The degazettement of Bugoma forest is a major issue now, but it has been in the courts for sometime now, including before two High Court judges. Nema has powers under the law to recommend to the minister this action.
The policy in place favoured a positive decision if an alternative place were found to plant a new forest. But there were other decisions as well like rejuvenating the existing forests, a decision which has turned the area south of Mpigi where Mpanga Forest is located, into a scenic area.
The people who encroached the forests first in the highlands dried up ground water sources and occasional rain is now rare. Right now in Kabale, the complaint is the scorching sun and land is a problem.
In Kasese and Bugisu, rains wreak havoc because of inadequate vegetative cover. In Kalangala, some forests were saved due to extensive population pressure, but NFA does not have the physical resources to monitor 13 forest reserves.
Here, the local people have been given access to plant trees on a communal basis in waste lands, and there is a major scenic change.
Outside Uganda, it is difficult to accept that countries such as Nigeria, 175 million people still have trees left that they export charcoal to the European Union to create a better flavour in their meat. In Goma next to the Virunga National Park, about 900,000 stoves have been distributed, which consume a fraction of the open air sigiri by providing an ignition implement.
In Uganda, we have a different problem - less cooking energy because electricity is out of question and lack of a separate law on charcoal.
So the cost of acquisition is high, the damage to the environment is high, the cost to the customer is even more astronomical. Charcoal ovens leave the ground more acidic and underground heat burns all the organic material in the soil.
Bunyoro has been one of the few remaining places in Uganda with virgin land and soils which are relatively fertile. Coffee, cocoa, and sugarcane all do well. Sugarcane is affected by the falling prices, high entry and high exit. The experience in other parts of Uganda is the same. The price of a kilo of processed sugar has fallen and continues to fall as the market remains the same.
Sugar is about Shs3,500 per kilo down from Shs5,000 a kilo two years ago. So any environmental impact assessment must answer economic questions on viability. High exit is coming from countries like Vietnam where they want to try new crops such as rubber even after a massive investment in coffee and oil palm. This has come with entire destruction of villages.
In Kalangala, this was less of a problem and everyone appreciates that electricity and piped water on the main population centres are accessible. So what is the final price for degazettement, it may change the area from high rain and fertile soils to something different. Is there a more viable use.
The Bunyoro Sub-region is the only place on the Nile, over 3000 miles, with wildlife roaming freely. That’s significant, but there is also human welfare, clean water, springs and longer distances to fetch water.
Remote areas like Buikwe District, which are relatively closer to Kampala, are enjoying the benefit of bad roads, which double the expense of cutting timber which is only marginally profitable.
NFA should do some more research on planting natural trees which can be a source of food. The Water Act which has a high regulatory cost should be reviewed as well to give communities a chance to exploit water at low cost.
Our national anthem had captured it all, we need the rain, sunshine and fertile soils together.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate. firstname.lastname@example.org