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Locals Up In Arms against Hire Of Bugoma Forest :: Uganda Radionetwork

Locals Up In Arms against Hire Of Bugoma Forest

According to the residents and leaders, for one to acquire an acre of land in the forest reserve for cultivation, he or she should pay shillings 300,000. This money is paid to agents deployed by NFA officials within the communities and after transacting the business, the agents’ hand over the money to top NFA management in the district and the region. The officials do not issue out receipts for the money paid to them fearing to be tracked and arrested.
Charcoal being burnt inside Bugoma forest in Kikuube district.

Audio 8

Villagers settled near the Bugoma forest reserve are up in arms against the alleged hire of parts of it for food cultivation and charcoal burning.  

The residents from Kabwoya and Kyangwali sub-counties in Kikuube district allege that National Forestry officials collude with individuals to wreak havoc on Bugoma. The leaders in the area have indicated to Uganda Radio Network that NFA officials through agents require one to pay up to three hundred thousand shillings to rent an acre of land for crop cultivation.  

They further allege that individuals who may have paid bribes openly engage in illicit charcoal burning and transportation.

While the residents and civil society groups have been waging a legal battle against sugarcane in Bugoma, they say their efforts to guard it for conservation purposes are being thwarted by money-hungry individuals at NFA.   

When URN visited the area, freshly harvested logs were on the grounds, while smoke billowed from charcoal kilns in the vicinity. Desire Nkurunziza, the Nyairongo LCI Chairperson told URN that there are individuals who are in the community to collect money from those wishing to cultivate on the forest land. He claimed that those who engage in illicit charcoal tend to be guarded with guns.  However, Uganda Radio Network-URN could not independently verify this claim.

Luganda byte

//Cue in: “Bayina agent babwe…

Cue out:… Petition once again.”//

He says efforts by area leaders and residents to report such incidents tend to be ignored.

//Cue in: “NFA tuyina clear…

 Cue out:…gafumenti mu maso.”// 

Some of those concerns were last year raised to the President when he was in Kikuube to launch the drilling of oil at Kingfisher. President Museveni tasked the RDC, Amulam Tumusiime to investigate the matter.  

Deo Asaba Isoke, a resident of Kaseeta village in Kaseeta parish, Kabwoya sub-county told URN that those behind the forest destruction are doing it with impunity.

Isoke wonders how people could penetrate the forest and start harvesting timber with power saws without the consent of NFA.

 //Cue in: “Currently what is… 

Cue out:…who are benefiting.”//

Ramula Asasira, a resident of Nyairongo village said while women are being blocked from accessing the forest for firewood, the farmers and charcoal dealers access it after paying bribes.  

 Runyankole byte.   

//Cue in: “Itwenka abakyara twine… 

Cue out:… Kika sasa munonga.”//

Paul Mugisa, the Chairperson Collaborative Forest Management Committee of Kaseeta village told URN that in 2008, NFA signed a Memorandum of understanding with the neighboring communities to collectively patrol and protect the forest reserve from destruction. 

However, he said the relationship did not last for long because NFA abandoned them after the residents complained about the continuous destruction of the forest reserve.

 //Cue in: “In the past… 

Cue out:…are burning charcoal.”//  

Hassan Mugenyi, a resident of Nyairongo said the destruction of the forest has led to an increase in human-wildlife conflicts.

Luganda byte

//Cue in: “Ekibire we tuwogerera…

Cue out:…rwana na gafumenti.”//

Hellen Kabanyoro of Kaseeta parish says they are too much concerned that if the forest is destroyed, they will be greatly affected since it provides them with firewood, medicine among others stating that several women have been harassed and raped in the process of collecting firewood while in the forest reserve.

Luganda byte.

//Cue in: “Ebitwafirwa binji era… 

Cue out:…ali kujala ye.”//

Alex Obonyo, the National Forestry Authority-NFA Kisindi Sector Manager denied the allegation by the leaders and residents.

Obonyo explained that part of the land that is being hired out to residents for cultivation belongs to Hoima Sugar Limited after Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom leased it to the sugar company. He adds that part of the forest land where NFA is in charge was secure, safe, and free from any illegal activities.

 //Cue in: “What is happening… 

Cue out:…are very okay.”//   

Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, covering 410 square kilometers of a protected area, and a stretch of forest measuring 40 kilometers, is a tropical forest in Kikuube district, gazetted in 1932 and taken over by the National Forestry Authority in 2003.    

It is endowed with a high Biodiversity with 24 species of mammals, 465 species of trees, 359 species of birds, 289 species of butterflies and 130 species of moths.  The mammals include monkeys, chimpanzees, buffaloes, Uganda Kobs and at times elephants.     

A 2012 Chimpanzee census discovered that 10 per cent of Uganda’s Chimpanzee population was in Bugoma forest. 

The forest is also a migratory route for wild animals connecting to game parks and a catchment area for rivers that drain into Lake Albert and river Nguse where government plans to build a hydro power dam.    

In 2016, Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom reportedly leased 22 square miles said to be part of the forest land to Hoima Sugar Limited.   

The sugar factory leased close to 22 square miles of the contested Bugoma Central Forest reserve land from the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom for sugarcane growing for 99 years.     

However, the National Environment Management Authority -NEMA found 13 of the 22 square miles, unfit for a sugar plantation and recommended their preservation since it’s a wetland and forest reserve.   

As a result, NEMA allowed Hoima Sugar factory to cultivate sugarcane on the remaining 9.24 square miles covering the grassland, establish an urban center on 1.26 square miles, an eco-tourism center on 1.97 square miles, and restore 3.13 square miles of the forest.      

They also recommended the preservation of another 0.156 hectares for the cultural site and 6.17 square miles as a natural forest.    

However, several conservationists have opposed the move, saying the giveaway is not only a threat to the ecosystem and endangered species but it is likely to hurt tourism activities, which are a source of revenue for the local communities and the country.     

Bunyoro Kitara has since explained that the land that was leased to Hoima Sugar is not part of Bugoma forest but the Kingdom’s Ancestral land adjacent to the forest reserve.