Entebbe Botanical Gardens is home to over 400 plant species, ranging from little known indigenous fruits and medicinal plants, to a wide range of ornamentals.
By Julius Luwemba & Kigongo Ssebalamu
A few metres east of the State House in Entebbe municipality are splendid gardens laid out on a 40ha piece of land, stretching over a kilometre along the scenic shores of Lake Victoria and rising inland onto a gently sloping beautiful landscape.
Here, you find representation of typical tropical rainforest and wetland ecosystems which attract vast numbers of birds, reptiles and apes, making it a good destination for animal lovers as well.
Entebbe Botanical Gardens is home to over 400 plant species, ranging from little known indigenous fruits and medicinal plants, the towering highly prized commercial timber species, the economically important crop species and their relatives, to a wide range of ornamentals.
The beautiful collections are enhanced by the flavour of dozens of exotic plant species that were brought into the country over the last century.
However, part of the 120-year-old gardens has been leased out to an investor — Megha Industries — who owns the adjacent Victoria Mall, to construct a sewage management plant. The land leased out is reported to be about half-an-acre.
When contacted about the matter, Meghani Sikander of Megha Industries confirmed acquiring a 10-year lease (renewable) from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) to expand the sewerage system of Victoria Mall.
"On average, over 7,000 people access the mall every day, way more than what we had anticipated during the initial construction," Meghani said.
He noted that the septic tank will be emptied every after two months.
"We have done our best in order not to damage the plants in the gardens. We engaged National Water and Sewerage Corporation to assist in constructing a sewage line that can connect directly to the lake after proper treatment of the sewage. However, they told us to wait for at least one-and-a-half years," Meghani explained.
"Before the sewer line, this whole place was every Saturday subjected to a stench whenever emptying the small septic tank we have. After realising that emptying every Saturday was not sustainable, we had to run to Botanical Gardens to get land to try and construct a bigger septic tank to help us solve this problem," he added.
When contacted over the matter, NARO director Dr Ambrose Agona said he was not in office at the time.
"Please contact me when I am in office for a detailed comment," Agona said.
What local authorities say
Entebbe town clerk Charles Magumba said he was aware of the investor's businesses in Entebbe. He, however, did not divulge details about the septic tank being constructed in Botanical Gardens.
Vincent Kayanja, the Entebbe municipality mayor, justified the expansion of Victoria Mall sewerage system.
"The sewerage system at Victoria Mall should now be a mandate of National Water and Sewerage Corporation. They should ensure that sewage is treated from there before being pumped into the lake," Kayanja said.
Long before agricultural research institutes were introduced, Entebbe Botanical Gardens was in place, having been officially launched in October 1898 by James Berkery, the commissioner and consul general for the British protectorate.
The facility was solely established for the examination and development of agricultural resources before transplanting them to larger farms.
Over 120 years, Botanical Gardens has evolved from an agricultural research facility to a tourist centre. Visitors are required to pay a fee ranging from sh2,000 to sh20,000 in order to access the place with a variety of plant and animal species.
In 1995, the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries took over Botanical gardens and placed it under NARO.
Apart from being an incredibly beautiful scenery, Botanical Gardens house an important Uganda plant heritage which provided the springboard for the flourishing national agricultural research ‘empire', having been the first agricultural research unit to be established in the country.
One is instantly hit by the gently sloping beautiful landscape merging into the green vegetation culminating from different plant collections with canopy gaps revealing the blue-white waters of Lake Victoria.
Fauna of Botanical Gardens
In co-existence with the plant species, Botanical Gardens also host a number of animals, with the Colobus monkeys being the notable ones. There are also turtles, bats and mangooses.
The birds include the pink-backed pelican, storks, eastern grey plantain-eater, purple-banded sunbird, African jacana and the yellow-billed duck.
Other birds include Malachite Kingfisher, blue-checked bee-eater, wood sandpiper, green sandpiper, black crake, long-tailed cormorant and crowned hornbill.
Botanical Gardens, which can be accessed by car or boat, is about 10-minute walk from the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre commonly known as Entebbe Zoo.