there is no well-defined forestry extension service despite the emphasis in the policy to establish extension services to assist farmers to grow their own trees. The forest extension and publicity section of the Forest Department, DFOs and the Forestry Resources Research Institute (FORRI) haphazardly arrange whatever is done. The department conducts lectures, radio and TV talks, gives shows and demonstrations on open days like the World Food day and World Environmental day. There are also some NGOs, which are supporting the Forestry Department in this respect.

Forest extension has lacked recognition and esteem for a long time. It has been used as a dumping ground for undisciplined staff and deployment in extension is still viewed as punitive. This is aggravated by the fact that most or even all the resources, including departmental housing quarters are often entirely used for forest management leaving the forest extension service with limited or no resources.

Constraints, issues and challenges of forest extension in Uganda.

A fundamental forest extension problem in Uganda is logistics. Trained staff and extension facilities are few or absent in most rural areas. This is linked to lack of appreciation for forest extension. Many decision-makers don’t understand what forestry extension is, what it does or why it is important. Consequently, there is lack of government commitment to forestry extension and forestry extension activities lack the appropriate financial backing from the Government. So inputs and equipment for establishing demonstration plots or conducting demonstrations are lacking.

The capacity of government to deliver forestry extension services has been very minimal and ineffective. There is no effective organizational structure for extension and the conceptual basis is very weak. There are no known priorities and the focus is blurred. There are no officially recognized priorities for extension and the message has been reduced to mere appeals to plant trees without consideration of the different needs, interests and potentials of different target groups.

The needed vertical and horizontal linkages, especially with extension services of other sectors that have a stake in landuse are either ad-hoc or non existent. The population is not adequately sensitized and there are no incentives for individuals, institutions or groups to devote their resources to tree planting.

The duo purpose of the Forest Department staff belies their rapport with the population. At one time they are and have to be friendly while at another they are adversaries especially when it comes to law enforcement. The NGOs and CBOs, which are trying to carry out forestry extension, have little or no expertise to do the task.

Uncertainty of ownership of land/trees in most parts of the country promotes a sense of irresponsibility and apathy. This is more pronounced in areas where there are squatters on milo land. In many parts of Uganda, the local population still feels suspicious about forestry because many of them think that the Forest Department will gazette the land where their private woodlots are growing into government forest reserves.

Inadequate training in forestry extension both at technical and professional levels is another bottleneck to forestry extension in Uganda. On graduation most of the staff who are employed with the Forest Department have inadequate technical skills and knowledge relevant to forestry extension.

Interest in many aspects of forestry extension has also been limited by the long time interval between efforts and reward in forestry activities. It is normal for the local population to express surprise at knowing that they have to wait for four years for a Eucalyptus plantation to pay off its establishment costs, not to mention the spontaneous laughter created by having to wait for 30 years for timber from Measopsis eminii or over 60 years in case of Milicia excelsa or Khaya spp.

In some areas where forestry extension efforts could easily establish increased tree planting activities often lack suitable marketing arrangements. Customers who travel from the urban to the rural areas offer very low prices for wood materials to maximize their benefits. This is aggravated by the poor state of most rural roads during the rainy seasons of the year when paradoxically the demand for fuelwood is at its peak.

Inadequate Forestry Extension Research is another serious obstacle to forestry extension work in Uganda. Owing to limited facilities and funds forestry research in the country is mainly concentrated on silviculture, utilization and protection aspects of forestry. So the effectiveness of the few forestry extension programmes has not been readily updated to cope with new issues.

Poor linkage between research and extension to enable the digestion of research information for use by rural communities (no workshops on research findings, field days/demonstrations of major research activities or joint editing of research reports for extension purposes between researchers and extension workers). Communication between rural communities and forestry extension is also very poor and community needs in terms of forestry products or put differently what compels rural communities to plant trees have not been well understood and therefore suitable technologies or extension messages/instruments to cater for these needs have not been well developed.

Training and capacity building for forest extension in the country

Formal training

Forestry extension and capacity building cannot be reviewed in isolation from overall forestry training and forestry structures. However, the most relevant and functional material for building a forestry extension curriculum resides in the daily life problems which people face.

In Uganda, there has been poorly organised formal training in the area of forestry extension. Private tree farmers, sawmillers, furniture makers or other individuals have not been able to assess their needs and take action to acquire such training.

Accordingly the target groups for training in forestry and forestry extension have been limited to schools and college students, leaving out a large segment of stakeholders in forestry and forestry extension.

Unfortunately, primary school programmes in the country do not teach forestry. The science and social studies syllabi only provide rudiments of tree species identification, and structure and functions of a tree. Secondary school syllabi of biology, geography, and agriculture provide some basics of plant physiology, types and geographic distribution of plant communities (grasslands, woodlands, forests etc), functional services of trees and plant communities.

Therefore each pupil leaving the formal school programme normally has some knowledge of the various tree species in his neighbourhood, the structure, physiology and functions of the various parts of a tree, the types, distribution and uses of the common plant communities.

“On job” training started immediately with the establishment of the scientific and forestry department in 1898. Formal technical training was launched in 1932 when a one-year course was instituted at Kityerera, in Iganga district mainly for practical instructions for “natives” to take charge of the native administration plantations and departmental staff training.

The forestry school at Kityerera was closed in 1941 due to outbreak of sleeping sickness but selective training continued under DFOs. In 1948, the forestry school was re-started at Nyabyeya in Masindi district at the present site. Training of professional foresters started in the 1950s but mainly from British Universities. A department of forestry under the faculty of Agriculture started at Makerere University in 1970.

Today, the Uganda Forestry College-Nyabyeya is the only institution in the country offering forestry training at technical level. The training offered includes diploma, certificate and short courses. The Faculty of Forestry and Nature Conservation at Makerere University, which started as a Department of Forestry in 1970, offers training at professional level. The training offered includes BSc’s, MSc’s, and PhDs. The training offered here has had a bias in wood utilization to produce people geared and prepared to work in forest industries. Therefore until late 1980s, all graduates were lined up in traditional forest management and utilization than extension.

Due to limited time and inadequate teaching materials, most of the graduates from Makerere and Nyabyeya have inadequate technical skills and knowledge relevant to forestry extension. Most of them, therefore are ill-equipped in terms of the ability to communicate on a number of different levels in concepts, words and expressions the target communities understand while having the patience to listen to the views of these intended beneficiaries.

Recently however, the formal forestry extension courses both at professional and technical levels have been revised to include the various forestry extension and communication principles, strategies, tools, methods, and prescriptions necessary to enable the students carry out extension task of disseminating forestry message and delivering appropriate forestry technologies to the intended beneficiaries.


The study programmes of elementary science and forest education as recorded in the schools and college syllabi provide a reasonably good foundation for forestry though not forestry extension. However, there are shortcoming and problems, which denigrate this foundation:

  • First, professional foresters are not involved in designing the syllabi and advising on what knowledge, practical skills and sequence of study to be followed;
  • Teachers who handle the syllabi are not adequately prepared and have little or no knowledge about forests;
  • There are few or no study materials prepared for syllabus designers, teachers, or pupils and students to select relevant knowledge and skills for teaching and study; and
  • There is almost no practical session.

Although there are strong and often formal linkages between the Forest Department and academic institutions both in the development and implementation of forest extension programmes, NGOs/ CBOs are only loosely linked to the first two through collaboration in form of technical backstopping from the Forest department during the preparation and implementation of their projects.

Regardless of the relationship between the Forest Department and training institutions, the technical and professional training has not been able to meet the needs of the poor forest farmer. They tend to produce white-collar job seekers while much of work in forest extension and major forest problems have tended to call for more practical skills.

Informal/Public training

As early as 1930, the Forest Department believed that supplies of fuelwood, poles and sawn timber to meet the national requirements could be best guaranteed by encouraging peasant farmers to grow trees in small plantations under the control of local administration. During this period, administrative officers and not forest officers carried out tree planting and extension, as this was a directive from the governor.

In effect, local capacity in forest extension service was instituted and functioned well until the late 1960’s. Extension efforts included regular radio broadcasts on farm forestry and publications of advice and information on tree farming. Many farmers responded and planted woodlots mainly eucalypts and acacia spp. Almost every county and sub county headquarters planted plots some of which were sizeable plantations.

In 1967 the powers to manage all forests in Uganda were shifted to the Central Government (Uganda Forest Department) and local farmers, communities and other entrepreneurs involved in growing and tending trees were left out of any training programmes for forest extension.

Although the task of forest department was supposed to have changed over the years, that fact was seldom recognized or acknowledged by the department itself. The department, its competence, organizational structure and management by blueprint style remained the same. This mismatch between the task, mandate, ability and competence of the department resulted in many unsuccessful attempts by the department to build local capacity in forest extension and public awareness.


It has been and may continue being difficult for sometime to come, to establish the true picture of public knowledge and opinion about forestry partly because illiteracy, apathy, linguistic diversity and inadequacy of logistics hamper public/informal education in the country.

It has been difficult for the public to acquire and adopt a positive attitude of forestry because it has been portrayed as a purely physical science though it is now clear that forestry is more of a social or people's business. Therefore some aspects of informal education have failed partly because the methodologies used have been unsuitable.

Lack of centrally organised training could be attributed to lack of organisations like Uganda wood farmers association, sawmillers’ and pitsawyers’ groups which are relatively new and they are very poorly facilitated and even now cannot cater for such common interest or act as forums for discussion.

Inadequate informal, training and consultations especially for the local farmers generally resulted lack of good combinations and levels of adequately competent human resources, technology expertise and institutions to ensure effective forest extension services.

Adjustments and reform

The government of Uganda has recently outlined its strategic framework for national development and has launched the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA) which provides the overall policy context of agricultural development.

At the same time, forestry is becoming more linked with agricultural production, income generation, survival and welfare of rural households. This role oversteps the forest boundaries to include all forms of tree integration in agricultural and pastoral production systems.

This change has brought to light the fact that forest extension is not a simple mono-disciplinary domain but a combination of interrelated physical, social and economic problems often outside the Forest Department. It has already been noticed that traditional expertise of local populations includes a sizeable pool of technical skills about forestry, which cannot be excluded.

Therefore the first challenge to the Forest Department in relation to forest extension is to create an incentive for staff to work in paternship with hundreds of farmers and communities. Forestry can be practiced over the long run by individuals and communities that own and control land. It follows that a person who decides how land should be utilized is very important to the future of forestry and forest extension. If a farmer decides to clear his woodlot and grows maize and beans, the most stringent rules and regulations in the country will not save that woodlot.

The second task for the Forest Department is to enable individuals and communities to make informed choices, organize themselves and make wise decisions on landuse practices. This can be done through intensive informal/public training.

Another very important task is to initiate a training programme aimed at establishing and maintaining a strong, dynamic and more committed extension staff. The training programme should be able develop the individual extension worker, develop his skills, capabilities and his commitment to the demands of a more dynamic extension system. This will involve expansion of the teaching curriculum both at technical and professional levels.

This therefore makes the job of capacity building in forest extension increasingly complicated. Fortunately, a determined effort is now being made by the Forest Department and the training institutions to address these challenges. The Government of Uganda has committed itself to revitalizing the forestry sector with particular emphasis placed on addressing the needs of locally resident communities. This however, calls for a change in mindset in which people's progress and prosperity are given special priority in addition to sharing of powers with locally resident communities. Emphasis is being increasingly placed on actively involving local people and communities in decision making regarding management of forests and thus building local capacity.

Uganda can no longer rely solely on public delivery of services and the number of organisations with forestry and tree-planting programmes has increased rapidly in the recent years. The recently created National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) is an effort to address the demand side by making funds available to local authorities to stimulate effective demand for services and inputs.

Fortunately, the ground is well in favour of this revolutionary approach and the policy environment in the country is ripe for it. The Forest Department is reorienting and/ or recasting its strategies and the thrust is on Social, or what others would call Rural development, Community, Village, Participatory, or Collaborative forestry. In short the Forestry Department is entering into partnership with the public in forest management and extension. As such forest management and forest extension will soon become more of a social or people's businesses by shedding their feathers as a purely technical activities. Existence of many environmental NGOs/CBOs including religious organisations within the country provides a suitable net work and hence medium for accessing and involving local communities

Administrative structures and mechanisms including intersectoral co-ordination, decentralisation, responsibility, incentive system and public relations are being put in place. As part of its public service reform programme, government decided in 1998 to establish a Nation Forest Authority (NFA) to manage the Central Forest Reserves. The current plan for the Nation Forest Authority (NFA) assumes that a focused service support NAADS, and the districts will be necessary to supply farmers with the technical advice. The Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) envisions that NAADS should be decentralised, farmer owned and private sector serviced extension system. It is expected to lead to increased farmer access to information, knowledge and technology through effective, efficient, sustainable and decentralised extension with increasing private sector involvement in line with government policy.

Efforts are being consolidated on the following key areas:

i) Formulating mechanisms of diffusing appropriate forest management technologies, customised to local circumstances and landuse systems, with full attention to economic incentives, commercial possibilities and cultural factors;

ii) Establishing, developing and sustaining an effective system of extension and public education to educate and create awareness, appreciation and management of forests with regard to multiple roles and values; and

iii) Establishment and strengthening institutions of educating and training staff for developing an adequate cadre of trained and skilled manpower at the professional, technical and vocational levels.


1. Makerere University - Faculty of Forestry and Nature Conservation (2000). Prospectus 2000/2002.

2. Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) (2000). National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) Programme. Master document of the NAADS Task force and Joint Donor Group. MAAIF Entebbe, Uganda, October 2000.

3. Ministry of Water, Lands and Environment (2000). The Uganda Forestry Policy, 2000. Kampala, Uganda.

4. National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) (2001). Medium Term Plan 2001-2005: Responding to research challenges for the Modernisation of Agriculture. NARO Entebbe, Uganda, February 2001.

5. Nyabyeya Forestry College (2000). Technical Forestry Training into the New Millennium. Prospectus 2000/2002.

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