By Patrick Jaramogi
National Forestry Authority (NFA) is finalising its move to cancel all land titles and lease offers issued in central forest reserves, the NFA executive director Michael Mugisa has said.
The move is part of the implementation of President Museveni’s directive (issued earlier this year) restraining any person from encroaching on forest reserves, wetlands and ranches.
About 15,000 square kilometres, (7%) of Uganda’s dry land area is protected as forest reserves. This comes at a time when the Government has been ordered to pay over sh40b in damages and compensation to 75 Namanve tree farmers whose 620 hectares were destroyed by encroachers.
The farmers, many retired civil servants, had been granted a 30-year license by NFA to plant trees in the Namanve Forest Reserve. Mugisa said government should put emphasis on avoiding encroachers. “It is cheaper to avoid encroachers than to pay damages for breach of contract.
As NFA our stand is clear, we don’t have money to pay the farmers, we did our best. As NFA we stop at giving licenses and land for tree growing. Protection of farmers’ trees lies with the Police,” said Mugisa. Ruth Kisaakye, the NFA legal officer, said NFA will take legal action against any person found in a forest reserve.
“We are investigating all title and lease offers issued by local governments, the Uganda Land Commission and district land boards on forest reserves. We shall cancel all of them and declare them null and void,” she said at a press conference held in Kampala last week.
“NFA has communicated to numerous district and local government officials, including the Ministry of Lands against issuing titles for forest reserves. It is illegal unless the license is granted by NFA,” she said.
Joseph Kwesiga, the NFA legal advisor, said National Forestry Authority is working with the Solicitor General.
“The law is clear. No activity should be done in forest reserve, wetland or ranch and this was made clear in a presidential directive of February 22, 2013 that NFA is very determined to enforce,” said Kwesiga.