New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Mabira Forest Must Remain Intact

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Kampala — PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has said he needs reasons why he should not give away part of Mabira Forest Reserve (New Vision, September 3) for sugarcane growing.

Even Ofwono Opondo (New Vision, September 9) has stated that the proposal to degazette part of Mabira must be opposed, the Minister of State for Environment has praised efforts to save Mabira Forest (New Vision, September 3), John Nagenda called this proposal terror (New Vision, August 26) and a public forum organised by NatureUganda on August 24 called the act a "Crime against nature".

So where on earth did Mehta dream of this "wonderful idea"? Did Mehta Group underestimate the love Ugandans have for their country?

Mehta will probably have answers for the above questions but the debate shows that Ugandans love their country and are determined to achieve their 2025 vision of "Prosperous people, Harmonious Nation and Beautiful Country".

This statement was echoed by Hon Emmanuel Dombo, chairman of the parliamentary committee on natural resources, when he said the vision aims at "attaining sustainable socio-economic development, which maintains or enhances environmental quality and resource productivity on a long-term basis in order to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their needs."

One argument that eludes environment conservation is the economics of the environment. Investors always come equipped with figures; that "we shall employ so many people, we shall generate so much money and we shall contribute so much to the granary (treasury)". On Mabira no one wants to listen to such figures and surprisingly not even Mehta has provided them.

One of the basic services of forests and plants in general is that they absorb Carbondioxide, a toxic gas, and release Oxygen which we breathe. How do you calculate the value of oxygen that is generated by forests for us to breathe? How then do we attach value to oxygen from the forest and carbon dioxide? Does his mean we go to Mulago and calculate the amount of oxygen a dying patient consumes to save his or her life and extrapolate the bill the patient pays?

How about water services? Over 1,000,000 people around Mabira forest get water through or from the reserve without considering many millions downstream who in one way or the other access water from these forests. National Water and Sewerage Corporation distributes water to our homes and collects money without ever investing a coin to protect the catchments where this water comes from. President Museveni calls wetlands granaries of water. However, using the same analogy, this water is not produced in the wetlands but rather in wider catchments especially those covered by natural forests.

In order to keep granaries (wetlands) full, we need to ensure the gardens (forests) are well tendered. The recent water crisis of Lake Victoria and the consequences the country has gone through must provide good lessons. We cannot cheat nature.

How can we think or even contemplate of replacing a tropical rain forest in Uganda with a sugarcane plantation? Surely this is not lack of understanding of the requirements of environment conservation and sustainable development, the quest for all countries in the 21st century, but rather a rebuke of the beauty of Uganda.

Those talking of balancing conservation and development should not take environmental services for granted. Using wood, insects, birds or tourism to explain the value of a forest is being too simplistic. Conservationists are doing their part to save the environment but economists and policy makers seem to think that they derive their oxygen from a different source.

Uganda's sustainable development path is faced with many challenges; the biggest of all being environmental conservation. We need money and more money. However, we need not be selfish.

Natural environment should be considered as a borrowed resource from our fore generations and we have a responsibility to conserve/protect and sustainably utilise these resources without compromising their value to the rightful owners, the future generations.

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