26 September 2006

Uganda: Giving Away Mabira Forest Can't Be Right


Kampala — I wish to respond to issues raised by Workers' MP Joram Pajobo in his article titled, "Museveni is right about giving Mabira Forest" that appeared in the Daily Monitor of September 21, 2006. I must thank him for having raised such issues for I believe he needed clarification.

Another reader, one Mbaroraburora, while commenting on the Mabira issue, said that a servant that does not tell the emperor that he is naked, does not really love the emperor. I would like to use the same premise to correct mistakes in Pajobo's letter.

As we struggle to implement the President's directive we should respect professional advice. Many Christians have continued taking their children to church for christening but this is not because they do not have water to splash on their children to mark the name-giving ceremony. They are looking for the right people to do the right job. It is prudent that people consider advice from professional foresters on the forestry issues than get half-baked advice from an apprenticed sugar-cane worker with apparently vested interest.

Pajobo and the likes have said that there are iron-roofed houses inside Mabira. Mabira Forest Reserve has 27 enclaves (land under private ownership), 16 of which are internal (surrounded by the reserve). Geographical coordinates for external boundaries of Mabira are available for any independent surveyor to prove this case. SCOUL recently acquired Kiwala enclave and it is fully stocked with sugarcane.

Others are occupied by law-abiding citizens (with iron-roofed residencies) that have for years respected the boundaries of the reserve (because they depend on the forests). If the issue of iron-roofed houses is correct, shall we then use the same to say that there are encroachers (SCOUL) that have planted sugar cane inside the reserve?

He alleges that the low production zones are infested by various encroachers. Mabira is 100% secure. The areas referred to were degraded by SCOUL's own workers and have since been smoked out by the NFA following its establishment in April 2004. NFA has had to undertake enrichment planting for approximately 200 hectares in Senda and Kyabaana and 20 hectares in Bugule and around Lugala. These are areas of high concentration of SCOUL's workers and are under constant pressure for firewood and charcoal burning by SCOUL workers. Is this not an indication that SCOUL is not even providing sugarcane plantation workers with basic subsistence needs?

The question is, do you cut off your toe because it has jiggers? Or do you remove the jiggers and allow the toe to recover? It is only acceptable that we renovate, rehabilitate and restore such resources and attain the benefits for which they were set up.

Pajobo claims that "a huge chunk of low quality forest was leased for only sh300 million." The truth is that this compartment had mature trees that had reached harvestable age. And 2,437 m3 of round wood equivalent to 2,000 trees of at least 50cm of diameter above breast height were sold (not leased). These are about 10% of the total number of trees above 10cm diameter (poles size). By international forestry ratings, this is in no way a poor secondary tropical forest.

Low impact does not mean low commercial value. It means delicate and not subject to butchering and decimation such as that proposed by SCOUL. Low impact forest uses allowed in such zones include recreation and eco-tourism, harvesting of non-wood products, research and education.

Mabira is a regenerating forest following massive invasion and destruction by encroachers and their subsequent removal with full support from the NRM government in the late 1980s. To refer to a regenerating forest (young trees) as a low value resource and therefore deserving destruction is similar to saying that the young generation should be done away with because they are not of decision making age.

Pastoralists have a saying that "Without calves, you have no cows" and the Baganda say Emiti emito kyekibira, meaning that it's the young trees that make a forest.

Pajobo adds that "sugarcane (after barley) is the biggest converter of sunshine into energy. Whereas this may be true for grasses, it does in no way compare with a multi-storey and species-rich tropical high forest where no sunshine reaches the ground. This can be manifested from the volume of biomass in a tropical high forest compared to similar volume of an equivalent area of sugarcane, a grass.

Pajobo and other politicians of the kind need to engage in factual rather than speculative debate on the need for sustainable development of this country. As we think positively about development, we ought to remember the vision for Uganda's forestry that goes, "for a sufficiently forested, ecologically stable and economically prosperous Uganda"

The writer is the Public Relations Manager, National Forestry Authority

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