The ongoing destruction of the green belt spanning two districts in the mid-western Uganda has been sighted to worsen the negative effects of Climate Change.
Conservation experts and environmental activists warn that the destruction of Bugoma forest is a sad development especially at a time when Climate Change and efforts to mitigate are of essence.
Equally worrying is that the destruction comes at a time when Uganda is on the verge of extracting oil and gas in the Albertine region.
Oil as has been documented has the potential to damage the environment in areas where it is produced.
Given its geographical and central importance in the Albertine Grabben region of Uganda, the conservationists warn that this could worsen the Climate Change effects in the oil-rich area.
Experts warn that when a lot of emissions are anticipated from oil production activities like flaring of gas into the atmosphere, natural forests like Bugoma would play a pivotal role in absorbing emissions. They are thus shocked as the government simply looks on as the forest is being destroyed for monoculture (Sugarcane growing).
Bugoma Central Forest Reserve is thus regarded as key in absorbing fossil gases that will be produced by oil extraction and production activities.
David Kureeba, an environmentalist describes the ongoing destruction as a disaster saying automobiles such as graders, tractors, trailers that would be moving in that area, certainly there is need for a system that would sequester a lot of carbon that is emitted.
“The unfortunate bit is that in the same region, they constructed an airport. I am yet to find out whether that was not part of the plan from the offset because if you have an airport, you need to have an aviation emission offset.”
From the environmental view, Kureeba says that the Bugoma area has so many beings (human beings and other living things). “When you destroy the habitants for most of those species that live in the Grabben, it will be so bad.”
He explains that looking at the reserve as the home for the species, the beings will disappear and the effect is death of all the living organisms leading to loss of soil energy due to the use of chemicals in the area.
“As you know, the oil and gas sector use so many chemicals and the only carbon sequester is that forest. It is not a wise decision to destroy the reserve but now that the boundary is opened, but the government cannot come out today and implement it is very bad,” he says.
According to Kureeba, forests and conservation is a global phenomenon and forests protected in the oil grabben can serve people across the world just like the rain we get from the Congo basin.
Lungs of the world
“The Bugoma Forest destruction would increase the global temperatures and our target of 1.5 degrees may not be reached because of our actions,” he adds.
He says the forest reserve needs to be saved at all costs since conservation is for the people and by the people.
Describing forests as the lungs of the world, Kureeba appeals to the government and stakeholders to spearhead the conservation of the reserve.
Conservations say that encroachers and investors in eco-tourism area have influenced the delayed release of the report on the boundary opening of the Bugoma Central Forest Reserve which was concluded more than a year ago.
Christine Kaaya, an environment expert says that the investors are sweet talking and probably corrupting some of the land officers to delay the release of the report as the destruction of the forest reserve continues.
“I believe that is the case. That is why they were even coming up with the proposals of influencing local government to request for the change of the land use in the central forest reserves” she states.
The demand for the exercise to open the boundaries was against a backdrop of reports and accusations of encroachment on gazetted forest reserves that led to protracted legal battles between NFA and other parties, among them Hoima Sugar Limited.
“It is unfortunate that to date we have not received that report. That is the exact challenge, that there are a lot of illegal landowners in the forests who brought a number of tenants in the forest. Some of them acquired land titles illegally,” she complains.
Kaaya, the Woman Member of Parliament who also doubles as the Shadow Minister for Water and Environment suggests that it is very important for the ministry of water and environment through NFA to harmonize with the ministry of lands that issues the land tittle to avoid such cases.
According to Kaaya, some individuals have since connived with the cultural institution to access land in the forest reserve and that they also colluded with the local governments in the area to pass motions that the central forest reserve be turned into national parks claiming the need to raise more revenue to the districts.
“That is anyway their interest. Too much interest in the wild game than the forest cover yet based on the ongoing activities the forest cover is needed more than the wild game. And if the environment and the emission are just left in the atmosphere, even the wild game we anticipate having in the area will be no more” she warns.
Under the national parks management, there is a provision for eco-tourism where individuals are given portions to develop them, build infrastructure for tourists such as roads and hotels.
The legislator says: “And they believe that in case it is turned into a national park, then they will turn into managers of eco-tourism within these parks and they become legal then. If it was a leasehold land tittle, it can be turned into freehold land title which is very dangerous for those areas”
The exercise was concluded in August 2022 but the report of the exercises has never been published or shared with Parliament and other stakeholders.
With the ongoing oil extraction activities, Kabale airport, the East African oil pipe line, among other activities, Kaaya warns that the activities and other petroleum and gas activities will generate a lot of carbon emissions, which would have been consumed by the Bugoma and Budongo forest if they are conserved.
Dennis Obbo, the spokesperson in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and urban development says that the exercise to open the boundary was concluded by their technical team following the cabinet directive to open the boundaries of Bugoma Central forest reserve.
He reveals that the survey report is already out and was submitted to cabinet pending further guidance.
“We usually implement Cabinet directives, we went on ground, we opened the boundaries, we did produce a report on the same and we submitted this report back to cabinet last year 2023,” he affirmed.
Without divulging the details of the report, Obbo says they are now waiting for the Cabinet decision on the matter.
“All I can say is that we did our work, we completed, and submitted the report to cabinet for their consideration and decision making”.
The Bugoma Central Forest boundary opening started in November 2021 following a Cabinet directive in 2019 to the Ministry of Water and Environment, after it was entangled in [a] controversial land dispute.
The exercise was concluded in August 2022, but the report of the exercises has never been published or shared with Parliament and other stakeholders.
Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, spanning the districts of Hoima and Kikuube in Mid-Western Uganda is one of the major tropical forests is being claimed by numerous people and companies as well as Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom.
The 41,142-hectare forest land was gazetted as a central forest reserve in 1932 and had remained intact until fairly recent when pressure from big businesses, influential people and local residents adjacent to it, sought to grab chunks of it.
The boundary opening exercise followed numerous and protracted legal battles pitting the National Forest Authority (NFA) against companies and individuals who are claiming portions of the reserve.
In one of the cases, NFA against Hoima Sugar Limited, Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, the Kingdom as well as the Commissioner for Land registration, is pending before the Court of Appeal.
NFA argues “The integrity of the livelihood of local farmers’ communities who are benefiting from the Bugoma ecosystem will be adversely affected by the destruction and change of the land use of the forest habitat which will affect the environment, the water sources and the whole region.”
Charged with the mandate of protecting all central forest reserves, NFA have since maintained that if the destruction is not stopped, unprecedented environmental degradation, coupled with change of land use in the disputed forest land might trigger further escalation resulting in more loss of habitat and endangering biodiversity.
Photo: Entrance to the 41,142-hectare Bugoma Forest, gazetted as a central forest reserve in 1932. Source: Monitor.
|• Access to natural resources
• Climate change
• Destruction of habitat
• Environment (Sustainable)
• Globalization, negative impacts
• Indigenous peoples
• Project management
• Rural planning