In October, a group of officials from the National Forestry Authority had a heated meeting with the Mpigi LC5 boss and councillors. The district demaned an explanation as to why most of the forests have been razed.
STANDING tall during the meeting, Bavekunno Kyesswa, a councillor from Ngando sub-county did not mince his words: â€œNow that the forests that once sheltered Mpigi are completely gone,â€ he said, â€œyou should also leave.â€
â€œWe should conserve what is left and improve what has been destroyed,â€ said Kyesswa. â€œAs a district we are mandated to implement Government programmes, but since the forests are disappearing, we ask the minister to put the forests under the control of the district.â€
This was after an assessment by Jane Kyomya, a councillor of Mpigi town. â€œI do not know whether the top officials of NFA have visited the forests. The water sources have dried out and you cannot find any herbal medicine,â€ she says. â€œIf they are reserves, the name should be changed because we are losing everything, people are ferrying firewood from the forest at night.â€
At Dedeya, even the signpost was removed, an indication that the forestry body has left chaos to reign, according to Kyomya. The issues raised by the politicians included natural forests being replaced by planted trees like eucalyptus and pines. In some cases, permits are issued to investors to plant trees on the land covered by natural trees, the councilors say.
They say this could make them unpopular in the coming elections. People are asking us to explain why the forests are getting destroyed,â€ says Kyomya. â€œIt could make it politically risky in the next elections if nothing is done.â€
Speaker after speaker, threw more allegations. They ranged from razing down of trees to allow cattle grazing in forest reserves, to replacement of virgin natural forests with plantations of eucalyptus and pines. In some cases the beneficiaries allocated part of the forest to plant trees have ended up planting maize and beans.
If there is anything Damian Akankwasa, the executive director of NFA, has mastered, it is environmental diplomacy. He absorbed all the fray and calmly responded to the grievances.
He conceded that NFA has a case to answer on a number of issues, which the councilors poured out. â€œWhat I can see is that we have similar interest,â€ he says. â€œThe problem is: how do we work together to protect the environment and benefit from it in a sustainable wa?.â€
Rivers and streams drying up
About the rivers and streams that are rapidly drying up, Akankwasa pointed out that the catchment areas including the banks of rivers, streams and lakes are not to be reclaimed by any one. â€œWhen we give out areas to plant trees,we do not permit to cut down trees near the rivers,â€ says Akankwasa. â€œBut in some cases the tree planters go behind our backs and destroy the trees.â€
Kyesswa was not done with the â€˜warâ€™ he had earlier opened as he interrupted Akankwasa saying: â€œCancel all the licences of those who have destroyed forests and wetlands. We want the forests to remain natural and intact.â€
Whether to plant exotic trees or native trees
In reaction to replacing indigenous trees with exotic ones, Akankwasa had this to say: â€œWe can do a restoration. But if the forests are left, they can regenerate on their own.â€
However, restoration can be done the same way Mabira was supported under enrichment planting (planting of some trees in the gaps).
â€œWe have drawn an action plan,â€ says Akankwasa. â€œBut when we resume giving permits, we are going to emphasise planting of indigenous trees.â€
Whether to review or abolish the taungya (shamba) system
In some instances, tree farmers opt to plant crops together with trees on the piece of land (taungya system). Once the trees grow big, cultivation of crops is halted.
The advantage is that this reduces the weeding costs. However, in some cases the tree farmers find it profitable to deal in crops and may give up tree-planting. â€œIt is common to find a maize garden in the forest reserve of about five acres,â€ says Frank Kawooya, the vice-chairperson of Mpigi.
He cited Kinyo forest reserve where people are growing pineapples and tomatoes instead of planting trees.
Akankwasa pointed out that there is need to deal with people who have turned the forests into farm land. â€œWe give two years to permit holders to plant trees,â€ says Akankwasa. â€œBut this should be reviewed and made shorter.â€
Row between sister-institutions dealing with forests Napoleon Sebulime Kyeyune, the LC3 chairperson for Mpenja, was more concerned about the fight between NFA and the District Forestry Services. â€œIf you are fighting, what are we supposed to do?â€
Whereas NFA accuses the district forestry officer of providing forest movement permits to timber, charcoal, firewood dealers that is extracted from Central Forest Reserves, the Mpigi DFO accuses NFA staff of not doing enough to protect the forests. He also blames NFA of failure to collaborate with him to fight illegal activities.
Sand mining and firewood collection
While sand mining and collection of firewood are regulated activities in the forest reserves, there are many challenges resulting from extracting such resources from the forest. This is allowed under the Forestry and Tree Planting Act; but in many cases Environment Impact Assessment studies are not conducted before the materials are removed.
After the removal of the sand, filling of the sand pit leaves a lot be desired and some people have lost their lives in such areas.
To make matters worse, even the National Forestry Authority have condemned it. â€œThis is dirty money for NFA,â€ says a top official of NFA. â€œWe should not be earning money from activities that compromise the sanctity of the forests which is NFAâ€™s core mandate.
Revenue-sharingSome councilors want NFA to share revenue from the forests with the district. They say NFA uses facilities maintained by the district, like roads.
They argued that there should be a token of appreciation in return.
Concessions for the locals
Communities around the forests are supposed to participate in the conservation of these forests, but never get the chance, says a councilor from Muduma.
â€œThere is a â€˜bigâ€™ man in the Government who was given a permit to plant trees but has instead brought workers to cut down the forests.
â€œHow do we benefit from these investors,â€ Muduma asked.
Akankwasa said the local communities were entitled to access 5% of the land under the forest reserves so that they can plant trees.
About benefits from investors who plant trees, Akankwasa pointed out that in future they would be obliged to provide employment to the local people.
How to address the high demand for charcoal
The largest pressure on the forests near Kampala comes from the large urban population. This implies that Mpigi forests have to shoulder the demands of the numerous bakeries, restaurants, hotels and schools since most people have turned to charcoal and firewood due to high electricty costs.
The building boom also requires timber, sand and wood to fire the brick kilns. There is need to put in place a strategy to address such demands.
â€œWe do not have enough manpower and the forests of Lwamunda can be accessed from many points. So please help us because there is no way people can cut trees without being seen by the village residents,â€ says Akankwasa.
The â€˜warâ€™ between NFA and Mpigi ended with both parties resolving to sign a memorandum of understanding that will guide the way they relate.
The agreement was signed on November 24. Should this work out, it will pave way for networking between NFA and other districts.
District grills NFA over Mpigi forests