Uganda is blessed with a wide range of natural resources and diversity of natural habitats, species and genetic resources in its forests, which are the key to the reality of life on earth and provide potential for achieving economic progress if well governed and utilized. The sustainable management of these resources should be a concern of all nations.
According to the Uganda Forestry Policy 2001, Uganda is one of the most diverse countries in Africa, with 11 per cent and 7 per cent of the world’s bird and mammal species respectively, in only 0.02 per cent of the land area.
This biodiversity has a great intrinsic value. It is also important to human health and wealth, for example, by providing traditional plant medicines, a variety of ecosystems and species important in the tourism industry, and potential opportunities for Ugandans to adapt to local and global change.
However, as a sector, the environment and natural resources faces challenges that inhibit it from effectively contributing to this sustainable development and enhance community resilience to climate change shocks.
According to the 2019 Water and Environment Sector Performance Report by the Ministry of Water and Environment, deforestation remains a major challenge, which has in turn led to a decline of forest cover from 24 per cent in 1990 to 12.4 per cent in 2015.
Uganda has an average annual loss of natural forest of 2 per cent. In 1994, wetland coverage on the surface area of Uganda was 15.6 per cent, but over time, this has been reducing and is currently at 8.9 per cent.
Climate change shocks due to deforestation are already impacting all parts of the country.
The declining levels of water in the Rwizi River, landslides in Bududa and Bundibugyo, floods in Kasese, and the rising levels of Lake Victoria have left many communities devastated and vulnerable to hunger and disease. The country has also experienced frequent and prolonged droughts; reduced erratic rainfall, which is affecting agriculture production and food security.
The degradation of the environment and natural resources such as forests and wetlands, has also greatly contributed to this climate change crisis because most stakeholders at the grassroots unsustainably cut down trees and degrade water catchments such as wetlands, swamps due to lack of information on the economic value of some of the natural resources.
Reputable environmentalists across the globe define economic valuation as an attempt to put monetary values to environmental goods and services or natural resource. It is a key exercise in economic analysis and it results provide important information about values of environmental goods and services.
The purpose of economic valuation is to determine people’s preferences by assessing how much they are willing to pay (WTP) or willing to accept (WTA) for given benefits or certain environmental attributes, for instance, to keep a forest, wetland and swamp ecosystem intact.
Government agencies such as National Forestry Authority (NFA) and National Environmental and Management Authority (Nema) to some extent, have done environmental valuation for most of the natural resources using different methods, but little effort has been put by these agencies to disseminate widely the information to the public and sensitising the communities on how to sustainably extract these natural resources.
The information can influence decisions about wise use and conservation of forests and other ecosystems by different stakeholders across the country.
The information can be circulated through use of different strategies at the grassroots such as through local councils, parish chief, community development officers at sub-county level, among others.
Mr Okiira is a research associate with the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE).