By PATRICK JARAMOGI
KAMPALA-SHIFTMEDIA– Every time you travel upcountry and purchase a bag of charcoal for your family, relatives, friends and neighbours, yet you have not planted a single tree your entire life, think twice.
Uganda’s population is currently over 40 million but statistics indicate that by 2031 (10 years) we shall have hit 75 million.
This trend is worrying given the statistics on how depleted the country’s’ forest cover has depreciated from 24% in 1990 to 9% currently.
The discussion regarding how worrying the situation is and what needs to be done is what dominated this year’s World Wildlife Day celebrations whose Global theme was “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”.
“The scientific celebrations were held at Sheraton Kampala Hotel on Wednesday March 3rd after it was shifted from Eastern Uganda due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Present at the E conference that was streamed live on local Televisions and social media were the US ambassador to Uganda H.E Natalie E. Brown, the Germany ambassador Matthias Schauer who read the days remarks on behalf of the European Union.
“The value of protecting forest like Bugoma is far higher than the investments. The degradation of forests hurts human environment and nature in forests. We will continue our dialogue at all centers to conserve the forests. The EU is committed to step up support to restore recovery of the depleted forest cover,” said the German Envoy.
Adding: “It is not important to continue walking, but perhaps it is now time to start running regarding the restoration of Uganda’s forest cover.”
Others present were the Italian and Belgium envoys to Uganda.
The UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Elsie Attafuah said; “The World Wildlife Day affords us the opportunity to celebrate the fantastic diversity of life on earth but also reminds us of our noble duty to conserve and sustainably use forests and wildlife in line with the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.
She listed the goals as 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero hunger) 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns), 13 (Climate Action) and 15 (Life on Land).
Attafuah said the focus is not simply about forests providing habitats for wildlife, but it is about development that harnesses the full potential of economies that are nature based. “It is about food security, energy security, water security and human security, among others,” she said.
She said that forests contribute immensely to economic growth, employment, wealth creation, export revenues which are a livelihood source for many communities.
She said The decline in forest cover is threatening food and water security, worsening inequality, and imperilling the well-being and livelihoods of millions of people.” For instance, science has shown that the frequency of landslides in Bududa district is driven by the destruction of the Mount Elgon forest cover,” she said. Adding: “I ask that we continue to work together for a Uganda where people, wildlife and forests coexist in harmony. Let’s build forward not only better but greener.”
The Hon Rtd Col Tom Butime, the Minister for Tourism Wildlife and Antquities who was chief guest reiterated governments efforts to restore and preserve forests.
“If you destroy a forest and plant sugar cane where will those animals previously in the forest go. I can assure you that we shall push on and revive this industry,” he said.
Butime said communities around directly get 20% of the revenue from forest parks.
The state Minister for Tourism Godfrey Kiwanda Suubi tasked the National Forest Authority (NFA) to sensitise the population on the importance of growing indigenous trees.
The President Uganda Tourism Association Pearl Hoareau Kizito said the reduction of the forest cover from 24 percent to now 9% due to human activities such as agriculture and settlement is worrying.
She said the tourism sector has been having a campaign to protect Bugoma forest that was given away to an investor (Hoima Sugar) to grow sugar cane. “Such acts must not be allowed under our watch, our children’s watch, and the children of our childrens’ watch,” she said.
At the event, conservationist of the environment and biodiversity were honored. Those who received awards included: AWF- for supporting Canine Units, Achilles Byaruhanga won the individual award for his conservation efforts while Capt. Joseph Charles Roy was recognized for shipping in the Rhino Spieces and donating the land where the Rhino Sanctuary is located.
Wildlife Conservation Media Award went to Vision Group Journalist Gerald Tenywa, while Uganda Lodges and Great Lakes Safaris Chief Executive Amos Wekesa scooped the Sustainable Eco Tourism Award.
Her Worship Justice Gladys Kamasanyu won an award for her role in countering poaching. The Head of the Wildlife Court in Africa has helped increase rate of conviction due to poaching by over 80%.
Panelists discuss solutions to depleting forest cover
This year’s Key Note Speaker was Prof. Robert Bitariho who gave a snapshot of the depleted forest cover in Uganda.
He said unless these issues are handled immediately, the situation will get worse by 2031 when the population shoots up to 75 million.
“2.5 million hectares planned for recovery is not a simple challenge given the fact that 75 million people by 2030s will lead to a huge impact on the forest,” he said.
He said the Total Economic Value of Uganda’s forest contribute to 5% of GDP (593b).
Tom Okello the Executive Director National Forestry Authority acknowledged that there is a lot of illegal timber falling in gazetted forest areas. He however said the depletion of the forest cover was registered in privately owned forest areas.
Okello, a forester by profession said though NFA insists on planting of long maturing trees like Mahogany, many Ugandans prefer to take the short and quick maturing trees like Eucalyptus.
The Executive Director Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) Sam Mwandah noted that they have had an increase in forest cover in government protected areas but had massive degradation in private cover.
He observed that “without forests our survival is in jeopardy”.
“I agree with Dr. Bitariho regarding the need to work with communities to help in conservation,” he said.