Following stricter measures to reduce deforestation, encroachers have now resorted to debarking trees in forest reserves before they cut them down, thus threatening the country’s indigenous species.
“They debark the trees which makes them dry. They also sell off the bark. In other cases, they get licences to cut trees in private forests and end up ferrying logs of trees from forest reserves without paying any penny to government,” Mr Sam Nyakoojo, the project coordinator of forest governance at the Joint Efforts to Save the Environment Organisation, said.
The African cherry (Prunus Africana) tree is the main target as recent studies have shown that the species contains a high concentration of active ingredients to help treat prostate cancer. The species is mainly found in western Uganda.
Mr William Bisanga Mugambwa, the LC3 chairperson of Bugaaki in Kyenjojo District, said they reported the matter to relevant authorities but no action has been taken.
“There is a company in Kampala that ferries the dried bark for export abroad. This is a serious business that needs to be monitored to save Tooro’s forests,” he said.
Mr Mugambwa also says the district has stores that keep more than 400 bags of dried bark which is being harvested in government forest reserves.
Mr Badraa Onzima, the district forest officer, however, says the Ministry of Trade licenced a company, Curdwell Ltd, in Kampala to export Prunus Africana dried bark.
“The company has groups of farmers that it buys from. They are trained on how to grow and debark the trees in a sustainable way. The company was given orders not to buy bark from forest reserves,” he said.
“There is some conniving between unscrupulous officials of the National Forest Authority and police because encroachers cannot enter forests to debark trees without any support and are not arrested,” Mr Onzima added.
However, the forest body denied any wrong doing, saying debarking trees from their reserves is illegal.
“An investor licensed to do the business would bring us the license plus an Environment Impact Assessment report. No person is allowed to carry out such activities in the forest reserves and what they are doing is trespassing in a forest reserve and they face arrest,” Mr Michael Kusuru, the sector manager of Itwara Central Forest Reserve says.
He adds that ferrying tree logs has reduced following rigorous operations to confiscate them.
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