Authorities in Gomba District have given herdsmen grazing from the two cattle corridor forest reserves of Kalombe and Nsowe, two years to replant trees in the depleted parts of the reserves or else vacate.
Mr Godfrey Kiviiri, the Gomba District chairperson, said herders who will fail to comply will have their grazing licences revoked and the chance will be given to those willing to plant trees.
“Those [herders] who will fail to plant 25 acres of trees in the depleted part of the forest, will be ordered to get alternative grazing areas for their animals,” Mr Kiviiri said on Tuesday.
He said some herders have cut down trees for charcoal while others have built permanent houses.
However, the herders in Gomba, through their chairperson, Mr James Tayebwa, have protested the move, saying it is not their mandate to plant trees.
“We are cattle keepers and our occupation has nothing to do with planting trees, if we plant trees, it will affect the pasture and our cows will have nothing to feed on,” he said.
Mr Tayebwa said each cattle grazer possesses a six-month permit issued by National Forestry Authority (NFA) renewable upon satisfactory monitoring, which considers sustainable use of the reserves.
“The area we are using to graze our cattle is well-known, the other part where they want to plant trees is not tampered with,” he added.
Kalombe and Nsowe forests are catchment areas for River Katonga, which flows into Lake Victoria.
Ms Aisha Alibhai, the NFA spokesperson, said through collaborative forest management strategy, depleted parts of the reserves have been allocated to private tree-growers to carry out afforestation.
“We have already allocated land for only tree growing, not grazing animals. Local people who are willing to plant trees are trained and later given free tree seedlings to plant. Those who are not ready to plant trees will lose the land,” Ms Alibhai said during a telephone interview yesterday.
She added: “Private tree planters have already complained that stray cows trample and maraud on the young trees they have planted. This has to stop because these people have invested their money and at the same time helping us to restore the depleted forests.”
Mr Vincent Mugenyi, the chairperson of Maddu Sub-county, said locals have been sensitized about the benefits of forest conservation and some have embraced the project.
The two disputed forest reserves have a total of 12.7 square miles and are among the 17 forest reserves in Gomba District.
Over the years, large tracts of government forest reserves have been cleared and President Museveni has on several occasions, expressed displeasure at the performance of NFA.
Some forecasts predict that private land will not have forests in the next few years.
This is backed by evidence from a 2016 Joint Water and Environment Sector Review Report that revealed that Uganda’s forest cover had reduced from 24 per cent in 1990 to 11 per cent in 2015.
Uganda’s Vision 2040 targets restoration of the country’s forest cover from 15 per cent in 2010 to 24 per cent by 2040.
Additional reporting by BRIAN ADAMS KESIIMA