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Gov’t Asked to Invoke Land Acquisition Power to Save Bugoma Forest

The European Union has pledged to provide Parliament with an updated satellite image showing how the forest covers in the country is depleted day by day.
Map showing Bugoma forest and proposed developement

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Desperate times call for desperate measures. With alarm and pressure from activists and now donors over plans to plant sugarcane in parts of Bugoma forest, Members of Parliament want Government to invoke its land acquisition power to save the forest. 

Civil Society organizations have faulted Andrew Byakutaga, the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Prime Minister and the Kingdom for giving away 22 square miles of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Kikuube District to Hoima Sugar Limited for 99 years. The Kingdom endorsed a Memorandum of Understanding and a lease agreement to facilitate sugarcane growing in part of the forest reserve. 

However the National Environment Management Authority -NEMA found 13 square miles, out of the 22 square miles, were unfit for sugar plantation; They were in a wetland and forest reserve, which should be conserved. As a result, Hoima sugar was allowed to cultivate sugarcane on 9.24 square miles, covering an area that was entirely grassland, establish an urban centre on 1.26 square miles, an eco-tourism centre on 1.97 square miles and restore 3.13 square miles of the forest reserve. Another 0.156 hectares will be preserved for the cultural site and 6.17 square miles conserved as a natural forest. 

Now members of Parliament of the Natural resources committee want Government to invoke its power (of compulsory acquisition) and protect the forest.

The constitution as it stands gives Government freehand to take land in public interest but calls for prompt and adequate compensation.  

According to article 237 of the constitution, Government or a local government may, subject to article 26 of this Constitution, acquire land in the public interest; and the conditions governing such acquisition shall be as prescribed by Parliament.

Keefa Kiwanuka, the chairperson of Natural Resources Committee says the only way Government could save the forest is by invoking its power in the constitution to save Bugoma forest in public interest. He revealed that this was part of the recommendations of the committee that are yet to be tabled before the house.

The committee was meeting with the European Union Ambassadors who are concerned on the environment on Monday evening at Parliament . 

In their proposal, the committee wants an inquiry into the connivance involving some Government officials which led to the allocation of the forestland. 

The chairperson also says the other unfortunate thing is that the sugar cane factory has acquired a environmental and social impact assessment which they find very disturbing. The committee in its proposal also says that upon their discussions with the Bunyoro Kingdom, the Kingdom agreed that they would be willing to discuss with Government so that Government can buy off the interest of the sugar cane company.  

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The EU Ambassodor to Uganda, Attilio Pacifi called on the committee to talk to the Attorney General William Byaruhanga to give advice and see if the there can be a halt to any activity in the forest. He also says that there are images of European Satellites that indicate that forests are getting eaten up day by day. 

They European envoyspledged to share updated satellite images of how the forest cover is getting destroyed. 

Pacifici said compared to when he first came to Uganda, the vegetation coverage has drastically changed.

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The European Union team is planning a field visit to the Bugoma, Murchison falls and wetlands to asses the impact and talk to people about the forest cover and environment challenges. 

In 2019 Justice Wilson Musalu Musene dismissed a case in which National Forestry Authority (NFA) had jointly sued Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara, Hoima Sugar Limited and Uganda Land Commission over the forest land. In his judgement, he indicated that Bunyoro Kingdom acquired freehold interest and legally leased land to Hoima Sugar Limited. NFA subsequently appealed the High Court ruling but lost the case as per the judgement made by Justice Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, on December 3, 2019.   

According to the National Enviroment management Authority (NEMA), all the fragile ecosystems within the project area including the rivers, streams, wetlands andswamps, steep hill slopes, among others, shall be protected, in accordance with the law and the developer is required to undertake enrichment planting on an area measuring 3.8919  square miles comprising the buffer zones bordering the Bugoma Central Forest, River Hohwa and its tributaries. 

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