By GERALD TENYWA
It is development versus conservation. Buggala, the largest of the 84 islands of Kalangala, is playing host to oil palm production, which helped Malaysia and Indonesia in Asia to break through into medium-income economies. It is a plantation that needs a lot of land, previously covered by virgin forests and scenic grasslands.
As the oil palm expands on Buggala, nature is getting degraded. The promising tourism industry and Lake Victoria are the biggest losers because the forests are cleared to pave way for oil palm plantations, exposing the soil to erosion.
“I do not think people value what they have, not until it disappears,” says Jimmy Muddu, a resident of Buswa, who has seen the forest cover being mauled by palm growing. Now getting firewood for cooking is a problem.
“Oil palm has enabled some people earn, but what we are losing is much more. The beauty of the island has been battered and the lake is getting silted because some oil palm farmers cultivate up to the shoreline of the lake.
“Buggala is facing the risk of collapsing under the weight of deforestation as a result of growing oil palm, unplanned tourism, over fishing and silting of the lake,” he added.
Prompted by the reports, a team led by Dr. Tom Okurut, the executive director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the state minister for environment, Flavia Munaba, last week, conducted an inspection on Buggala island.
The NEMA monitoring evaluation specialist, Fred Onyai, said there was need to balance development and environment conservation. He said that although BIDCO was trying its best, the worst abusers were the proprietors of beach hotels and the out-growers, who supply BIDCO.
“The out-growers are cultivating the oil palms up to the lake. If not managed well, the environmental mismanagement will end up hurting the lake. What happens in the lake is a measure of how well or badly the land is being managed,” observed Onyai.
Buggala Island covers 29,000 hectares out of which 10,000 have been allocated for oil palm trees with BIDCO managing 6,500 hectares. The remaining 3,500 hectares is under the out-growers scheme. The International Fund for Agriculture Development, Government of Uganda and BIDCO are funding oil palm growing on Buggala.
The benefits from oil development Onyai says oil palm development on Buggala is a necessary evil since it has benefits that help to reduce poverty. He said ignorance and poverty usually drive people
Lake Victoria is under threat and the very people this water source is supposed to serve are the ones threatening its existence. Until World Environment Day, June 5, in a campaign, Save Lake Victoria, Vision Group media platforms will run investigative articles, programmes and commentaries highlighting the irresponsible human activities threatening the world’s largest fresh water lake.
Into negative exploitation of the environment. He says although oil palm development is delivering socio-economic benefits to Buggala, the challenge is how to ensure that the development does not adversely affect the environment.
Other sources, including some of the local people and civil society say the challenge, which Onyai is talking about is still elusive and that palm oil development is dragging Buggala into trouble.
The negative impact of oil palm Dr. John Kaboggoza, an investor in tourism on Buggala, says the cutting down of large tracks of the forest has destroyed the habitats for birds and that Buggala will never be the same again.
“It is the diversity of attractions that is attracting tourists to Buggala,” says Kaboggoza, adding that it would have been better if nature remained undisturbed.
He also points out that Buggala has shallow soils and that its fertility will disappear in a few years, meaning that large amounts of fertilisers and pesticides will have to be applied, raising the risk of the ecology and the lake being poisoned.
At a meeting with district, civil society and BIDCO officials at Kalangala district headquarters, George Lubega of NEMA put to task BIDCO officials to regulate chemicals, following reports that a child had been poisoned to death.
Richard Ssenkooza, the environment officer for BIDCO, conceded that this was an accident.
He explained that the chemicals ended up at a worker’s premises and his child drank it, thinking it was a beverage. BIDCO is working around the clock to ensure that this is not repeated.
“We have control measures to ensure that fertilisers and pesticides are not washed into the lake,” says Ssenkooza, adding that they conduct regular tests on water every three months in compliance with NEMA requirements.
The district production and marketing officer of Kalangala Local Government, David Balironda, says contrary to the impression that BIDCO is driving massive deforestation on Buggala, 65% of the oil palm plantation under BIDCO is sitting on areas that were previously grasslands.
“I know every inch of land where BIDCO is cultivating because I was involved in securing land for BIDCO,” he says, adding that oil palm spared the forest reserves.
About cutting down of trees to process palm oil at the factory, Ssenkooza says a plan is underway to produce electricity from the residues of oil palm.
NEMA grappling to manage the lake protection zone The biggest environmental concern is the management of the 200-metre protection zone of the lake. While NEMA’s regulations indicate that development should be located outside the 200-metre zone of the lake, BIDCO has violated the regulations.
Although NEMA, in 2006, granted permission to plant oil palm up to within 100 metres off the shoreline in the area of Bwendero, Kitoke and Bugusi/Buyoga on Buggala, an audit verification by NEMA in March 2013, noted that “there is violation of this permit provision where oil palms were grown at even less than 50 metres from the lake water line.”
The biggest violators were, however, found to be out-growers, who were found planting oil palms right up to the waters. Munaba says the fish stocks are disappearing because of overfishing and pollution.
Kalangala local government weakened by poor facilitation Given that BIDCO and the outgrowers of oil palm are threatening the environment, Kalangala needs to monitor the environment more aggressively to ensure that oil palm growing does not ruin tourism.
But when it comes to funding, environment was allocated only sh3m for the whole year, according to Harriet Saawa, the natural resources manager for Kalangala.
“How do you expect us to work when we do not have adequate facilitation?”
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Oil palm growing threatens Buggala Island forest cover