By the road side in the Kegulu teak forest of South Sudan, heaps of logs and poles are waiting to be shipped by trucks to the fledgling state’s new capital to be used in building the new nation and providing revenues to the new state.
Teak poles harvested from private forests being loaded on trucks at Kegulu trading centre.Men armed with motorized chain saws cut down trees and chop them to lengths of up to three meters. At Rubena Ladu Timber Company, the compound is covered with piles of huge logs as sharp blades of the sawmill scream into the hard wood before dropping off shutters of timber in varying sizes.
The teak forests of South Sudan take centre stage in the fledgling nation’s efforts to build up revenues other than oil. The South has been awarded most of Sudan’s oil production, but oil production is set to decline sharply over the next decade unless major new discoveries are made.
The teak forests in the southern part of the country that have already funded rebel groups fighting for independence from the North could develop into a vital industry with exports to neighboring countries. But critics say the forests are also at risk of being depleted soon, threatening their existence almost 100 years after they were first planted by British colonialists.
They say the government should step up its efforts to curtail illegal logging and encourage loggers to sufficiently plant new trees to sustain the forests.
Emmanuel Lokosang, owner of five acres of teak says his forest earns him about 10,000 South Sudanese Pounds (US$ 3,000) per year from selling poles to be used in construction in nearby cities and Juba, the capital of the new nation.
Kegulu Forestry Training Centre.“The demand was high after (the conflict with the North ended) because many people returned from exile and started building. I have been able to buy a Senke (motorcycle), build an iron-sheet house and I am paying school fees for children from my teak plantation,” Lokosang explained.
He said that he is careful not to cut too much wood at once to preserve the source of his livelihood as it takes about 15 to 25 years before newly planted teak trees can be logged.
“I don’t cut anyhow. I only select the size the customers want. I make sure I replant or look after new ones growing on the stumps,” he clarified.
But the cash that can be made from logging the forests has attracted profiteers and critics say illegal logging is wide-spread.
Two trucks belonging to an Ethiopian businessman were confiscated in August after they were found loading 60 logs of teak destined for Juba.
The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) long used the teak woods to fund its armed struggle, receiving cash from foreign companies that logged trees. The government then temporarily suspended all logging activities in 2005.
Patrick Taban, the Plantation Manager at Kegulu forest in Yei River County, Central Equatoria State.
Patrick Taban, plantation manager at Kegulu forest said he has increased the number of forest guards and has intensified patrols. He also plans to erect watch towers to monitor illegal activities and forest fires.
He has also conducted community awareness campaigns with support from local chiefs. “The forest department provides locals with employment here and we give people dry branches for firewood. We encourage them to plant and tell them that after a long run they will have their own (teak trees),” Taban added.
The government hands out short term contracts to local companies to cut teak trees using modern power saws and clear the allocated areas from debris and branches. They pay the government US$ 150 per cubic meter of wood they harvest but there are no estimates how much the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), whose virtually only revenue is oil, earns from these license fees.
Taban admitted the government should do more in replanting cleared areas while his department is currently merely maintaining the shoots that sprout on stumps of old trees felled by the companies.
Edmond Gogo, Yei River County Acting Commissioner for Agriculture and Forestry, said the state government in South Sudan's Central Equatoria region teaches farmers in agro-forestry to promote afforestation and exports to Uganda.
“People who planted on their own are happy. They are getting money. This (demand) has motivated farmers, even the young men are planting teak trees,” he said.
The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of www.theniles.org
Akim works as freelance editor and correspondent for diverse publications in South Sudan.
He has been part...