By Jolly Bategeka
The UN General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests in 2012. The Day is celebrated and raises awareness on the importance of all types of forests. On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns.
Uganda will join the rest of the world on March 21, 2019 to celebrate the International Day of Forests (IDF). This day will be celebrated under the theme, 'Forests and Education.' It will seek to raise awareness on how sustainably managed forests provide a wide array of contributions in this area.
Uganda’s forests are an important and treasured natural asset contributing about 8.7% to the national economy based on conservative estimates (NEMA, 2011). According to the ministry of Water and Environment (State of Uganda’s forestry 2016), the forestry estate has shrunk from 23% of the total land area in 1990 to 9% in 2015. According to National Forestry Authority report in 2015, Uganda is losing 200,000Ha per year and if no action is taken to protect natural forests Uganda may not have natural forests by 2025.
Forests provide multiple benefits and sustainably managed forests give environmental benefits, sustainable economic development and improve the quality of life of people across the country. Forests provide habitats for many native flora and fauna species, renewable products and energy and contribute to the development of a green economy. Forests also provide a wide range of wood and non-wood products, clean water resources, and play a vital role in the mitigation of climate change.
A key objective of Uganda’s sustainable forest management is to protect and enhance the health and biodiversity of our forest resources, while ensuring they continue to provide a range of environmental, social and economic benefits for Uganda’s present and future generations.
The Albertine Region is blessed with different natural resources like Forests (Bugoma, Budongo, Kangombe central forest reserves etc), Animals, water bodies, Hills, minerals to mention but a few. Bugoma Central Forest Reserve is a tourism hub and is home to about 600 Chimpanzees’ and other endangered bird spices notably Nahan’s Francolin. It lies at the center of the migratory corridor for large mammals such as chimps and Elephants connecting to Budongo and Murchison Falls National Park from Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is a central forest for Bunyoro especially in the formation of rain and the fact that Uganda enjoys rain feed agriculture.
However Uganda’s forests especially in the Albertine region, Central Forest Reserves (Bugoma, Budongo, Kangombe, Rukara, Muziizi etc) are faced with continuously worsening trends through encroachment, deforestation and forest degradation through conversion of forest land to other land uses. These include agriculture, urbanization etc.
There is also rampant felling of trees for timber, firewood and charcoal burning on private and government land, rampant fires and livestock damage on forests. There is high population growth rate that has put a lot of pressure on natural resources especially forests. The increasing population requires more food to be produced which in turn requires opening up more land for agriculture.
This is partly attributed to weak institutions, uncoordinated implementation of policies between different sectors of the economy, insufficient funding, issues relating to governance in the forestry sector, Issues associated with illegal and unregulated trade of forest products and the unsecured forest rights, and limited capacity at all levels which has undermined effectiveness and efficiency in developing and sustainably managing forest resources in the Albertine Region. Lack of sufficient human resources and poor facilitation of the environmental police is another reason cited for the continued lack of effective management of our forests.
Therefore I recommend that NFA urgently prioritize boundary opening. This is because lack of clear boundaries is the main excuse used by communities adjacent to Central Forest Reserves to encroach upon them and is the same reason that make it hard for NFA to enforce regulations when they themselves don’t know the boundaries.
Corruption and the practice of local officials conniving to a bet illegal activities in forestry reserves, especially illicit logging be firmly dealt with. While encroachers and illegal loggers have been prosecuted, Forestry officials that connive with them need to be prosecuted too so as to set an example
More forest personnel with a robust mandate need to be recruited and the welfare and incentives of the existing ones improved so as to reduce on the temptation to indulge in illegal activity. The numbers of environmental police needs to be increased so as to provide a more robust backing for forestry officials in their work
Land titles held in central forest Reserves need to be deeply investigated, the arrant officials be punished, tittles found to have been issued fraudulently should be scrutinized and recalled.
Forest restoration, Uganda should prioritize forest restoration. The main target should be to restore forest cover that has been lost. This should be done through Agro-forestry, community tree planting programme, corporate tree planting in forest reserves, tree talk foundations and green charcoal (addressing barriers to adoption of improved charcoal production technologies and sustainable land management practices through an integrated approach).
In conclusion, we need to combine all efforts to protect forests by stakeholders at all levels or else Uganda may have no any natural forest by 2025.
The writer is a Project Officer-Forestry at Mid-Western Region Anti-Corruption Coalition