By Frank Lukwago, New Vision/NECJOGHA
Kikuube, Uganda – The Parliamentary committee on natural resources was shocked last week to find other big chunks of Bugoma Forest Reserve cleared for the planting of sugarcane.
The cleared parts are in areas of Kisaru and Rwempunu in Kyangwali and Kabwoya subcounties in Kikuube District in southwestern Uganda.
At Kisaru, in Muhangaizima block of Bugoma forest reserve, Mustafa Zaidi, a businessman and timber dealer in Hoima, had cleared 10 hectares of the 900 hectares.
Bugoma Forest is a protected tropical forest situated southwest of Hoima and northeast of Kyenjojo. The forest, gazetted in the 1930s, came under the mandate of the National Forestry Authority (NFA) in 2003. According to the Fortune of Africa, the forest is endowed with a high biodiversity with 24 species of mammals, 465 species of trees, 359 species of birds, 289 species of butterfly and 130 species of moths (Forest Department 1960).
The battle over Bugoma Forest has been between the National Forestry Authority and Bunyoro Kingdom, which is accused of giving away the contested forest to pave way for sugarcane growing by Hoima Sugar Limited.
In June Bunyoro kingdom was on spot for giving away 22 square miles of land to Hoima Sugar Company for sugarcane growing with NFA claiming that the land in question is part of Bugoma forest reserve. NFA halted further destruction of the forest.
Private sector players in tourism as well as conservationists under a campaign dubbed ‘Save Bugoma Forest Campaign’ launched a protest against plans to cut down part of the 411 square kilometres Bugoma forest.
This followed court ruling which gave Hoima Sugar Limited green light to use 22 square miles of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve for sugarcane growing.
When contacted on the recent encroachment, the Bunyoro kingdom prime minister, Andrew Byakutaga refuted claims that the kingdom was behind this recent giveaway of Bugoma central forest reserve to individuals.
According to a Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) report titled ‘State of Uganda Forests 2016’, Uganda’s forest cover has shrunk from 24% of the total land area in 1990 to 9% in 2015. In terms of acreage a total of 3.05 million hectares were lost in a span of 25 years.
“There are many factors that are causing the rapid loss of forest cover and degradation of forests. The main causes of deforestation have been mostly the conversion of forest land to other land use types such as agriculture and urbanization, and rampant felling of trees for firewood and charcoal burning. The other important ones are issues relating to governance in the forestry sector, issues associated with illegal and unregulated trade of forest products and the unsecured forest tenure rights. There is a remarkable difference in the degree of deforestation inside protected areas (PAs) as compared to forests on private land,” the report says.
The parliamentary committee led by Andrew Kiiza Kaluya insisted that those behind the land giveaways must be investigated.