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Balancing conservation with economic growth

By Vision Reporter

Added 16th January 2007 03:00 AM

THE debate on environmental protection and the need for socio-economic development is intriguing.

THE debate on environmental protection and the need for socio-economic development is intriguing.

By Moses Mapesa

THE debate on environmental protection and the need for socio-economic development is intriguing.

While I hail proponents of environmental management, I believe we cannot manage the environment for the sake of it – just to look at the natural wonders like lakes, forests, national parks, wetlands and mountains, among others, and feel good. We are living in a fast-changing world, and as population increases so are our needs. If we wanted to look at nature we should have controlled our population and effected zero growth in 1970 when we were about nine million people with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comparable to that of developed nations.

We should also have, at that time, embarked on technological innovations and that would have ensured increased resource productivity and less environmental degradation. Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany have effectively checked their population growth and improved on technology, resulting in increased areas under nature conservation. The Dutch in Netherlands have reclaimed seas and turned them into agricultural and industrial land, though somebody might argue that they destroyed a sea.

However, environmentalists would not be worried if population growth was matched with technological advancement and proper planning. Israel, at war since its creation, has turned a large part of its desert into agricultural land and forests with enough food for consumption and export. It has also reclaimed large portions of desert and bare hills into forests despite its very low natural rainfall. Irrigation and re-cycled water (water from the bathrooms and toilets) have done wonders. This was made possible by proper planning and guidance of University scholars and government technocrats in the departments responsible for agriculture, forestry, environment, engineering. They have produced varieties of crops that use less water, have good land policies and matching technology for production. They have been able to set aside areas for nature and cultural (Biblical) conservation and get over a million tourists a year.

Libya is another example where a desert country has been transformed from poverty to a strong economy. South Africa is self sustaining in energy, sugar, timber and minerals despite large conservation areas and shortage of fresh water.

Uganda has abundant natural resources and intellectuals but continues to import sugar, oil, timber, cement and match boxes. Load shedding is blamed on government. When shall we use our brains for productive work? We have been at war and have had ‘bad’ governments, but so have Vietnam, USA, South Africa and Israel.

The hullabaloo about the President giving away land and forests is uncalled for. Can we not strike a balance between nature conservation and resource utilisation? Where are our land use planners and policy analysts? Brazil is producing its own fuel from sugar cane to run their vehicles while Uganda imports electric poles and fruits.

In his speech on the World Tourism Day on October 7, 2006, President Museveni said: “As we intensify our efforts to improve the tourism industry further we should be mindful of the fact that developments in conservation areas should be guided by the principle of sustainability, thus balancing the developments and protection of the environment.

“There have been murmurs about developments in Mabira Forest and Sese Island Forest Reserves, that the President is allowing development in these areas without considering the importance of biodiversity and environment. These investments are important for our development. However, I must stress that the developments will be guided by the established policies and laws to ensure that the environmental values in the area are not compromised.

“During my campaigns early this year (2006), I gave advice not to inhumanly evict our people who happen to have settled in the forest reserves as a result of the past bad policies. This was misinterpreted in some circles to have okayed encroachment of the national reserves. I wish to reiterate my advice that government recognises the importance of these resources and is committed to protect and preserve them. However, inhuman treatment of the people is not acceptable......

“Agricultural encroachment in Mt. Elgon must stop and the Basongora pastoralists must be relocated from Queen Elizabeth National Park. Grazing in Semliki Wildlife Reserve and Kidepo National Park must be checked. But I stress no inhuman treatment of our people”. What further advice do we need from the President?

Environmentalists, engineers, agriculturalists and business entrepreneurs should come up with alternative practical plans on how to increase production and reduce dependency on imported sugar, oil and other products, while at the same time increasing revenue from tourism.

The writer is the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority

Balancing conservation with economic growth

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