In a period of 10 years, the Uganda government instituted several environmental protection policies, institutions and legal reforms. These include, enactment of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act, establishment of district forestry services, new institutional arrangement (Forest support department, National Forestry Authority) and putting in place of the National Forestry Policy 2001. The government even went ahead and established an environment protection police unit as an absolute commitment towards saving forests.
However, despite putting in place these numerous legal, institutional reforms and policies aimed at protecting and guiding sustainable use of Uganda’s forest resources, the country continues to lose her national forest cover at an alarming rate.
Uganda is losing forests at a rocket speed with wood fuel and charcoal as the lead bases for the forests crackdown. An abstract from Uganda Bureau of Statistics in 2015 indicated that Uganda had a total of 1.9 million hectares of forestland compared to 4.9 million in 1990. This implies that we lost more than 60 per cent of the national forest cover in a period of just 25 years.
The study further indicated that we lost 90,000 hectares of forest cover between 1990 and 2015 on an annual basis. A recent research conducted by Africa Natural Resources Institute indicates that forest cover loss has now increased to 200,000 hectares annually. The situation has been greatly attributed to the growing population. Our national population growth is estimated at 3.6 per cent per annum, meaning that by 2025, we will be approximately 63 million people. Since Uganda’s source of energy is largely biomass, increase in population results in increased pressure exerted on forests in search for firewood, agricultural livelihood and resettlement. It is also on record that the highest percentages of forest cover loss is higher in densely populated districts.
Most institutions continue to depend on firewood as the only affordable source of energy. According to a study conducted by Makerere University College of Agriculture and Environment Sciences, charcoal and firewood together account for 100 per cent of the primary source of fuel used among the commercial cooking shelters and the low-income group, while in the medium income group it accounts for 97.3 per cent of the fuel used.
It is no longer in contention that if we continue to lose forests at this rate, Uganda will hardly have any forests in the next 40 years. Several alternative sources of energy have been introduced on market but the demand for wood fuel and charcoal remains at the peak. This is largely associated with affordability and convenience factors, with the affordability factor contributing a greater percentage.
It has come to our attention that a big number of households, especially those in urban centres, are willing to transition from charcoal to using liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) but the affordability factor still remains a big challenge. A six-kilogramme cylinder of gas costs about Shs150,000 and can be refilled for between Shs60,000 to Shs70,000 depending on where you refill from and only a few households in Uganda can afford this expense.
In 2006, LPG was exempted from taxation but the tax was later introduced in 2015 following the hope that Uganda was to start producing its own gas by 2020 when oil starts flowing. The uncertainty of when oil production will eventually start puts our forests at stake as the only immediate, convenient and affordable source of cooking energy since liquefied petroleum gas is not currently affordable.
This means if nothing is done to remove tax on LPG, the masses will continue to deplete our forests for energy, hence losing 200,000 hectares per annum which in the long run will see the forests cease to exist. We therefore, call upon the responsible government agencies to look into the matter and save our forests.