TOP
Friday,September 18,2020 14:06 PM

Museveni decision will save Mabira

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th September 2006 03:00 AM

PRESIDNET Yoweri Museveni’s nod for a small portion of Mabira Forest to be degazetted for sugar production by the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL) will ironically help save the forest and many others in the country.

PRESIDNET Yoweri Museveni’s nod for a small portion of Mabira Forest to be degazetted for sugar production by the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL) will ironically help save the forest and many others in the country.

By Onapito Ekomoloit

PRESIDNET Yoweri Museveni’s nod for a small portion of Mabira Forest to be degazetted for sugar production by the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL) will ironically help save the forest and many others in the country.

Long before Museveni came to power in 1986 Uganda’s forest and general vegetation cover was on a rapid decline. The depletion has gone on despite a corresponding increase in the number of environment conservation agencies – government and non-government alike.

The explanation for the degeneration of forest cover is as simple as ABC. No one needs a reminder that the majority of Ugandans rely on fuel energy for cooking. Short of asking Ugandans not to cook – not to eat – the destruction of vegetation for fuel across the country is unstoppable. The number of Ugandans connected to the hydro-electric power grid is negligible. Moreover, even amongst this minority, the majority only use electricity for lighting and powering radios and TVs. The use of electric cookers is rarity in households.

The crisis is two-fold. On one hand, there is simply no adequate electricity supply for the whole country – oh why am I preaching to the converted? Yet even if the supply was enough, the electricity bill for using a cooker would be prohibitive.

Enter President Museveni. His argument recognises that we are in a vicious cycles of inadequate revenue for government and individuals alike. Yes. Government has not been able to build hydro-power dams as fast as it would have wished because it does not have enough money. As a result, it is forced to “beg” from the likes of the World Bank whose funding is pegged to short-sighted environmental arguments.

Mr. Museveni, rightly, realised that the government could only move at its speed using own money. The main source of own money, needless to say, are taxes. And among the principal payers of the kind of taxes that build dams are sugar industries. In other words, the more the sugar industries earn; the more taxes they will pay. SCOUL as one of these industries needs to expand its sugar plantation, produce more – and pay more taxes. The factory, of course, needs to expand within the vicinity of the current plantation so as to keep production costs down.

The President’s backing of SCOUL’s request to hive off part of Mabira is akin to a doctor cutting off part of a body during surgery to save the patient’s life. The logic being is that when industries, such as SCOUL, give government tax shillings, and it is used to build power plants, they contribute to forest conservation.

Producing more power using taxes is the first and only sustainable step in getting Ugandans to stop cutting the Mabiras of this country. It will then become realistic and possibly enforceable to tell people to switch from wood energy to electricity for cooking. In the present situation of power rationing, it is irrational to expect Ugandans to use electric power for cooking. Many places get off power for as long as 24 hours at a time. Imagine not cooking for that long, if you cannot use firewood or charcoal. The other role that expanding industries like SCOUL play in getting people to cook using electricity is providing employment. Industries are mass employers, and it is only employed people, earning income who can afford to cook using electricity.

In addition, when employed people use electricity to cook it reduces the market for charcoal, which is the main cause of deforestation today. And the possibility of employment in industries would take out charcoal burners from the forests into factories. Obviously, this is a long-term strategy for saving Mabira Forest and other forests from being wiped out for wood fuel – the process is viciously on. But as the Chinese say, even a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

At the same time, expanding forest cover through reforestation is only possible when government has the money to do it. Sloganeering about reforestation with no resources to do it is meaningless. The example of the developed industrial countries is very vivid. Despite clearing forests to give way for industries and other urban developments, these countries have been able to re-afforest and maintain huge and beautiful green belts. A city like Washington, D.C. in the United States is impressively forested despite the huge modern constructions. This has been possible because the authorities have enough money from taxing industries, among other sources, to keep their citizens hooked on to gas and electric cookers.

Expecting our own Ugandans to value forests in the margins of towns beyond seeing them as a source of charcoal and firewood is asking for too much. A hungry man is an angry man. Not even trees are safe in his path.

The writer is the Press Secretary to President Yoweri Museveni

Museveni decision will save Mabira

Related articles

More From The Author

More From The Author