Lyantonde. Residents of Buyaga, Mpumudde and Rwamabara parishes in Mpumudde Sub-county, Lyantonde District, have protested a move by National Forestry Authority (NFA) to give away a central forest reserve to private individuals.
This follows reports that NFA had finalised plans to allocate the 11,600-hectare Buyaga Forest Reserve to private investors.
“They (NFA) are chasing us away under the guise of restoring the depleted part of the forest. But we can do the same work of replanting trees under community-based forest management arrangement,” Rev John Bekunda, a leader of the residents, said on Sunday.
The forest reserve, which serves a population of more than 10,000 residents, hosts several trading centres such as Buyaga, Kanaala and Lwamabala, five primary schools, Rwamabara Seed Secondary School, Mpumudde Health Centre III and sub-county headquarters.
Rev Bekunda said some residents have been staying on the disputed forestry land for about 50 years, adding that if they are to be evicted, government should compensate them.
“We have since decided to petition Parliament through our district woman MP seeking re-degazzetment of the forest to enable us occupy the land legally if government cannot compensate us,” he said.
Ms Pauline Kemirembe, the district Woman MP, wondered why NFA zeroed in on the area occupied by people yet there are many depleted forests that need to be restored.
“NFA’s plan is suspicious since they have never come out to demarcate the disputed land. But we are going to engage them and see if they can reconsider their decision and look for idle land within the said reserve where they can plant trees instead of inconveniencing our people,” she said.
Mr Thomas Tayebwa, the Ruhinda North MP, one of the investors whom residents accuse of having an interest in the forest, said NFA has not approached him over the matter.
“The residents don’t know whom they are talking about, I am a forester yes, but the forests I manage are in West Nile, not Lyantonde,” he said.
Mr Tayebwa backed NFA’s plan to give away central forest reserves to private foresters, saying locals lack capacity to manage them.
“Whoever is opposing NFA’s decision to allocate forests to individuals for planting trees is an enemy of Uganda because we are facing weather changes due to lack of trees. So, allocating forests to foresters is something we should warmly welcome and if I was given that Buyaga forest, I would have taken it up as well,” he said.
Mr Fred Muhangi, the Lyantonde District chairperson, urged residents to remain calm as they engage NFA to discuss their fate.
“Let us follow legal procedures and I am sure we will find a solution ,” Mr Muhangi said.
Ms Aisha Alibhai, the NFA spokesperson, said residents who are complaining never applied to manage the forest.
“Whenever we want to restore a depleted forest, we usually advertise on our website and in newspapers, our policy gives locals a chance to manage forests in their areas if they can do it as a group, but locals don’t usually apply,” she said.
Compiled by Paul Ssekandi, Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa &Wilson Kutumba.
Clashes in Mubende
NFA’s decision to give away central forest reserves to private individuals has already caused clashes among residents in Mubende District with some saying they don’t know the right person to manage Mpinve forest reserve.
A fortnight ago, seven people were injured and admitted to Mubende Hospital and calm was only restored following deployment of soldiers and police officers in the area.
The forest reserve was given to businessman Emmanuel Abomugisha, who manages 420 hectares, while another 1,200 hectares went to Mr Moses Karangwa, an action residents protest. However, both businessmen claim to have secured a licence from NFA to plant new trees in the forest, but the demarcations are not clear.