TOP
Wednesday,December 02,2020 00:50 AM

Fresh threat on Mayuge forest

By Vision Reporter

Added 29th March 2011 03:00 AM

THE saying that environment and politics are not bed fellows always comes alive in Mayuge district during elections. The residents of this area, where parts of the South Busoga forest reserve lies, know when to put their claim to part of the protected areas. It is during the political campaigns.

THE saying that environment and politics are not bed fellows always comes alive in Mayuge district during elections. The residents of this area, where parts of the South Busoga forest reserve lies, know when to put their claim to part of the protected areas. It is during the political campaigns.

By Gerald Tenywa

THE saying that environment and politics are not bed fellows always comes alive in Mayuge district during elections. The residents of this area, where parts of the South Busoga forest reserve lies, know when to put their claim to part of the protected areas. It is during the political campaigns.

And so at the height of the 2006 general campaigns when President Yoweri Museveni issued an executive order restraining eviction of encroachers from protected areas, they quickly moved into parts of South Busoga forest reserve.

Together with Bukaleba, South Busoga used to form a belt sheltering Lake Victoria from siltation. Bukaleba had been free from encroachment for about a decade until the just-concluded presidential campaigns.

In early February, National Forestry Authority (NFA) officials rushed to Bukaleba to tame a fresh wave of encroachment threatening an 8,000-hectare tree plantation belonging to Busoga Forestry Company, a subsidiary of a Norwegian private company, Green Resources.

But by the time the NFA executive director, Hudson Andrua, and his team arrived in the company of armed security personnel, 100 acres of the valuable pine and eucalyptus trees had been cleared by the residents.

The loss, estimated at sh2b, could rise 10 times if the attackers strike again because their goal is to occupy 1,000 acres of the 8,000-acre Bukaleba forest, according to Teddy Nsamba, the Bukaleba plantation manager.

“We have had a good working relationship with the communities,” said Nsamba. “The company has rehabilitated 32km of roads, built a health centre, which we stock with drugs every month, and also provided scholarships to some of their children.

“We do not now understand what sort of statement they are making because we have an elaborate community development programme for their benefit,” she lamented.

Politics adds confusion to Bukaleba forest row
In 2009, there was a fire outbreak in which the communities were suspected to have had a hand, but the company ignored it for the sake of cultivating good relations.

But when Museveni was campaigning in October at Malongo, Mayuge, he promised to resettle communities living on the fringes of Bukaleba forest. He also promised to give land to communities that have had decade-long running battles over land in the nearby South Busoga Forest Reserve.

Taking advantage of the President’s remarks, a group claiming to be under the royal chiefdom of Bunya reportedly mobilised the communities to encroach on the forest reserve.

Chief Luba-Munulo, the Bunya self-styled prince in a January 26, 2011 letter to the Bukaleba LCIII chairperson, said the community was entitled to 10% (800 hectares) of the forest reserve.

The letter was copied to the area Woman MP, who is also the gender state minister, Rukia Nakadama, the LCV chairperson and the Resident District Commissioner, among others.

Following the sentiments, Nsamba said they started engaging the communities since the forest is still a protected area and change of use would need parliamentary approval.

“But this was a tense period of campaigns and we hoped that these groups would stay calm and spare the trees,” observed Nsamba.

But their engagement collapsed on the eve of elections as people suspected to have been in their hundreds cleared pine trees on 70 acres and also destroyed another 30 acres of eucalyptus trees in one night.

“More trees are still exposed to destruction,” Nsamba told Andrua, who was accompanied by the Police and the Uganda People’s Defence Forces on a “fact-finding mission” at Nakalanga on the shores of Lake Victoria.

When contacted, Luba-Munulo accepted that he wrote the letter, but denied mobilising the community to destroy the plantation.

“Those who say we mobilised people to cut down trees are detractors. Even the minutes of the meetings we had do not have anything to do with cutting of trees,” he said.

Declining fish stocks, land pressure fuel encroachment
David Maka, a fisherman and part time farmer at Nakalanga, told New Vision that the residents were trapped between a rock and a hard place.

The fish stocks, he said, have declined and the tiny pieces of land the residents occupy cannot sustain them.

Maka said although the forest company had set aside 500 hectares of land for the local community to plant trees, these have not been planted to date.

“The interest of the community is not in growing trees, but in settlement and farming in the reserve,” Reuben Arinaitwe, the NFA range manager, told New Vision.

But according to Andrua, planting food crops instead of trees brings in short term benefits yet the communities would reap a lot more by selling mature trees to the company in the years to come.

Nakalanga smells of poverty, with most residents staying in makeshift structures. According to Thomas Aramu, the district environment officer, Mayuge farmers occupy an average land holding of only one acre against the national average of 2.6 acres.

A larger part of Mayuge is covered by Lake Victoria and protected forests; Bukaleba, South Busoga, also known as Kityerera, and Namasiga. The remaining land in the hands of the communities is being surrendered to sugarcane growing at Kakira and a new sugar factory, Mayuge Sugar Industries Limited.

This poses food security concerns since many people devote all their land to sugarcane growing.

Previous degazettement of forests has not solved Mayuge’s problems. But strong community programmes funded by the share of revenue with grassroot communities could be part of the solution. This could also provide a springboard for sustainable use of Mayuge’s resources such as soil fertility management and promotion of eco-tourism.

A lot of goodwill from private investors dealing in timber, fish and sugarcane is needed. And above all, good politics with strong local governance is needed to drive conservation and prosperity.

Mayuge has highest deforestation rate
Much of Mayuge was gazetted forest reserve after the areas were deserted following tse tse fly infestation and an outbreak of sleeping sickness.

In 1968, however, much of the South Busoga forest reserve was degazetted to resettle the returnees, reducing it from 64,000 hectares to 17,000. But the locals have kept asking for more forest land.

While Uganda is losing 80,000 hectares of forest every year, Mayuge is ranked as the worst affected district, according to the 2008 State of Environment Report.

“If nothing is done to reverse the high rate of deforestation, the per capita forest area of Uganda will be zero by 2050,” warned Dr. Aryamanya-Mugisha, the executive director of the National Environment Management Authority.

He attributed the forest loss to the fast-growing population, which has increased pressure on land.

Fresh threat on Mayuge forest

Related articles

More From The Author

More From The Author