Various tourism and conservation activists have started a campaign intended to save Bugoma Forest whose clearance court gave a green light to pave way for growing of sugar canes.
Masindi High Court judge Wilson Masalu Musene in April dismissed with costs a case that National Forestry Authority had filed against the Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, Solomon Iguru Gafabusa, for alleged encroachment and degradation of the forest reserve.
Addressing journalists on Thursday in Kampala, Richard Kawere, the Uganda Tourism Association CEO said in the past few years, Bugoma forest has faced a number of threats impacting negatively on its survival but noted they cannot just sit and watch events unfold.
“The development of sugar cane plantations coupled with the opening of Hoima Sugar Works in 2016, located next to the natural forest had done more harm than good to the forest because the crop(sugarcanes) does not match at all with the nature of the forest habitat,” Kawere said.
The activists said the issuing of land title inside and outside the protected forest reserve has led to encroachments on the forest and this they said is done with support from the Bunyoro- Kitara Kingdom officials and political leaders from Hoima district.
“Particularly, a businessman called Zaid Mustapha on 20th September 2018 was issued a land title over an area of approximately 925 hectares of natural forest (2 km per 6 km) in the name of MZ Agencies. On 14th October 2018 a grader was impounded after having tried to start clearing the said forest.
They noted that later, Stephen Buryahika, the LC3 chairperson for Kabwoya Sub County where the forest is located was also given a land title for 51.45 hectares, also in a contested forested area.
According to activists, a number of meetings have been going with a sole aim of clearing the forest to pave way for sugarcane growing.
In his ruling, controversial justice Musene of the High Court in Hoima allowed the destruction of 22 square miles of part of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve to pave way for sugarcane growing, saying the land does not belong to the National Forestry Authority (NFA).
What is at stake?
However, according to activists, the conservation of Bugoma Forest in is paramount for the livelihood of the local farmers’ communities, who they say are in support of the conservation because of the benefits from the forest.
“Destruction and change in the use of the habitat will affect the climate, the water sources, the whole economy of the area, while in particular sugar cane will worsen the remaining existence of natural habitat and its wildlife with more conflicts between humans and wildlife, as well as impoverishing the soil and impoverishing the local communities,” said Association of Uganda Tour Operators Vice Chairperson, Benedict Ntale, who is also the Managing Director for Ape Treks.
“The current development and investments in eco-tourism activities and tourist accommodation through Bugoma Jungle Lodge and the new lodge in Mwera in Bugoma Forest will automatically be compromised by the destruction of the habitat.”
The conservation and tourism activists say the rare chimpanzees and the Ugandan mangabeys that are tourist attractions and occupy Bugoma Forest will be left homeless, a thing they say will impact negatively on the country’s tourism industry.
“ The conservation efforts by many organizations in and around Bugoma Forest, having various projects in tree – planting, farmers’ support, socio – economic supports to vulnerable communities including refugees in the area will be frustrated by the destruction of the forest.”
The group recommended for an appeal against the ruling by Masindi High Court that gave away the forest for sugarcane growing in a bid to save it.
“Sugarcane growing should not take place at the expense of natural resources. There is enough land elsewhere to accommodate sugarcane growing than destroying a forest which is a tourist attraction,”Ntale warned.
“Bugoma forest and local communities need development, which can be there when there is certainty of land use and ownership by the government of Uganda. The local communities and their leaders should be part of the process of development and not victims of the intimidations by the sugar cane lobby and their connections.”
The campaign to save Bugoma Forest is spearheaded by a number of organizations including Uganda Tourism Association, Association of Uganda Tour Operators, Association of Uganda Tour Guides, Association of Uganda Travel Agents, Uganda Jungle Lodges Ltd, Rosaline Place LTD, Destination Jungle Ltd, NGO Uganda Coalition, Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest, Association of Scouts of Uganda, Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Joint Energy and Environment Projects (JEEP), Tree Talk Plus, Care International, ACODE, Youth Leading Environment Change (YLEC), Bugoma Chimpanzee Project, Eco-trust and NAPE.
About Bugoma forest
With 411 sq km or 41.144 hectares of protected area, Bugoma Central Forest Reserve is the largest remaining block of natural tropical forest along the Albertine Rift Valley between Budongo and Semliki. The forest is home to about 500 chimpanzees (10% of the Ugandan chimp population), making the forest a chimpanzee sanctuary.
It also hosts a population of Ugandan mangabeys, endemic to only this forest which are therefore a unique treasure whereas the forest has over 221 bird species and is therefore a tourist attraction.
It was gazetted in the 1930s and came under the mandate of the National Forestry Authority in 2003.
In Uganda, there are only four forests that have a viable population for Chimpanzees and Bugoma is one of them.