20 November 2006

Uganda: Mabira Forest Giveaway Rejected

Kampala — A committee set up to assess the Mehta request to grow sugarcane in Mabira Forest Reserve has recommended that the company should go elsewhere.

The inter-ministerial committee of four experts said Mehta Group could improve the productivity of the land it occupies and expand the outgrowers scheme.

"Mehta Group can increase in its acreage by either buying or hiring land from private land owners at the going market prices. The district leaders say the people have the land and are willing to sell or rent at the going market rates," the experts said in a report.

They said Mehta should work closely with the district leaders who they said were ready to mobilise and build the capacity of the outgrowers.

The assessment followed President Yoweri Museveni's directive to the environment ministry for a study before Mehta was cleared to expand into part of the reserve.

Museveni recently said he could not give away the forest reserve without consultation.

He directed Prime Minister Prof. Apolo Nsibambi to follow up the matter. Nsibambi accordingly directed trade minister Janat Mukwaya to form the committee which has just handed in its report.

The experts' 30-page report was ready on November 1 and was handed over to the Prime Minister's Office two weeks ago.

The experts called for a multi-displinery team to undertake an environment impact assessment on the basis of their report to find out areas that could handle Mehta's project with the least environment impact.

They also want the Government institutions like National Forest Authority the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Department of Environmental Affairs to engage and guide the Mehta Group in environment, forestry and wetland management.

The team was also concerned about the rampant destruction of private forests that are being turned into farmland and human settlements some of which are construed to mean Mabira.

The team was made up of Rachael Musoke of the environment ministry, Stephen Nsita from NFA, Simon Kimono from the agriculture ministry and Okullo of the Ministry of Trade.

The group also consulted the Mehta Group of Companies and district leaders.

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