Protect forest reserves from human encroachment

The provision of incentives will motivate the community members to work hard, thereby protecting forests and other protected areas.

By Guest Writer

Opinion: In Uganda, there are about 506 central forest reserves, including Rwoho, Mpaga, Kalinzu, Budongo, Echuya, Maramagambo, Mabira, and Bugoma, among others.

Forest reserves simply mean portions of state lands where commercial harvesting of wood products is excluded in order to capture elements of biodiversity that can be missing from sustainably harvested sites.

However, Uganda is far from the definition; several cases of central forest reserves threatened by encroachment have been registered on a daily basis. For instance, on Saturday, February 3, 2023, NBS reported about the leaders in Arua district decrying the continued threat over the Arua central forest, claiming that unknown people had established infrastructure including hotels, a swimming pool, a children’s park, and a parking lot in the middle of the forest.

Key to note is that over 8,000 hectares, out of the total 41,000 hectares of Bugoma Forest, have been affected by encroachment, according to a statement by National Forestry Authority (NFA) Kisindi sector manager, Alex Obonyo, during the field visit in Kikuube district in late January 2024.

The Bugoma forest reserve has been cleared to pave the way for illegal activities such as charcoal burning and timber logging. More so, the forest has been impinged on by Hoima Sugar Limited to grow sugarcane, which has resulted in prolonged droughts, floods, rampant human-wildlife conflicts, and the abuse of communities’ rights, including the right to food and the right to life, among others.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Uganda has lost over a million hectares of tree cover, nearly a third of the country’s total, in the past 20 years, and research indicates that the country will be completely without forest cover by 2050 at its current rate of tree loss, yet we need forests more than anything else. Forests are our lungs; they absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen, which is a life-supporting gas.

It is therefore my humble request to the minister of water and environment, Mr. Sam Cheptoris, to execute his task of producing the report on all districts with forest reserves, as the request was made by the National Forestry Authority (NFA) in November 2023.

The release of the report will act as a guide for the NFA to keep the identified forest reserves free from rampant human encroachment, as it is in charge of managing central forest reserves on a sustainable basis.

Communities too need to be encouraged to take the lead in protecting forests since they are the ones that intrude on them and suffer the consequences of climate change. It is through community encouragement that the community members will gain a sense of belonging and ownership, hence using the forests sustainably as managers and owners.

Last but not least, the government, NGOs, CBOs, and environmental activists should adopt a culture of providing incentives, such as financial incentives, to people to conserve forests.

The provision of incentives will motivate the community members to work hard, thereby protecting forests and other protected areas.

Lastly, the government, the National Forestry Authority (NFA), the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), and other line bodies must do consistent monitoring of the forests to ensure that no more people carry out activities in the protected areas.

The author is Hildah Nsimiire, a concerned citizen.

Disclaimer: As UG Reports Media LTD, we welcome any opinion from anyone if it’s constructive for the development of Uganda. All the expressions and opinions in this write-up are not those of UG Reports Media Ltd. but of the author of the article.

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