Protest Plans to Destroy Uganda's Few Remaining Rainforests for Plantations

Let the Ugandan President and Parliament know rainforests and their ecological services are more valuable than sugar and oil palm production

By Rainforest Portal, a project of Ecological Internet - December 15, 2006 Huge Ugandan rainforest tree Caption: Uganda's remaining ancient rainforests provide the water, air and soil necessary to sustain its citizens

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is pursuing legally dubious plans to destroy much of Uganda's last few rainforests to grow palm oil and sugar cane crops. Uganda has long been facing a deforestation crisis, with forests covering 20 percent of Uganda 40 years ago, but now just covering seven percent. The plans targets two forested areas: 10,000 hectares on the island of Bugala on Lake Victoria for oil palm by a company named Bidco; and 7,000 hectares, some one-third of Mabira Forest Reserve which has been protected since 1932, for sugar cane production by the Mehta Group.

Loss of forest cover in Uganda has had devastating ecological impacts which will be intensified by the proposed projects. Deforestation has been directly responsible for declining levels of waters in Lake Victoria, River Nile and other rivers resulting in a scarcity of drinking water and reduction in hydroelectric energy production. Local environmentalists say destroying Uganda's surviving forests could have further grave ecological consequences -- threatening hundreds of rare species, sparking soil erosion and removing a crucial buffer against pollution of Lake Victoria. Local people are critically dependent upon remaining forests for firewood and building houses.

According to Uganda’s National Forest Authority (NFA), the plan to log Mabira reserve endangers 312 species of tree, 287 species of bird and 199 species of butterfly. Nine species found only in Mabira and nearby forests risked going extinct. The forest absorbs pollution in an industrial area, sinking millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, and helps maintain central Uganda's wet climate. Their removal would bring drier weather and hurt crop yields. Mabira is a watershed for two rivers contributing to the Nile, an ecological stabiliser between two major industrial towns and it protects Lake Victoria. According to the Uganda Tourism Board, eco-tourism generated some $300 million for Uganda last year.

At the end of November, more than 2,000 protesters from Uganda, the United States, Israel and other places signed a petition urging President Museveni not to parcel out land from the Mabira Forest Reserve. Local NGOs have described the situation - with the President questionably pushing the projects while the parliament remains largely silent - "as a governance crisis, disrespect for constitutionalism and the rule of law… forest reserves are protected by the constitution and environmental laws and that change of land use can only be approved by Parliament… ongoing actions also question Uganda's commitment to respect international law and obligations."

The whole matter seems to reflect a desperate power grab by the President to reward cronies under false and illusory promises of industrialization. The government has no legal mandate to give out constitutionally protected forest reserves to be cut down by private companies. Recently the president asked the NFA boss to do just that, and forced him to resign after he refused to license the rainforest destroying palm oil development.

Please contact President Yoweri Museveni, the entire Ugandan parliament, and Ugandan ministries and embassies and insist that these projects be abandoned, and Uganda's remaining rainforest strictly protected as ecological reserves while restoring forests where they historically occurred.


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