Reclaiming forest reserves is good

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Posted  Wednesday, December 11   2013 at  11:52

Reports that the National Forestry Authority (NFA) is finalising its plan to cancel all land titles and lease offers issued in central forest reserves are encouraging in a country with a fast-receding forest cover.

By 1990, Uganda’s forest cover was at 5 million hectares but has since reduced to about 3 million hectares.

There are about 698 gazetted forest reserves in the country. Increased damage to wetlands has affected the water level. It’s estimated that 8 per cent of the original wetland area has been compromised for other purposes.

It is even more uplifting to note that this move is part of the implementation of President Museveni’s directive, which was issued earlier this year to restrain any person from encroaching on forest reserves, wetlands and ranches.

It is good to know that the President, who was at the centre of the Mabira forest controversy, has since brought himself to acknowledge that protecting the country’s forest cover is key.

About 15,000 square kilometres, (7 per cent) of Uganda’s dry land area is protected as forest reserves. The current move comes as the government faces an order to pay more than Shs40b in damages and compensation to 75 Namanve tree farmers whose 620 hectares were destroyed by encroachers.

Farmers, many retired civil servants, had been granted a 30-year licence by NFA to plant trees in the Namanve Forest Reserve. As a result, NFA executive director, Micheal Mugisa, recently said government should put emphasis on avoiding encroachers. “It is cheaper to avoid encroachers than to pay damages for breach of contract.”

The NFA is currently investigating all title and lease offers issued by local governments, the Uganda Land Commission and district land boards on forest reserves. The findings will then determine those that will be cancelled and declared null and void.

However, even as the NFA goes about this process, it is important to appreciate that following due procedure will determine the success of the project.

Still, with recent reports indicating that failure to curb the current trend of the receding forest cover could see Uganda lose about 40 per cent of its forest cover by 2021, the government ought to ensure that the forestry conservation mistakes of the past are not repeated.