UGANDAN PRESIDENT MUSEVENI STOPS SALE OF FORESTS
KAMPALA, Nov 24 (NNN-NEW VISION) -- PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has stopped the leasing of chunks of forest reserves to individuals to plant trees.
The individuals, Museveni said, had abused the reserves by cutting down trees and mining sand. The President cited forests on Mityana Road, which he said had been sold to people including public servants.
In a communication to the environment ministry, Museveni accused officials of NFA, the organisation which manages forests, of selling the land cheaply. Describing them as criminals, the President said the culprits should be punished.
In the paper entitled, Mismanagement of forests by the National Forestry Authority (NFA), Museveni said the policy of selling or leasing forest reserves had not been decided by the Cabinet.
“Who decided on the policy of privatising or leasing forests? I do not remember Cabinet deciding on this,” he said.
The President, accordingly, directed the environment minister, Maria Mutagamba, to stop the selling or leasing of the forests to individuals by NFA. “This takes immediate effect,” he said.
The President issued the order on July 29 but the ministry published it last week.
In the communication, Museveni named the NFA official whom he accused of being responsible for the sale of the Mityana Road forests as George Gasana.
“This Gasana has been selling forests very cheaply,” he said. “These are criminals and must be punished.”
He also ordered Mutagamba to report to him the action she had taken on the matter.
He also directed resident district commissioners to report individuals claiming or destroying forests.
The forestry department, which has since been replaced by NFA, the District Forestry Services and the Forestry Support Services, came under fire in Parliament in February 2003 for allocating a forest reserve in Mukono district to big shots, including former vice-president Dr. Specioza Kazibwe, to plant trees.
Many politicians and senior government bureaucrats were also accused of getting land from reserves across the country.
Jessica Eriyo, the environment minister, defended the allocation, saying the NFA was acting according to the law, but complained about poor monitoring. “In some cases, NFA issues licences to people to plant trees, but they end up mining sand instead.”
But she added: “New land cannot be given out because of the executive order halting allocation of land to tree planters.”
Eriyo, however, said large-scale tree planters were being frustrated by encroachers and people who fraudulently got land titles from the lands ministry.
NFA spokesman Moses Watasa said the organisation wants to meet the President to discuss forestry programmes.
He clarified that the land was not being leased or sold. “NFA issues permits or licences to tree planters depending on how long the trees take to mature.”
Watasa said permits could be given to planters of eucalyptus for five years and 25 years in the case of pines. “The terms and conditions are flexible and easier to change,” he said.
“The permit holder does not ‘control’ land ownership like in the case of lease holders.”
The policy, he argued, is provided for under the National Tree Planting and Forestry Act, which seeks to involve private investors in tree-planting.
He said some forest reserves were empty and the NFA did not have the capacity to plant trees in all of them.
“This is why it is important to bring on board private tree investors and local communities.” Watasa said a probe that was instituted by Mutagamba three months ago cleared Gasana of any wrong-doing.
However, Watasa noted that there were flaws in the permits and licences given out for tree planting. “We are reviewing the licences with a view of stopping people who have not planted,” he said.
The forest cover has halved in the last two decades. In 1988, 26% of the country was covered by forests. This is now down to 13%, says John Diisi, NFA’s coordinator for Global Information Systems and Mapping. About 86,000 hectares of trees, or 2%, is lost yearly. Most destruction occurs on private land where the Government has no control, according to NFA. “The future is not good. What is being destroyed is not restored,” Diisi noted.
Within the protected areas, encroachment is the biggest problem. Since Museveni stopped evictions from the reserves in 2006, the number of encroachers rose from 180,000 to 300,000, an NFA report said. It said the declining forest cover has resulted in a shortage of fuel wood.
“The result is that people walk longer distances every year to get fuel wood. On average, the distance moved to collect firewood has increased from 0.73 kilometres in 2000 to more than one kilometre,” says the report.
In Kitgum, Nebbi, Gulu, Amuru, Nakasongola, Sironko and Adjumani districts, households walk more than four kilometres to collect wood.
In Iganga and Kamuli, households use plant residues and cow-dung to cook food. This has far-reaching effects on soil fertility, NFA warns.
“With these residues used for cooking, the soil nutrient status will quickly go down, with accompanying crop yield reduction.”
Paul Dritch, the NFA’s director of technical services, said the rapid forest deforestation is disrupting agriculture since climate variations have started hitting farmers, particularly in the dry areas.
The massive cutting of trees in lake areas has also led to declining water levels. “Deforestation in the Lake Victoria catchment areas has contributed to the reduction of water levels in the lake, which has contributed to a drop in hydro output,” he said.
The most alarming thing, Dritch noted, is that trees are cut down faster than new ones are planted. -- NNN-NEW VISION