The civil society organizations, the tourism fraternity, all concerned citizens of Uganda and the whole world are here to respond to the threats faced by our natural resources, particularly Bugoma Forest in Kikuube District former Hoima District.
Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, with 411 sq km or 41.144 hectares of protected area, is the largest remaining block of natural tropical forest along the Albertine Rift Valley found between Budongo and Semliki, therefore playing a great role in preserving the last remaining wildlife migratory corridors. Bugoma is home to about 500 chimpanzees (10% of the Ugandan chimpanzee population), making the forest a chimpanzee sanctuary. Among other primates, Bugoma hosts a population of Ugandan mangabeys, endemic to only this forest therefore a unique treasure. The bird list consists of 221 recorded species. Bugoma forest biodiversity surveys recorded 224 species of trees and shrubs which is higher than in any other forest in the region.
|Speakers at the press conference 2nd May 2019: Onesmus Mugyenyi, |
Edison Ashaka, Benedict Ntale. Moderator: Richard Kwere
High deforestation rate in Uganda has caused loss of 63% of forest cover only in the last 3 decades! This causes less carbon absorption and directly impacts the climate thus contributing to climate change. Degradation of the environment puts lives of people at stake owing to reduction of water sources, changing weather patterns and reduction of soil fertility. It is paramount for the health of all the population to maintain the existing forest cover.
However, in the last few years various threats are negatively impacting on Bugoma Forest survival and related investments, particularly:
1. The development of sugar cane plantations with the opening of Hoima Sugar Works in 2016, located next to the natural forest, crop which does not match at all with the nature of the forest habitat.
2. The issuing of land titles inside and outside the protected forest reserve, always on prime forested areas, causing encroachments with the support of the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom officials and political leaders of Hoima District. Particularly, a businessman called Mr. Zaid Mustapha; on 20th September 2018, he was issued a land title over an area of approximately 925 hectares of natural forest (2 km per 6 km) in the name of MZ Agencies. On 14th October 2018 a grader was impounded after having tried to start clearing the said forest. Later on, on 22nd November 2018 Mr. Buryahika Stephen - who happens to be the chairperson LC3 of Kabwoya Sub County, where the forest is located - was given a land title for 51.45 hectares, also in a contested forested area. The said people were having meetings in the communities jointly with Chair Person LC5 of Hoima Mr. Kadir Kirungi (one meeting was held on 27th January 2019), in which they explained that the interest of the land titles was to clear the natural forest and develop a sugar cane plantation.
3. Since August 2016 a legal battle has been going on in Masindi High Court, with National Forestry Authority accusing Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar Works of illegally claiming the Muhangaizima block of Bugoma Forest for about 8.000 hectares. On 1st August 2016 a Freehold Certificate of Title was issued in the name of Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara and, subsequently, the leasehold was issued to Hoima Sugar Factory Limited. This court case ended on 25th April 2019 with the victory of the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar Works, who obtained recognition of their legal ownership of part of Bugoma Forest.
We would like to say that the mandate to judge over degazzetting a central forest reserve can only be vested in the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, not in any Court. We also condemn the fact that a political decision over the future of important biodiversity resources was left for four years to the judiciary. Political leaders didn’t intervene to resolve the matter.
Insecurity of land tenure over Bugoma Forest and insecurity of the use of the land can only negatively affect the economic development in the area, the investment climate and the development of eco-tourism activities.
- Other challenges are the illegal logging and the prospective oil infrastructural development which will affect Bugoma Forest, including oil roads development, pipeline and refinery.
|Hoima Sugar Works deployed 2 graders on 1st May 2019 to start clearing Bugoma Forest.|
What is at stake?
1. The conservation of Bugoma Forest in all its integrity is paramount for the livelihood of the local farmers’ communities, who are generally in support of the conservation as it is shown by the appeal they made in March 2019 when various local leaders signed the Petition to Ministry of Environment to halt the clearing of Bugoma Forest for sugar cane. Destruction and change in the use of the habitat will affect the climate, the water sources, the whole economy of the area, while in particular sugar cane will further degrade the area and increase humans / wildlife conflicts, as well as adversely affecting the soil and impoverishing local communities.
2. The current development and investments in eco-tourism activities and tourist accommodation (Bugoma Jungle Lodge, new lodge in Mwera) in Bugoma Forest will be compromised by the destruction of the habitat and the poor image of Bugoma forest resulting from lack of rule of law. Investors in eco-tourism and conservation have much to complain about. Eco-tourism development started only in 2016 and is bringing revenues for about 20.000.000 UGX to National Forestry Authority.
3. The chimpanzee and Ugandan mangabeys population of Bugoma Forest will be negatively affected, contributing to a poor image of Uganda in the world, as these species are internationally recognized as well as the importance of Bugoma Forest. Chimpanzee and mangabeys conservation projects are on-going with the objective to start new eco-tourism activities, which will increase revenues to the government, to the communities through sharing and more job opportunities.
4. The conservation efforts by many organizations in and around Bugoma Forest, having various projects in tree – planting, farmers support, socio – economic supports to vulnerable communities including refugees in the area will be frustrated by a clear set back.
5. The presence of a very dangerous sugar cane lobby, which attracted the favours of some local leaders and institutions (but certainly not the support of the people) and feels no objection in attacking a natural habitat of international biodiversity importance, will always be a threat to other positive investments in the area, investments that could create more job opportunities in a very poor socio-economic region.
6. The degradation in the area with the prospected loss of part of the forest will trigger further escalation of degradation, further loss of habitat and endangering the biodiversity, moreover increasing the cases of all the illegalities that affected Bugoma Forest. This factor is crucial.
7. The game played by various actors saying that Bugoma Forest has no clear boundaries, with the intention to grab both the protected forest and any other private forest does not help the solution of the problem, which is the preservation of the environment and its economic value.
8. In the end Uganda will lose credibility in the respect and implementation of International Conventions as mentioned above.
1. Bugoma Forest must be protected as it is, no matter where the exact boundaries are. An appeal must be made against the ruling of Masindi High Court with immediate effect to avoid and halt any forest’s clearing.
2. Bugoma forest and local communities need development, which can be an opportunity when there is certainty of land use and ownership by the government of Uganda. The government of Uganda must re-establish its ownership of the entire central forest reserve without “if” and without “but”.
3. The local communities and their leaders should be part of the process of development and not victims of the intimidations by the sugar cane lobby and their connections. National Forestry Authority must commit itself in the development of eco-tourism and income –sharing with communities, encouraging stakeholders to invest more.
4. The Government of Uganda should immediate intervene to reassure the protection of Bugoma forest and to reassure the investments in eco-tourism and in accommodation in the area.
5. Sugar cane development should not take place at the expense of natural resources. There is enough land in Bunyoro to accommodate sugar cane, without destroying vital natural resources. Hoima Sugar Works should desist from threatening Bugoma Forest eco-system and should desist from using local institutions and leaders to push forward its interests.
6. Uganda should respect the international conventions and protocols on environmental conservation to which the country is signatory.
With the only objective to work on implementing these recommendation, to sensitize the public and the media, to inform the international and national communities about the dramatic danger behind the threats to Bugoma Forest, a coalition campaign is formed and launched under the name “Save Bugoma Forest Campaign”, which is the united efforts of all the organizations and associations of the conservation sector as well as the private and tourism sector.
SAVE BUGOMA FOREST CAMPAIGN
Uganda Tourism Association, Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Association of Uganda Tour Guides, Association of Uganda Travel Agents, Uganda Jungle Lodges Ltd, Rosaline Place LTD, Destination Jungle Ltd, NGO Uganda Coalition, Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest, Association of Scouts of Uganda, Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Joint Energy and Environment Projects (JEEP), Tree Talk Plus, Care International, ACODE, Youth Leading Environment Change (YLEC), Bugoma Chimpanzee Project, Eco-trust, NAPE.