THE agriculture state minister, Aggrey Bagiire, has directed authorities in West Nile districts to enact bylaws to regulate the cultivation of tobacco to save the region from environmental degradation.
The directive follows a recent meeting the minister held with Koboko district leaders in Koboko town. Bagiire, who had travelled by road, expressed shock at the lack of forest cover in the area.
â€œThese farmers have been here for over 40 years but what you see from Arua to Koboko is bad.â€ â€œOther than the small trading centres, there are countable iron sheet-roofed houses,â€ Bagiire said.
He said with the bylaw, tobacco farmers would also be required to grow food. For example, the minister said, a farmer would grow tobacco on one acre and food on two.
The officials, who included area MPs, local leaders and technical staff, complained that tobacco farmers were indiscriminately cutting down trees for firewood to cure their harvested tobacco.
Unlike the Bunyoro region that grows air-cured tobacco, West Nile produces the Virginia tobacco that is cured using smoke.
â€œThis crop is an environmental hazard. Apart from costing us our natural trees, the soil fertility has also been depleted and yet people still remain in poverty,â€ Isaac Todoko, the district secretary for production, said.
Todoko said, as an effect, there was a noticeable change in the weather pattern with longer dry spells, which was forcing most farmers to abandon cultivation for livestock farming.
The district speaker, George Ambe, said some companies were operating in disregard of the Tobacco Act that required them to have woodlots for mitigation purposes.
Ambe revealed that some of the companies that did have woodlots, were not planting trees equivalent to the destruction they caused.
Control tobacco growing, says minister