Uganda has the worst rate of forest degradation across all five East African countries, experts have revealed.
The country destroys over 200,000 hectares of tree cover to generate firewood, charcoal, timber as well as expand land for agriculture and animal husbandry.
The alarming rate of deforestation while a source of concern among environmentalists and other conservationists should be a cause for alarm for all Ugandans as trees are central to the survival of humanity, more so in a country like Uganda that relies heavily on nature.
According to the National Forestry Authority (NFA), more than 73,000 hectares of private forest are cleared every year across the country and more than 7,000 half of protected forest reserves are destroyed annually for timber and charcoal. Uganda’s rapid population growth rate of 3% also means that demand for wood products is growing faster than expected.
Conservationists estimate that the tostal rate of deforestation has nearly doubled from about 10,000 hectares ten years ago to 200,000 hectares to date.
Experts worry that at this rate, Uganda will have no more forest cover in just 15 years from now (that is 2033). This could spark serious consequences for the survival of Uganda’s entire population, its economy and the entire ecological system as forests play a central role in creating a balance in temperature, rainfall, and wind movement.
NFA estimates that Annually, over 200,000 hectares of trees are destroyed in Uganda.
A number of politicians including President Yoweri Museveni and Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga have come out to create awareness about the dangers of deforestation.
But the skyrocketing rate of deforestation is enough proof that the efforts of our leaders are yielding no results as trees continue to be downed endlessly.
The low rate of electricity penetration currently standing at just 20% of the population, coupled with the high cost of paying for modern cooking energy sources remains the major cause of the rapid forest degradation.
Speaking during a stakeholders’ meeting on tree planting at Kakanyero hotel in Gulu last week, Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the Chairman LCV Gulu District Local Government warned against allowing more tree cutting by tagging tree planting to financial benefits alone.
While embracing the international tree planting initiatives, Mapenduzi warned that such instruments have a specific time frame and can expire anytime.
He urged the government to allow the community to embrace tree planting as part of their lives.
Mapenduzi adds that the culture of environmental conservation that is being promoted internationally should be instilled in school children and every Ugandan must plant a tree.
“We are not going to say no to charcoal burning looking at Uganda today. However, we need to we need to deliberately support farmers and nursery bed operators to introduce fast growing trees for charcoal burning,” said Mapenduzi.
Mapenduzi’s comments point to the reality that deforestation may not be easy to fight without a multi-faced approach that involves cheaper more environmental-friendly alternatives.
About two years ago, Mapenduzi got into the limelight when he was filmed canning charcoal burners in Gulu. He accused them of depleting forests in Luwero and invading those in Acholi land.
Gaster Kiyingi, the team leader at Tree Talk Plus Uganda, the organization implementing the REDD+( Reducing Emissions from Deforestation, Degradation and Forest Emission) Uganda program, argues that in order to address the problem, Ugandans have to be sensitized on the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation as well as their implications.
“Different regions have different drivers. In the North here, wild fires destroys even the young forest cover during the dry season. In Nakasongola, cows graze to Zero. There are those who supply timber to Kampala.
In other parts of the country, demand for timber and use of backward technology is depleting forests. Very soon they will be soon you will be going to Rwanda or probably Congo to bring those forest products here in Uganda,” explains Kiyingi.
Loss of vital heritage
Paul Onen, a retired forest officer says Uganda is losing more than just trees. He pointed at the way unique trees with medicinal purposes are getting cut for export. He cited the trade in Afzelia Africana known locally as ‘Beyo’ as an endangered species now because people are cutting it and exporting it to China.
“The rate at which they are cutting Beyo and transporting to Kampala in containers is alarming. We are losing more than 16 trees daily, yet these trees don’t grow anyhow. And nobody has a nursery bed for it. They are exporting it as round logs to China. After reaching Kampala, they sell at about 30million per container but what our people are getting from it is peanuts,” Onen lamented.
Indeed, The Sunrise has learned that Prunus Africana (known in Buganda as Ntaseesa or Ngwabuzito) which has anti-cancer properties, is now an endangered species.
Valence Arinaitwe, a Senior Forest Officer in the Ministry of Water and Environment traced the importance of forests to our survival by saying trees help human beings connect with the atmosphere the underground by trapping sunlight and energy as well as essential minerals from the ground.
He added: “Therefore trees must be protected to also preserve life. He adds that it is impossible for human life to exist without trees because carbon dioxide would fill up the world and suffocate all living things,”
“Trees are the tallest of all living things. Whatever we do, we communicate to the atmosphere through trees. We link with the natural system through them and once they are destroyed. We cannot live. That means we are destroying our own existence,” Arinaitwe explains.