The Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest, Uganda Wildlife Society, Uganda Society, Destination Jungle LTD, Uganda Jungle Lodges LTD are expressing their concern and the condemnation over the current attempt of giving away a relevant block of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Hoima District.
An organized group of people has tried to encroach on the central part of the forest, Muhangaizima block claiming a total of 8.000 hectares of tropical forest under the mandate of the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom. The intention is to grade down the forest for the purpose of establishing sugar cane plantation. This situation is ongoing since February 2016 and the pressure is mounting.
This affected area is the central part of the gazetted Bugoma Forest, which means that encroaching is equal to compromise the survival of Bugoma Forest as a whole. Bugoma Forest is one of the most important forests in Uganda for biodiversity, which is explained in the geography of the Alberetine Rift Valley, crucial for the development of tourism in Uganda. It is home to the endangered and internationally protected chimpanzees; it is home to a large number of primates’ species like the endemic Ugandan mangabeys and it is a birding destination. To destroy the forest is equal to destroy as well the right of the wildlife and birds to survive. There are only less than 5.000 chimpanzees remaining in Uganda of which about 500 are believed to live in Bugoma forest.
The Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest has started in 2014 an enrichment tree-planting project for the regeneration of degraded areas. Even this project is under the target of the encroachers and the project cannot be currently accessed, leading to loss of the resources invested from the work of the association in collaboration with the CFM group of Kyangwali.
On 17th April 2016 a group of 10 people from Kisaru Trading Center attacked 4 staff of National Forestry Authority with pangas and iron bars, seriously injuring them as they were on patrol during the day near Rwera site. Phone calls and intimidations are made daily to the personnel of the State, the Police, the National Forestry Authority who are doing their best to carry out their duties.
At the beginning of 2016 eco-tourism activities have started in the forest at Rwera, near the area which is currently encroached. Moreover, the National Forestry Authority has issued in 2015 new licenses to operate eco-tourism to private investors. There are also in-coming private investments in accommodation (the construction of Bugoma Forest Lodge by Uganda Jungle Lodges LTD) and in research on biodiversity like on the chimpanzees (by the Jane Goodall Institute). All this has the potential to make Bugoma Forest in the near future one of the new relevant tourist attractions in Uganda, with trickle down mechanisms for local communities where poverty and lack of jobs and investments are rampant.
All these future developments will be affected by the criminal behavior of who is trying to push forward selfish interests detrimental to the environment and in full illegality, since Bugoma Central Forest reserve is a protected forest under the State.
1. We urge those who are encroaching to give up any attempt to break the law. The excuse that no boundaries have been ascertained is only the cover for a clearly illegal activity. Everybody, from the NFA to the local communities is very much aware about the forest’s boundaries.
2. We urge a full investigation over the responsibilities of these illegal operations in Bugoma Forest and we recommend that any damage so far caused to the environment and to the State be compensated and that justice prevails.
3. We urge those firms like Hoima Sugar Works LTD or individuals who are willing to deal or invest in sugar cane cultivation to do so legally, in areas where it is possible to carry out such an investment, by legal purchase of land and being far from this ecosystem of important biodiversity where wildlife is present. There are other areas available and more suitable than a protected reserve which is a tourist destination.
4. We urge the leaders of Hoima District and Bunyoro kingdom to be responsible toward the development and the sustainable future of the area, considering that already more than 70 % of forest cover was lost in the last 20 years, which has affected climatic change and the livelihood of the people, losing important resources for the future and for tourism, creating a mechanism of permanent poverty. Leaders should now take care of the remaining forests and engage in forests regeneration, not in forest destruction.
5. We urge the leaders, the private sector and the public sector to avoid, condemn and resist the temptation of corruption which will further exacerbate the development in the region by helping selfish interests to prevail over the respect of the law and over the interest of the local communities.
6. We urge the Ministry of Water and Environment, the Government of Uganda and the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda to take action and to closely monitor the rampant escalation of illegality and violence in Bugoma Forest by increasing the presence of security and military personnel in the area to protect the staff and those civilians who are engaging in activities for the protection of the forest.