Today is World Forest Day. This year’s theme - Protecting Forests Equals Protecting the World, Wildlife and Climate Change – is a clear call for action. We should heed this call and fight forest destruction, which is widespread in Uganda. When millions of people take small steps, they can transform the world. We should, therefore, avoid living on the planet as if we have another one to go to!
In Uganda, many forests have been destroyed by encroachers as they look for land for settlement, agriculture and other socio-economic ventures. Some forests have also been given to investors for commercial agriculture and industrial development. The environmental devastation that would result from the destruction of forests in the guise of ‘economic development’ would be catastrophic, resulting in drought and heavy rainfall leading to floods, among others.
Let us take Mabira Forest, for instance. The hydrological and ecological functions of Mabira are real and clear. The forest is located between two lakes - Victoria and Kyoga, and two major rivers - Nile and Sezibwa. Hence it provides a water catchment from which rivers and lakes flow.
It is also responsible for the good weather conditions and constant rainfall in the areas around it. Mabira is a safe habitat for fauna and flora, and one of the most active eco-tourism centres we have. It harbours a wealth of biological diversity; for instance, Namibia and Uganda have the largest number of bird species in Africa. (There are more than 1,500 and 1,000 species respectively).
This is mainly because of the favourable environment, especially the life-supporting forest cover such as the Banta species (found only in Mabira forest and Kidepo National Park, having migrated from South America due to the highly shifting weather that was detrimental to their survival) and the Fiankolin (now found only in Mabira Forest).
Yet, more than 20 per cent of all bird species the world over are found in and around Mabira Forest. If encroachment is not checked in Mabira, trees with high economic value like Mahogany, Conidia Milan, Prunos Africana (Entasesa), Cofea canafola are in danger. These trees are very scarce; they are mostly in Mabira Forest in Uganda, and in larger forests of Indonesia, Gabon, Columbia, Brazil and Congo.
It is greed and conflict of interest that greatly haunt our forests. Man’s necessities and perceived enjoyment are the cause of the unwise use of our valuable natural resources and our destructive propensity is still great.
Even in a natural forest where the works of the creator are nicely balanced, the greedy man wants to infringe on them with impunity, yet the State holds valuable natural resources like forests, wetlands, wildlife, water catchments, etc., in public trust so they must be protected by the government at whatever cost.
With our dream of industrialisation, some critics see doom in every aspect of development projects with concerns and reactions that generate an atmosphere charged with hostility against natural resources, environmental pollution and economic greed/corruption. The quest for sustainable socio-economic development without conserving valuable natural recourses like forests is futile. It is like standing in front of the mirror with our eyes closed to see how we look when we are asleep.
This time, all of us should stand up and oppose any plan to destroy our forests. Let us commit ourselves to zero deforestation.
Mr Major is the president of Sustainable World Initiative – East Africa.