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BIDCO demands more forest land

By Vision Reporter

Added 11th January 2010 03:00 AM

BIDCO is pushing the Government to allow it use part of a protected forest reserve on Bugala Island for planting palm trees.

BIDCO is pushing the Government to allow it use part of a protected forest reserve on Bugala Island for planting palm trees.

By Gerald Tenywa

BIDCO is pushing the Government to allow it use part of a protected forest reserve on Bugala Island for planting palm trees.

In a recent letter, seen by The New Vision, agriculture minister Hope Mwesigye asked her colleague in the environment ministry to surrender the grassland portions of the forest reserve for the palm oil project.

“There is an estimated 2,000 hectares of grasslands in the forest reserves in Bugala Island, many of which are adjacent to the lands already acquired for palm oil growing,” said the letter.

“Planting the grassland with oil palm trees will increase the forest cover on the island and at the same time enable the project to meet the land requirement.”

The Government in partnership with BIDCO is implementing the palm oil project on Bugala Island in Kalangala district. According to the agreement, the Government is supposed to provide BIDCO with 6,500 hectares of land for the prime estate, and facilitate the acquisition and development of 3,500 hectares for the out-growers scheme. A minimum of 10,000 hectares is needed to allow for the establishment of a large mill with environmental standards and produce sufficient by-products for electricity production, Mwesigye argued.

“Efforts have been made to acquire all the required 10,000 hectares of land. So far close to 6,000 have been secured and planted for the nucleus estate and 2,000 acquired for the out-grower scheme, leaving a deficit of 2,000 hectares.”

She warned that failure to meet the land requirements will have legal implications to the Government and may lead to the loss of the socioeconomic benefits expected from the project.

Hudson Andrua, the acting director at the National Forestry Authority (NFA), confirmed that an interministerial committee visited Kalangala following Mwesigye’s request.

“We have not discussed the issue in the policy meetings and I do not know how far it has gone,” he said.

“It is important for Parliament to get interested in the matter,” he added.

According to NFA, the project manager of Vegetable Oil made an attempt to get land in Masaka but the soil could not support palm oil growth.

Another proposal to get land from the local people also failed since they no longer want to sell their bibanja to BIDCO for palm oil growing. Jessica Eriyo, the Minister of State for Environment, however, raised concerns about giving away land in protected areas.

“The grasslands occur in patches of one and two acres. Giving them out will result into fragmentation of the forest ecological systems with consequential loss of environmental services,” she noted.

“Kalangala forests are still evolving and the grassland areas are important for feeding, mating and breeding of some of the species that live in the forest.”

She added that the patches would not add up to the 2,000 hectares needed by BIDCO. This is the third time BIDCO is pressurising the Government to convert the forest, which is rich in biological diversity and protects Lake Victoria from siltation, into palm oil plantations.

As land is getting increasingly scarce, the Government’s dilemma between economic development and environmental protection to combat climate change will become more and more difficult to solve.

BIDCO demands more forest land

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