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Let's protect our forests

By Admin

Added 5th April 2019 11:19 AM

According to the 2016 joint water and environment sector review report, Uganda’s forest cover had reduced from 24% in 1990 to just 11% in 2015.

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According to the 2016 joint water and environment sector review report, Uganda’s forest cover had reduced from 24% in 1990 to just 11% in 2015.

The New Vision on, Monday, April 1, 2019, reported that High Court Judge Justice Wilson Masalu Musene, had ordered the National Forest Authority (NFA) to vacate over 4,000 hectares of forest land claimed by World War I and II ex-servicemen in Mpigi district.
 
The judge also ordered NFA to cut down all the trees it planted on the land within a period of four months. He also permanently barred NFA from continuing to trespass on the land.
 
According to the 2016 joint water and environment sector review report, Uganda’s forest cover had reduced from 24% in 1990 to just 11% in 2015. We were losing on average 122,000 hectares of forest cover every year.
 
The situation is blamed partly on Uganda’s population growth rate that averages 3.2% per annum and has adverse effects on biodiversity. A high population creates a rise in demand for food, forest products and services which spurs incentives to convert forests into farmland.
 
Environmentalists have warned that because forests are important integrated ecosystems and home to millions of people and animals, their continued loss will have dire consequences especially on climate change that can undermine future economic development and threaten the social stability of communities.
 
Uganda, like many other developing countries is either not able or lacks the political will to protect biodiversity. A total of 493 out of 506 central forest reserves are under heavy encroachment especially in the central region, southwestern and northern areas.
 
Forests protection teams lack sufficient funding, infrastructure and equipment for the job leaving most of the recommended conservation and protection policies and strategies only available on paper.
 
The ever-growing demand for timber and charcoal is another issue of concern and it is expected to get worse.
 
Charcoal remains the most popular energy source for use in 90% of households in Kampala and other urban areas while more than 75% of rural households use firewood to cook, which wood they get from cutting down trees.
 
Poor rural electrification and costly electricity have been identified as other major drivers of the charcoal business.
 
Additionally, illegal logging has also become semi-legal and rapidly established as the de facto institutional arrangement governing Uganda's forests.
 
The state and its actors haven’t paid any attention to this activity yet it is a major environmental and economic problem. Corruption, bribery and greed are often at the root of such illegal practices.
 
It is alleged that in the legal concessions, illegal logging gangs continue to operate along logging roads, basic security measures are lacking, and road barriers remain unmanned. Key officials in local governments collide with illegal loggers by facilitating permits for timber transport.
 
This confirms the assertion that forest loss is mostly a result not of economic and demographic forces per se but of institutional failures to contain such forces.
 
A few weeks ago, a private conservation firm operating in Bugoma forest was reported to be pleading for government agencies to investigate circumstances under which an alleged investor was issued a land title in a protected area within the central forest reserve.
 
Uganda has carried out several excellent environmental policies, legal and institutional reforms aimed at promoting the conservation and sustainable use of the country’s forest resources.
 
They include; putting in place of the National Forestry Policy 2001, Enactment of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003, establishment of the Forest Sector Support Department, the National Forestry Authority, District Forestry Services and the Environmental Protection Police Unit and the recent cabinet approval of the National Climate change bill.
 
Nonetheless, Uganda has the highest forest conversion in East Africa. For example, statistics from Masaka District forestry department indicate that Masaka sub -region has 29 government forest reserves but over five of them, including Jubia, Mujuzi, Manwa in Bukakata Sub-county, Minziro and Namalala forest reserves both in Rakai District have been degraded.
 
Experts argue that there is lack of understanding about the pressures and demands being placed on forests and that serious dialogue about sustainability and use of renewable energy alternatives is long overdue.
 
National Forestry Authority as a body mandated to manage forest reserves will have to make hard choices if they wish to stem this biological catastrophe.
 
Not all is lost though. The government is targeting to restore 100 million hectares of currently deforested and degraded land by 2030, and last month NFA announced that it had suspended issuance of licenses for tree harvesting in natural forests as one way of conserving the environment and mitigating climate change.
 
They also revealed plans of using drones for monitoring natural forests to check on destruction and encroachment.
 
Enforcement of national laws is critical to protect our ecosystems and NFA should be supported to conserve the remaining forests and encourage the expansion of plantations and offer up-to-date accountability of forest resources.
 
The best way is to work with local communities and complement their local customary land needs and rights to restore degraded forest ecosystems and protection of the watershed and environment. 
 
The writer is Executive Director Citizens' Concern Africa-CICOA
 
andrew.mafundo@citizensconcernafrica.org

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