By George Bita, New Vision/NECJOGHA
Iganga, Uganda – Almost all Busoga’s wetlands have been taken over by thick sugar cane plantations.
Peter Matende, the LC3 chairperson of Ikumbyasub-county in Luuka district said the residents with land extending to marshlands had rented it out to sugarcane outgrowers who supply the local factories.
“Factories in Kaliro, Mayuge, Kamuli, Jinja and Buikwe need sugarcane inorder to make sugar. This has prompted many locals to jump onto the cane-growing bandwagon,” Matende said.
Musa Lubanga, the Mayuge district natural resources officer, said preference for the sparsely populated areas with wetlands for large-scale sugarcane growing has taken atoll on the ecosystem.
“Since sugar cane needs ample sunshine to generate enough sucrose, it is mandatory that the tree cover has to go. That is why most such plantations have no tree cover,”Lubanga said.
He said a section of out-growers opt for wetlands in an attempt to beat the necessity for regular irrigation as clay soils have a high water retention potential.
Busoga initially had one sugar factory- Kakira sugar works.
In 2005, Mayuge sugar was established in Lugolole village near Musita trading Centre.
In January 2013, Kamuli sugar Limited based outside Kamuli town, Kaliro sugar and Allied Industries based at Bwayuya set up shop.
The grapevine has it that Bugiri Sugar Works is inthe offing as the region grapples with greatly degraded islands.
Iganga district chairperson Patrick Kayemba said the interest of the sugar cane growers is to have as much crop as possible to meet the factories’ needs.
“Nobody is bothered with the vital swamp vegetation that has been destroyed in the process of preparing the farmland,” Kayemba said.
He argued that the preoccupation of farmers is how much each factory pays per tonne of canes delivered instead of thinking of the damage to the environment.
Records show that on average, a Kakira sugar mill crushes 3,000 tonnes of sugarcaneper day. If the other three Busoga –based sugar mills take about half this amount daily,then Busoga sub-region provides about three million tonnes of sugarcane.
Sam Cheptoris, the water and environment minister said almost half of the entire wetland area is currently being used to grow sugarcanes in Busoga sub-region alone.
“Pesticides and fertilizers applied in wetlands to facilitate crop growing indiscriminately kill natural vegetation. This has far-reaching consequences,” Cheptoris said.
Tom Okurut, the executive director of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), urged local leaders to be at the forefront of fighting wetland degradation.
Paul Dyobo, the Kaliro district environment officer, said data obtained by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics indicates that Uganda has 4,500 square kilometres of wetlands.
“For Busoga, the area covered by both seasonal and permanent swamps is about 880 square kilometres. An estimated 75% of this territory has been reclaimed for mainly sugarcane and rice farming,” Dyoba said.
Baker Luwangula, Luuka district chairperson said, some locals believe they own the wetlands which they then sell.
“No one can hold a deed for public land. All wetlands belong to the government which genuinely holds land titles for such areas,” Luwangula said.
Dr. David Muwanguzi, the Iganga district health officer believes wetlands could be protected if locals had smaller families.
“If locals wholeheartedly embrace family planning so as to have smaller families, there would be no need to into the wetlands. The truth is the land now available is too small to contain our rising population, Muwanguzi said.
Cheptoris said the government plans to evict all encroachers from wetlands nationwide.
Dyoba said the Kaliro district environment department has already received markstones for the wetland demarcation.
“We are first liaising with all the local leaders so as to sensitise the affected persons before moving in. Our resolve is not to rush to action before ample preparation,” he said.