Bitter-sweet exchange: forest cleared for sugarcane - Part 1

May 06, 2021

The prospects of Bugoma and Kabwoya as a stopover have increased with the construction of the road linking the Kampala-Gulu highway to Fort Portal through Kigumba, Masindi, Hoima and Kyejonjo.

Bitter-sweet exchange: forest cleared for sugarcane - Part 1

Gerald Tenywa
Journalist @New Vision


Bugoma: A garden of Eden under threat

A chunk of Bugoma Forest Reserve is being cleared for sugarcane growing. There is no doubt this will bring jobs and some social services closer to the people. But the encroachment could start and soon the whole forest will be gone. Dire climate change consequences will follow. Vision Group started a campaign to save Bugoma Forest.


The birds chirp in the trees. Not far away, black and white colobus monkeys shy away as a tiny path into the wildlife sanctuary unveils what part of the 41,000ha Bugoma Forest Reserve offers. 

The birds and monkeys are part of Bugoma Central Forest. It is their natural home. But they are threatened with eviction as part of the forest is being cleared for sugarcane growing.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), gave a go-ahead to the sugar project, an indication that it sees no negative impact on the environment when the forest is replaced by sugarcane. Yet, once it is cleared the birds and chimpanzees will not have a home. Already, they have been under threat from farmland and logging activities. 

A Vision Group team was in the forest, accompanied by Nazario Asiimwe, a tour guide. Chimpanzees cry out, jumping from one tree to another. Asiimwe explains the loud cries as grumbling because the chimps are not comfortable with the intrusion into their homeland.

“This is one of the better days when you do not have to labour to see some of Bugoma’s best kept secrets,” Asiimwe says. He explains that on some days you have to walk for hours before you can spot a chimpanzee or colubus monkey. 

Costatino Tesserin, an investor in tourism accommodation, says Bugoma is endowed with chimpanzees. He points out that some of them are undergoing habituation. Habituation is a process through which primates such as chimpanzees get used to human presence without losing their wild character. 

The habituation of the chimps in Bugoma started last year and they could be open to tourism in the coming year. 

Already, primate tourism in Bugoma is generating a lot of interest. This is because an endemic species of monkeys known as the Ugandan mangabey has become an eye-catcher for tourists. 

“Ugandan mangabeys are the flagbearers of Bugoma,” Tesserin says, adding that animals are also being re-introduced in the nearby Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve. Terresin says to track the Ugandan mangabey, tourists have to part with $40 (sh150,000).

This is higher than the nature walk which goes for $25 (sh100,000). Tracking chimps could go for as a high as $200 (sh740,000). In other parks with chimps, Ugandans part with sh150,000 to track them. Resident non-nationals (expatriates) pay $150 (sh553,000) and foreign tourists $200 (740,000). 

Tourism is the highest foreign exchange earner in Uganda. In 2017, Uganda earned $1.4b from the sector. This was expected to double to $2.7b (sh9.8 trillion) by 2020. 

Tourism earnings are about 10% of Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product, according to the Uganda Tourism Board. Given that Hoima is located only 200km from Kampala, Bugoma and Kabwoya could become the tourism destination nearest to Kampala. Mbarara where Lake Mburo National Park is found and Mbale that is blessed with Mt. Elgon National Park are located 240km from the capital city. Murchison Falls National Park is 203km away. 

(Graphics by Brian Ssekamatte & Phillip Nsamba)

(Graphics by Brian Ssekamatte & Phillip Nsamba)


Terresin says the tourism potential of Bugoma and Kabwoya wildlife reserve is immense, but is barely being scratched. 

He says Bugoma promises to become a stopover for tourists heading to the northern tourist circuit (Murchison Falls National Park) and the southern tourist circuit (Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park). 

The prospects of Bugoma and Kabwoya as a stopover have increased with the construction of the road linking the Kampala-Gulu highway to Fort Portal through Kigumba, Masindi, Hoima and Kyejonjo. In addition to the Kigumba-Kyejonjo road, Bunyoro has been networked with the construction of the oil roads. The connectivity will increase further with the construction of Hoima International Airport.

The discovery of oil is also bringing many people, including workers and expatriates, to Hoima and Buliisa. This could become part of the market Bugoma and Kabwoya should be looking up to. “Bugoma could be the new tourism hub,” Tesserin says, adding that not far from Bugoma are Kabwoya and Lake Albert. 

At Bugoma, Tesserin is turning his dreams into reality. He has built Jungle Lodge at the fringes of Bugoma Forest.  

In 2018, the hotel hosted 196 tourists. The number increased to 276 last year. This year, the numbers were projected to increase to 350- 400 before COVID-19 spoilt Bugoma’s party. Another accommodation facility was supposed to be set up at Lwera. However, the investment in a second lodge is being discouraged by the encroachment on Bugoma by the expansive sugarcane plantation. 


Hoima Sugar Limited, a private company, is moving into the heart of Bugoma, clearing part of the ancient forest for growing of sugarcane. The sugar company leased the land from Gafabusa Iguru, the king of Bunyoro. This was three days after the Bunyoro king acquired a land title for the land, which also houses a cultural site for the kings of Bunyoro. 

This land was carved out of Bugoma after the king of Bunyoro claimed ownership of the land. As Hoima Sugar clears 5,779.7ha, part of Bugoma near Nsozi in Kyangwali sub-county, MZ Agencies is also clearing a swathe of forest sitting on 2,000ha from Kisaru. 

The two investments are eating into the heart of Bugoma towards Kaseeta. Mustafa Zaidi, a tycoon in Hoima city, owns MZ Agencies. This will not only destroy the beauty of Bugoma, but also pose a risk to the chimps that are categorised as endangered species. Muhangaizima, where the companies are operating, is where most of the 600 chimps housed by the forest stay.

“The chimps are going to lose their habitat,” says Bashir Hangi, the public relations manager of Uganda Wildlife Authority. 

“Do you know what this means? Human-wildlife confl icts are going to escalate. The chimps are going to get into contact with the human population and grab their children as well as destroy crops.”  


Encroachment and illegal logging are denying chimps food and forcing them to raid nearby farms and gardens. Kasozi Atuhura, the conservation programme offi cer, Chimpanzee Trust, says they have been working with the affected farmers in Kabwoya to reduce the damage to the farmland. 

He adds: “The farmers keep encroaching on parts of Bugoma and the riverine forests. But now they are complaining, not knowing that they have caused the problem. We fear that further destruction will lead to further reduction in the number of primates. The chimps will camp in the sugarcane plantations and this is going to increase the human-wildlife conflict.”

The Vision Group team encountered chimps on a farm belonging to Tadeo Ayebare in Bubogo village, Kabwoya subcounty, Kikuube district.

“We are sharing our food with the chimps,” Ayebare says, adding that they lose up to half of their harvest to chimpanzees. Yafesi Kaahwa, the village chairperson, says: “Let there be tourism so that the local people can benefit from it.” 

(Graphics by Brian Ssekamatte & Phillip Nsamba)

(Graphics by Brian Ssekamatte & Phillip Nsamba)


Contrary to a statement that part of Bugoma Central Forest given away for sugarcane growing was grassland, a Vision Group investigation team has discovered it is a tropical high forest. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) cleared Hoima Sugar Company Limited to cut down swathes of the forest in Kikuube district. 

Dr Tom Okurut, the NEMA executive director, says the nine square miles where Hoima Sugar was allowed to cultivate sugarcane is covered by grassland. 

“NEMA is not a conservation organisation. We have made a decision and where we have authorised Hoima Sugar to grow sugarcane is a grassland,” Okurut said in an interview at NEMA House in Kampala recently.

A team of experts from Makerere University conducted a study that informed Okurut’s decision and he pointed out that the team encountered cattle grazing in the area, indicating that this was grassland. 

On September 17, a team from Vision Group deployed a drone that captured images, including photographs and videos of the contested part of Muhangaizima block in Bugoma Forest Reserve. 
The captured images show that what is on the ground is mostly woodland, which transitions into a natural forest towards Lwera, where research and habituation of chimpanzees is ongoing. According to foresters, woodland is defi ned as a forest. 

An expert who preferred anonymity said a big forest like Bugoma is an ecological system which has forests, wetlands, woodlands and grasslands. The wetlands often capture water from the forest. 

The Vision Group team also obtained satellite maps showing part of Bugoma which Hoima Sugar is claiming. It is stocked with woodland with a natural forest and thin grasslands on top of the ridges. Gazetted in 1932 as a catchment area, Bugoma is also an important habitat for chimps. 

The forest also habours endangered birds — Nahan’s Francolin, the African Grey Parrots as well as pangolins. However, the 41,000ha Bugoma has reduced in size by 5,779ha without being degazetted. The ownership of the land has been determined by court.


On April 25, last year, Justice Wilson Musalu Musene dismissed a case in which the National Forestry Authority (NFA) had jointly sued the Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara, Hoima Sugar Limited and Uganda Land Commission. 

In his judgement, he indicated that Bunyoro kingdom acquired freehold interest and legally leased land to Hoima Sugar Limited. 

NFA subsequently appealed the High Court ruling but lost the case as per the judgement made by Justice Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, on December 3, 2019. Following the court decision, NEMA also cleared Hoima Sugar Limited to cultivate sugarcane on 9.24sq.m in the forest. 

NEMA also allowed Hoima Sugar to establish an urban centre on 1.26s.m, establish an eco-tourism centre on 1.97sq.m and restore 3.13sq.m of Bugoma. The top government watchdog on environment also ordered Hoima Sugar to preserve 0.156ha for the cultural site and conserve 6.17sq.m as a natural forest. 

This totals to 21.54ha (about 22sq.m or 5,579ha). Bunyoro kingdom secured a title for the land which also NFA claims to be part of Bugoma.

Three days after obtaining the land title, Bunyoro kingdom leased the land to Hoima Sugar to grow sugarcane for 99 years.

On acquiring the lease, NEMA ordered Hoima Sugar to conduct an environmental and social impact assessment before the change of land use from forestry to sugarcane plantation.

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