Rukungiri — Residents of Bwambara sub-county have accused the National Forest Authority of fueling conflict in their area.
They say the National Forest Authority (NFA) is responsible for the double allocation of a forest reserve to different people to plant trees.
The residents, who belong to Ihimbo, Kikongi and Nyabubare Tobacco and Wood fuel Co-operative Societies, allege that NFA has for the last two years failed to resolve the controversy over the rightful owners of the woodlot and yet it has received money from residents for the renewal of their occupational permit.
The farmers allege that they planted the woodlot in 1968 and have since used the wood fuel for curing their tobacco so that they can reduce pressure on the forest reserve. However, they say the woodlot has now been grabbed from them despite having occupational permits.
They claim that in 2001, they were stopped from using the woodlot by the District Forest Department in Rukungiri and it was reallocated to some politicians and traders.
A big portion was also given to British American Tobacco Uganda Ltd, which the farmers say has consistently harvested the trees without giving them a chance.
The residents allege that they have appealed to all relevant authorities from the local council level to national level in vain.
In a letter written by NFA on December 12, 2005 and signed by Mr Herbert Kitimbo, the sector Manager of Kalinzu, NFA acknowledged the double allocation but asked the two parties to keep out of the forest until the matter is sorted out.
However on December 29, 2005, NFA general headquarters reportedly issued a receipt of Shs25,000 to the farmers to renew their licence for tree planting.
The NFA public relations officer G. Kiyingi acknowledged receipt of the farmers' complaint but said NFA needed more time to solve the conflict.
"Farmers have to be patient because NFA is only two years old and we have so many controversies to solve," he said on October 17.
Kiyingi confirmed the double allocation of the forest but said he would check the occupational permit of the first group to confirm its validity.
"I will first establish the legality of the occupation because we have been conducting a census of all our forests to establish what is happening there," he said.
The farmers want NFA to clarify who the rightful occupants are and make the necessary compensation.
They have since petitioned the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, an NGO, to help them recover 155 hectares of eucalyptus woodlot investment, which they insist belongs to them.