My Tree Initiative: Fighting Deforestation in Uganda

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk, with photos provided by My Tree Initiative

Facts about Deforestation in Uganda

Over the last two decades, Uganda has lost over a million hectares of tree cover, a number that accounts for almost a third of all the country’s forested regions. The rate of forest loss is 2.6% each year, which is one of the highest globally. The problem is so severe that the National Environment Management Authority warned that Uganda might lose all its forests by 2050 if the issue is not addressed urgently.

Trees not only mitigate the effects of climate change, but they also play a crucial role in regulating the water cycle. Consequently, deforestation has severe environmental consequences such as soil erosion, reduced water availability, and loss of habitat for wildlife.

The harms of the problem extend beyond environmental damage, however. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed that the destruction of Uganda’s forests is impacting the country’s economy, with an estimated loss of over 9 million USD each year caused by reduced ecosystem services.

Introducing My Tree Initiative

In the absence of adequate government response, environmental activists have been taking action. My Tree Initiative, an organisation founded in 2019 by students Enjer Ashraf and Ismael Tamale, is at the forefront of the fight.

Founders of My Tree Initiative
Tamale Ismael (left) and Enjer Ashiraf, the Founders of My Tree Initiative

Ashraf, the Executive Director of the organisation, told me: “We grew up surrounded by forests and greenery. But not, almost all of these forests are gone. We started noticing that, and could not remain indifferent.”

This is why My Tree Initiative was born. The main concept behind its activities is simple: volunteers who belong to the organisation come together to plant trees.

How does the project work on the organisational side? My Tree Initiative partners with local councils and primary schools to get the necessary tools and set up planting sites. When volunteers from the organisation visit educational establishments, children get to participate and plant trees themselves. Founders of the organisation told me that “planting a tree empowers young people and shows them that they can make a real difference for wildlife, our soil and the environment.”

School children and teachers holding tree seedlings and smiling before a primary school

Community Involvement

As well as working with schools, My Tree Initiative also collaborates with local community organisations and businesses. Since its establishment, 1200 volunteers have joined, and the organisation managed to plant more than a million trees in Kampala, as well as in Wakiso and Mukono districts.

Although the idea seems easy, Ashraf explains that careful consideration is needed to avoid hurting the environment even more. “Many organisations focus on planting large numbers of trees, but they do it because of business, not because they care. They plant trees that grow fast without thinking about what species are native to the area.” What makes My Tree Initiative special is their genuine dedication to making a positive change. Volunteers plant trees that naturally grow in the region to preserve original ecosystems and protect biodiversity. Additionally, they aim to benefit local communities, so they also grow plants that can bring them fruits or vegetables.

I asked Ashraf about the reason behind so many trees being cut down. He said that: “many people use firewood for cooking, construction, and making furniture. They also make charcoal from it.” For this reason, teaching people about the importance of caring about the environment is essential.

This is what My Tree Initiative aims to do apart from planting trees. To achieve that, they operate “Green Clubs” at local schools. What that means in practice is that they regularly meet with students to equip them with knowledge and skills necessary to look after trees and, more broadly, the Planet.

Two people planting a tree with a crowd watching on. My Tree Initiative flag visible.

The Need for Reforestation to Address Climate Change

Ashraf also points out the importance of forming a united front against climate change. Solving environmental challenges in Uganda requires the collective effort of individuals, governments, and civil society organisations. This is why My Tree Initiative also hosts an online Green Talk Show that, as Ashraf explains, “seeks to build climate change adaptation, environment consciousness and responsibility through education and inspiration to innovate nature-based solutions.” During the show, My Tree Initiative hosts experts from other Ugandan environmental organisations.

Unfortunately, for the time being, there are relatively few of them operating in the country. Ashraf hopes that this will change in the future and that the work of My Tree Initiative will inspire more people to join its mission and get involved in the fight against climate change.

About the Author:

Katarzyna Rybarczyk writes about humanitarian issues and crises in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. 

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About My Tree Initiative

My Tree Initiative is a not-for-profit dedicated to combating climate change through empowering school livelihoods, natural forests & local communities.

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