Kagombe Forest is being depleted to cultivate food crops

February 3, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

By

Gloria Nakiyimba

Fields of Maize and banana plantations meet the eyes as you enter Kagombe Natural Forest Reserve in Kagadi through Bujogolo, and Muzizi trading centre.

What was once a thick intact green forest is now occupied by encroachers mainly from neighboring Rwanda who have cut down trees and cleared the land through burning to create land for cultivation.

Pineapples, Maize, ground nuts, banana plantations, the smell of fresh sawdust, pigs and kilns of charcoal characterize the land where various towering species of trees once stood inside the forest found in Kibaale district in Western Uganda.

The encroachers who live in mud and wattle houses have set up churches and even a trading centre they call Baghdad borrowing from the Iraqi capital city.

The encroachers occupy almost three quarters of the 11,332 hectares of the total original forest cover.

The further we walked into the forest the more evident the massive plunder and destruction became. This can be seen by the numerous freshly cut tree stumps, logs, timber, saw dust and more felled trees.

As we set off to the jungle we encountered an Isuzu Elf lorry fully parked with illegal timber from the forest.

Because we were traveling with officials from the National Forestry Authority- NFA; the body mandated to manage all central reserves by the government, we were made to turn around and follow the vehicle.

When the driver of the lorry realized that he was being followed, it must have occurred to him that he was in trouble. Having sensed danger, the driver jumped out and abandoned the vehicle in idling mode in the middle of a dusty road.

NFA officials and armed security pursued them but they disappeared in a papyrus wetland near the road. Only one person was arrested.

One of the NFA officials drove the lorry with the illegal impounded timber to the nearby Kagadi police station where a case was opened against the man who was arrested.

The license number plate of the lorry was covered with a sticker with the names Godfrey and Catherine, with images of the US and Uganda flags and a pair of wedding rings. This was to disguise the car as transporter of items from or to a wedding ceremony.

 

 

It’s clear that Kagombe Central Forest Reserve is facing extinction due to illegal cutting down of trees leading to deforestation.

More than 1000 pieces of freshly cut timber worth 12 million Uganda shillings were impounded from deep inside the forest and three illegal timber cutters arrested.

The central Forest reserve was gazetted in 1932 by the government of Uganda. But National Forestry Authority Kagadi Sector Manager Uziah Ndyanabo states that only 20% of the 11,331 hectare area of the reserve forest is left intact.

The illegal timber harvesters using outlawed power sawyers usually target trees with hard wood. These include Elgon Olive, Preminor Angoles, Macamia platicalex , Ebony tree and Abezia species.

The impounded timber belonged to an illegal timber dealer Vernacious Karija who is plundering the forest with impunity.

“Vernacious has been cutting trees in the forest for 23 years protected by some individuals within the government. When you arrest him, he contacts them. They make one call and he is out of prison” he told our reporter.

Verna, as he is popularly known, uses encroachers to carry the timber from the forest. He ferries people from as far as Kabaale in south western Uganda. The people he brings as carriers remain behind as encroachers after serving the purpose of cutting and loading the timber.

The Kagadi sector manager blames the encroachment on some politicians whom he says encourage people to occupy the forest land, and lack of political will to fight the habit to save the natural resource.

According to Ndyanabo, the forest was intact by 2005 but encroachment begun after the elections. “During 2006 election, people were promised heaven on earth by MPs doubled as ministers Baguma Isooke and Mattia Kasaija. Encroachers invaded the forest. Kagombe is going while we are all seeing” he said.

This forest is a water catchment area for river Muzizi which the government is planning to use to generate hydro power electricity to supply to the western region.

However this might not be feasible as encroachers and illegal timber dealers are now massively felling down the trees and burning the vegetation in the forest.

With the fast rate at which the forest is depleted, tourism will be affected since the forest has been a habitat for wild animals such as monkeys and different bird species.

The NFA Kagadi sector manager attributes this to a lack of political will to drive out encroachers from the forest and connivance by politicians with illegal timber dealers.

He cites security as one of the major hindrances to fight the illegal activities in the forest. Kagombe is accommodating so many people whose origin is not known. They don’t know any of the local languages.

“Encroachers are as deep as 30 kilometers from the boundary. It’s not easy to control their activities, and we also lack enough man power for surveillance” said Uziaha.

Weak laws are also frustrating the efforts of National forestry Authority-NFA officials in trying to save the forest from depletion. Most of the charges brought against the culprits are bailable.

“A fine of 30 currency points is nothing to them. They pay and go back to the forests.”

Ndyanabo states that parliament should sit and amend laws to provide tougher penalties to prohibit the public from abusing the forest.

 

 

The rate at which the forest cover is fast disappearing is alarming as it is contributing to climate change. Uganda is experiencing heavy rains, floods and storms due to lack of forest cover.

Forests cut down on the concentration of carbon dioxide, one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

The trees trap the gas produced by human beings and convert it to oxygen which again is precious for the human life.

Thus there is need for proper management of the forests, to protect them from plunder and in this case Kagombe forest can help to mitigate climate change.

The invasion of the forest reserve which is a source of Muzizi River will affect the water volume of Lake Albert, as the river flows within this lake and is bound to affect the fishing industry as well.

This calls for the realization of the dangers of deforestation, before the country turns into a desert due to human activities.

Gad Benda the executive director of World Voices Uganda, a local NGO based in Kagadi, sais that impounding illegal timber is not enough to save the forests.

“NFA should avoid dealing with symptoms, what we have to deal with is the cause. What we have to look at is the issue of saving the forests not impounding timber.”

Mr. Benda also suggests opening of the forest boundaries so that invaders can be evicted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gloria Nakiyimba

Gloria has experience spanning more than five years in Journalism, particularly in field reporting, editing, newscasting and management. She is currently working with Capital Radio Limited [91.3 Capital FM and 96.3 Beat FM] as Head of News, a position she has held since 2010.

Gloria previously worked as the Kampala Correspondent for Radio France International [RFI] generating local story leads with international inference for RFI’s global audience. She also served as Political Editor for The Weekly Mail Newspaper as well as Online Content Editor for the California based Ugandan broadcaster KubutakaRadio.com.

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