22 October 2006

Uganda: Rice Farming Threatens Mityana's Forests, Swamps

Kampala — TREE stumps and upland rice stand where Kawezike forest, in Busubizi village, Mityana district, once stood. Kawezike, which means 'bury yourself' got its name from the dangers that were associated with passing through it.

Ironically, farmers have now buried the forest and replaced it with upland rice.

Charles Anziku, one of the farmers who cleared a large portion of the forest, says growing rice is a profitable venture.

"The soils are fertile and you get huge returns. I am assured of paying fees for my children and taking home a loaf of bread at the end of the day," he says.

Being a wetland with fertile black soils suitable for rice growing and a good feeder road, farmers scrambled for large chunks of the forest.

Paul Wanume, the district environment officer and an extension worker visited Kawezike to reduce the damage to the forest by selling tree seedlings at a subsidised price to farmers to engage in tree growing. However, it was too little too late because the harm had already been done.

"Clearing a forest takes a short time. You only need cheap labour. Officials fined and imprisoned us, but I endured the pain because profits are high," says Mukisa Segawa, another farmer.

Rice growing in Mityana started booming in 2003. when the Vice-President, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, encouraged commercial upland rice growing in Wakiso to boost the incomes of farmers.

However, upland rice growing is a threat to forests and wetlands. "Farmers cut the trees, spray the undergrowth with pesticides and plant the rice with little difficulty since the soils are fertile. The trees are sold as firewood, poles and rice is grown at low costs.

"It's just a few years down the road but the damage is great. There is no firewood, water catchment is poor and we are risking floods," says Wanume.

Containing the damage is difficult because Wanume's office is incapacitated.

"We are only three in the district lands and environment office. We are supposed to inspect the district, which is 98% of wetlands and forests," he says.

The district also lacks environment committees and the law handling environment abusers is weak, so encroachers are let to go scot free.

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