Kampala — The National Forestry Authority (NFA) is in advanced stages of buying off 16 villages within Mabira Rain Forest, Buikwe District, to manage encroachment on the largest natural forest in the country.
The NFA director of natural forests management, Mr Levi Etwodu, said acquiring the 2,700 hectares of land currently occupied by the residents will make forestry management easier. There are 16 villages in Mabira forest whose residents legally own land in the more than 300 square kilometre piece since it was gazetted in the 1930s.
"We are already budgeting to make sure we restore part of Mabira forest, which is currently being occupied by a number of villagers. Most of these villages are experiencing population increase and this means when they outgrow their current space, they will soon start encroaching on the forest land," Mr Etwodu said at a public dialogue last week.
A 2017 Ministry of Water and Environment sector review report indicates that "4,755 hectares of Mabira were mapped as degraded or understocked and 1,500 hectares of these are under restoration."
The development comes after NTV and Daily Monitor featured a story highlighting encroachment on the forest that acts as home to several bird, animal, and tree species and also catchment for Lake Victoria and River Nile. Despite such uses, there have been reports of people cutting down trees in the forest for charcoal burning, firewood and agriculture.
In 2007, government attempted to parcel out part of the forest to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL), sparking off protests which claimed three lives across the country, forcing the government to abandon the move.
In a recent tour of Mabira forest, one of the 506 central reserves managed by the NFA, State minister for Environment Mary Gorretti Kitutu, said: "We have a proposal that we compensate these people and they surrender this land such that we manage a closed forest."
Mr Livingstone Ddumba, a herbalist who depends on the forest, said: "If we leave the forest, who will protect it? It is us who have protected this forest; we actually fought to stop Mehta from being given this forest to grow to sugarcane."
Mr Denis Kavuma, the general manager of Uganda Timber Growers' Association (UTGA), said people have the advantage of the grants given by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation to continue with the growing of trees.
"There is a role that can be played by everyone including the media in conserving forests in the country. So far a number of farmers have benefited from the grants of FAO to farmers to grow trees, let us take advantage of this as we continue with the sensitisation," he said.