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Travel Diary - December 4, 2023

Written by Kelly Davis

Today’s mission, which we have bravely accepted, is to run reconnaissance on a suspected sawmill installation in the bush somewhere due south of Gulu, the exact destination somewhat murky. We received a brand spanking new Wood Mizer LX-50 sawmill about 6 months ago and our intent is to set up an operation producing lumber in Moyo, where currently there are no sawmills, and service the area, providing jobs and locally sourced material. Our endeavor today is to find the mill and observe its operations in preparation for putting together a business plan that we will present to Moyoan officials. It is our hope to receive land and support for this venture and begin operation in 2024. In a meeting last week with the local Director of Forestry we were told they would be very supportive of this initiative.

Isaac, Apollo and I set out into the frenetic beehive that is Gulu around 8 AM. The amount of commerce that is transacted in downtown Gulu and the outlying areas is incredible. I don’t know how many locally owned shops there are, and I doubt anyone else does either, but it is easily in the tens of thousands. If you can’t buy it here, you probably don’t need it. Thousands of boda bodas and flying about, near miss after near miss, just another day in Gulu.

Our first objective is to find a gentleman that oversees the sawmill operation that we will be visiting to get some background and directions. We find him at a Ministry of Agriculture compound where the current operation is the processing of hundreds of trucks stuffed full of raw cotton. There are throngs of workers unloading cotton and laying it out on giant tarps in some initial step of the process. I have never seen so much cotton, it was fascinating. We meet our man and gain the needed information. With vague directions in hand, we head into the outback between Gulu and Kampala.

We head south out of Gulu on a decently maintained main road. After a seemingly random series of lefts and rights onto increasingly less maintained roads, we take a right at the village of Anaka onto a dirt road that will lead to our target, some 15 miles (as we discovered) into the bush. Not necessarily a bad single lane road but we were thankful to be in the 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser as there were several washed out sections along the way. Past the first 2 stands of tree farms, one pine and one eucalyptus, several hundred acres each, then over the 2nd bridge, we spy our objective, a 700 acre stand of pine. We penetrate the grove, taking the road most traveled, and come upon a small enclave of 4 or 5 huts, a large brick building, a stick-built drying shed and… the sawmill. We are met by 5 workers, a couple of goats and about 40 chickens (apparently their protein). The boss, a soft spoken, friendly young man came forward to greet us. We explained our purpose and goal and, like almost every Ugandan we’ve dealt with, he was happy to accommodate. Their machine is a Wood Mizer LT-15, very similar to ours. We ask them to run through the processing of a log and they proceed. We watch as they turn a 10” diameter by 3 m long rough timber into 2, 2 x 4 pieces of lumber, all in about 8 minutes. After many, many questions, pictures and videos I feel we have a nascent understanding of the process. We still have much work to do but we can now start talking with some credibility and begin writing up the business plan. We say our thank you's and goodbyes and head to Kampala at about 1:30, intending to be at Adonai House by 7:30.

This part of the trip is long, very long. The road is the major artery between Gulu and Kampala but it turns into mini business districts as you pass through the many, many small towns along the way, either stopping or slowing to a crawl to maneuver through the heavy traffic. After a rolex, break we eventually begin to enter the beast that is Kampala at around 8 PM. To say the roads are bad in Kampala is a massive understatement. I would prefer to negotiate the roads in Moyo. As we inch our way over the last 4 or 5 miles for the next 2 hours, I deem Kampala the “pothole capital of the world.” To no surprise, I found someone on Instagram who beat me to it, dubbing it Kampothole. We check into Adonai House at about 9:30, are served an excellent meal and hit the rack, looking forward to tomorrow’s shopping expedition in the industrial section of potholetown.


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