By Prosper Akankwasa
As the country’s forest cover continues to face the worst wrath from plunders, the largest remaining block of natural tropical forest along the Albertine valley (Bugoma forest) which is known for preserving wildlife migratory corridors has been given away to pave way for sugar growing.
In a lease agreement between Bunyoro Kingdom and Hoima Sugar Limited, over twenty one square miles of Bugoma central forest reserve are in the hands of the sugar company.
The agreement partly reads that the sugar company will develop the forested land in form of growing sugar cane.
Amidst resistance from environmentalists and surrounding communities, the country’s environmental watchdog; National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) issued an environmental impact assessment permit (ESIA) allowing the sugar company to go ahead and use the forestland for sugar growing.
The authority went ahead and issued a certificate of approval to Hoima Sugar Company authorizing it to embark on destroying the forest.
According to the August 14th 2020 ESIA certificate issued by NEMA, the environmental watchdog permits Hoima Sugar Company limited to use twenty one square miles of the forest Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom leased to the Sugar Company against the will of the surrounding communities, most Ugandans and National forestry authority which is the chief custodian of all natural forests in Uganda.
National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has set not only a bad but also a grave precedent by giving a go ahead to the sugar company to deplete part of the forest.
It is very unfortunate that we are losing our natural heritages/ resources under such kind of circumstances even when those mandated to protect them are in bed with the plunderers.
This level of degeneration that we are experiencing in our dear and only country is worrying and calls for immediate fixing if we are to protect the beauty and uniqueness of Uganda.
Despite Bugoma central forest reserve being the latest on the hit list, Kiwula central forest reserve in Kayunga district is equally under attack from a certain business man by the names of Badru Semuga who claims that he owns 1,152 acres of the forest and has a tittle deed.
Amidst repeated calls from National Forestry Authority to Mr. Semuga to halt activities on the forested land, Semuga didn’t heed to these calls issued to him.
Imaramagambo forest in Rukungiri district was heavily depleted during Covid-19 imposed lockdown. This trend and culture of destroying what was naturally given to us should be condemned and immediately be brought to an end. In 2011, 7100 hectares of Mabira forest were given away to farm sugarcane.
This precedent has since trickled down to Bugoma Forest Reserve, once again clearing some 6,000 hectares of the forest to plant sugarcane.
It should be noted that the loss of forests in Uganda has had adverse effects, which include but not limited to loss of biodiversity where over 260 species of trees in the forest will eventually vanish.
The increase in temperatures, which has led to food insecurity and eruption of diseases, are attributed to loss of forests in the country.
At the Centre for Energy Governance (CEG), we have noted that weak implementation of national policies and laws has been exhibited by National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and other government agencies, throughout this whole Bugoma Forest saga.
The environmental laws in Uganda also have grey areas that have been exploited due to their nature of being unclear.
NEMA exploits such loop holes, for instance in NEMA’s press release that was on 24/08/2020, they cite the presence of a grassland that sits on 2,393.8483 hectares of the 6,0000 hectares given to the Hoima Sugar Limited.
According to NEMA, the loss of grassland in favor of cultivating a sugar plantation is a loss they justify, took and are ready to defend. This leaves Uganda’s forested land vulnerable and at the mercy of God.
The writer is a Research Associate at Centre for Energy Governance