By Rajab Bwengye
Recently, Court made a ruling which in principle will likely lead to the giveaway of close to 6,000 Hectares (5,579Ha) to Hoima Sugar limited for sugarcane growing.
One wonders whether this Court ruling makes social, economic and environmental sense in Uganda especially at a time when the country loses around 86,500 hectares of the total forest cover amounting to an annual deforestation rate of 1.76%. The following concerns remain unanswered:
The ruling amounts to Illegal issuance of the land title to Bunyoro Kingdom.
One would think that it’s an Illegal court ruling by accepting issuing of a land title in a protected area and this is against the environmental laws of Uganda.
Accepting to degazette a forest that was never gazetted by Court is illegality. Parliament gazetted the forest as mandated by the Constitution and for any degazettment or change of land use should be approved by Act of the same parliament.
An approved EIA is a compulsory requirement for any change of land-use. For Court to start making rulings, did they see an EIA that is approved by NEMA that Bugoma forest be turned into sugarcane plantations? And who issued it, when, where and who were the parties?
What economic evaluation study (TEEB) has been done that clearly shows that the benefits of keeping Bugoma forest standing are much lower than the benefits one can get from sugarcane?
Are protected areas by law / gazetted forests for example supposed to be owned by kingdoms and individuals or their protections a mandate of government through NFA? And in this regard, where do we place Bugoma forest?
Has the legal fraternity especially the judges who merely pass rulings without looking at the bigger picture, thought of the impact that their ruling will have on other forested landscapes, parks, river line ecosystems still remaining in Uganda?
Forested landscapes worldwide are critical for the provision and maintenance of International Public Goods (Food Security, Water Supply, Climate Resilience, and Biodiversity), and in this regard; will the replacement of Bugoma natural forest with merely sugarcane grass provide the same ecosystem services especially in this era of explosive oil and gas infrastructure developments in the Albertine rift that are being developed in fragile landscape such as Murchison?
The judges should also know that the complexity of an ecosystem serves interests of many parties including ecosystem dependent communities, wildlife, conservationists, tourists, education institutions and the National Environmental Policy of Uganda clearly provides for nature rights and therefore, just making a naked ruling that merely benefits Hoima Sugar Limited and a few other backers is irrelevant.
In conclusion, therefore, until the above questions are answered by a person sober and sound minded, then it will remain in the eyes of the public total madness to giveaway a forest such as Bugoma.
The writer is Coordinating the SRJS Programme at NAPE – Friends of the Earth Uganda.