Kampala — THE Sugar Corporation of Uganda wants to take 25 per cent of Mabira Forest to plant more sugar cane.
SCOUL has submitted a report to the Ministry of Environment saying that the 7,000 hectares of the forest that it wants degazetted are heavily degraded and of little environmental value. However the National Forest Authority has retorted that this is a biased assessment by SCOUL since the forest is gradually regenerating after the eviction of encroachers.
There are a number of reasons why the SCOUL proposal should be carefully reconsidered before the forest is degazetted.
Firstly, Uganda's three sugar plantations at Lugazi, Kakira and Kinyara do contribute substantially to the economy. However the sugar that they produce sells at US $550 per tonne compared to $400 on the world market. Sugar can be imported into Uganda at a lower cost than it can be produced in Uganda. Is giving a quarter of Mabira Forest to SCOUL a rational allocation of land? Wouldn't it be better to give the land to flower farmers or Bidco who will clearly generate revenue for Uganda?
Secondly, bona bagagawale is intended to help the peasant farmer grow rich. Why can't the Mehtas intensify outgrowers schemes like Kinyara's so that small farmers can provide the extra sugar cane that SCOUL needs to operate efficiently?
Thirdly, Mabira Forest remains environmentally important. Not only does it have a tourist camp and a new one million dollar eco-lodge but it remains an important water catchment area and source of bio-diversity. All these enhance economic output.
Fourthly, in 1986 one of the first actions of the new NRM government was to evict encroachers from Mabira Forest to protect the environment. It will give the wrong impression that the government is now no longer concerned about protecting the environment if that land is now handed over virtually free of charge to a wealthy private investor.