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The Sugar Corporation of Uganda (SCOUL), part of the Mehta group, wants to clear one-third of Mabira Forest (around 70 square kilometers) to expand its sugar plantations in central Uganda. President Museveni supports this plan and has vowed to give away the forest saying that he shall not be deterred by people who don't see where the future of Africa lies.
This is the second time Mehta demands to clear this forest. The first attempt was made in May 2007. There was popular resistance from environmentalists, local people and opinion leaders, at least three people were killed demonstrating against the giveaway. The demonstration took on a racial dimension with some protesters blaming the Asians for the situation because Mehta Group, is owned by an Asian Ugandan.
An Asian man was stoned to death, SCOUL plantations were set ablaze, e-mails, SMS calling for the boycott of SCOUL's Lugazi sugar circulated. The Ugandan environmental minister Hon. Maria Mutagamba announced that the deforestation plans were suspended and that the government was trying to find alternative land for Mehta Group. The King of Buganda offered alternative land though it was not welcome.
In a dramatic twist of events, president Museveni has renewed his bid to give away Mabira to Mehta’s SCOUL come rain or sun shine. SCOUL that is jointly owned by the Uganda Government and Mehta Group is the least efficient of Uganda’s three main sugar producers making Lugazi sugar. The other sugar producers are Kakira and Kinyara.
There are two big questions lingering in everyone’s mind;
Why does Mehta demand Mabira after presidential elections? Why does the president insist on giving away part of the forest even when alternatives are available?
The last time Mabira issue came about was soon after the 2006 presidential election. Again this time the issue has presented when Museveni is just starting his fourth term of office.
Mabira forest is one of the thickest tropical forests in East Africa. It has been protected as a Forest reserve since 1932. This rainforest covers about 300 sq. km (120 sq mi) (30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) located in Buikwe district, between Lugazi and Jinja, 30min drive from Uganda’s capital-Kampala.
The forest is gifted with a host of biodiversity that is important for ecotourism. It is endowed with about 312 trees and shrub species. Approximately 47% of Uganda’s tree species grow in Mabira, including five rare species. There are more than 287 birds including the threatened Nahan’s francolin (Francolinus nahani); 23 small mammals, velvet monkeys and baboons as well as two arboreal primate species, 218 butterfly species and 97 large moth species.
This Forest Reserve is the largest block of moist semi-deciduous forest remaining in the central region of Uganda. The reserve occupies a gently undulating country, characterized by numerous flat-topped hills and wide, shallow valleys. Some of these valleys have papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) swamps. The topography is such that the land drains to the north, even though the reserve southern boundary lies only 13km from the shores of Lake Victoria.
By virtue of its location between two main urban centers, the reserve is likely to assume increasing importance as a recreational area, it is already popular for picnics, walks and trail-biking.
Due to encroachment, there was an abrupt forest loss of about 24% of Mabira between 1976 and 1986 (27,421 to 20,977 ha). The forest was one of the main sources of charcoal to the nearby towns of Jinja and Kampala, and produced an estimated 1,500tons (60,000bags) per year. The trend of encroachment was reversed by Museveni’s government between 1988 and 1989 when all the encroachers were evicted.
It defeats logic that president Museveni who saw the need to protect the forest in the 80’s is now the one gearing towards destroying it, when his people are perishing due to climate change related hazards!
Impact of Mabira destruction
Forests absorb greenhouse gases (GHG) which contribute to global warming. Carbon-dioxide is the common gas that is usually emitted by burning fossil fuels like oil, petrol and coal and cutting down forests. These green house gasses, especially carbon-dioxide and methane, trap the sunlight and cause temperatures in the atmosphere to rise, bringing about changes in weather patterns. Mabira forest plays an important role in carbon intake thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Uganda has in recent years suffered adverse climate change related hazards. In September 2007, torrential rains put the Ugandan government on its knees and the then Minister of disaster preparedness Prof. Tarsis Bazaana Kabwegyere declared Uganda a state of emergency across several Northern and Eastern regions worst-hit by rains and floods that affected an estimated 1.5 million people. About 18 people were reported dead while some 400’000 were left in need of assistance after being driven from their homes by floods.
In March 2010, Land slides buried an entire trading centre, including a mini-hospital in Bukalasi Sub-county, Bududa district in Eastern Uganda killing over 100people while more than 300 people were unaccounted for. On Monday this week, 27 people were reported dead by the Min. of state for disaster preparedness Musa Ecweru in the twin landslides that occurred in Sisiyi and Bulugunya Sub Counties in Bulambuli District. However, Bulambuli District chairman Simon Wananzofu, says the mudslides killed up to 43 residents. A total of 127,571 people were affected. Deforestation was sighted as the main cause of the increasingly frequent landslides in the region. These and many other ugly scenes speak volumes about the importance of forests.
Uganda ratified the Kyoto Protocol on 25th-March-2002. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that was adopted in Kyoto, Japan on Dec.11-1997 to fight global warming. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. President Museveni attempting to giveaway Mabira is breaching the Kyoto Protocol agreement. He is also clearly indicating that he totally disregards institutional authority, and disregards people’s interests to serve self interest. Instead of inciting public rage, the president should instead turn people already owning land around Mabira into full time state supported sugarcane growers.
It’s important to note that Mabira forest is a catchment area for Lake Victoria, the world's second largest freshwater lake, after Lake Superior. L.Victoria is shared by three East African Countries; Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Cutting down Mabira would negatively affect L.victoria that directly supports the livelihood of 30million people around it.
Thus, Kenya and Tanzania as co-owners of the lake should come in to protect this forest from president Museveni. Also, since Uganda set precedence by taking its domestic political concerns to ICC about Kony, Environmental bodies including World Trade Organisation-WTO, Eastern Africa Environmental Network-EAEN, United Nations Environment Program-UNEP, United Nations Habitati-UN-HABITAT, United Nations Water-UN-Water, Climate Change and the MDGs, Conserve Africa which Uganda recognizes should also get involved and compel Mr.Museveni to back off Mabira because matters of environmental protection have international effects.
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