If the rate at which Uganda’s vegetation is being cleared is not checked, Uganda could become a desert in our lifetime, witness increasing thick dust clouds during dry seasons, disappearing perennial rivers, warming local climates, irregular rainfall, shrinking water bodies and dropping water tables.
Visitors to Uganda at the start of the twentieth century were amazed by the extent of forests, woodlands and wetlands. Apart from contributing to Uganda’s scenic beauty, Uganda’s vegetation has many advantages. It provides wild fruits and vegetables, contributes to rainfall through evaporation and condensation, provides materials for manufacturing industries, fuel wood and charcoal, building materials and wood exports, checks wind and rain erosion of the soil, moderates local climates and permits rainwater to sink into the ground and raise
water tables etc.
During colonial administration, commendable steps were taken to conserve vegetation through forest reserves, wetlands and restriction of economic activities in watershed areas and steep slopes. In hilly areas where agriculture took place, terracing or contour farming was
Trouble started in the 1970s when Amin’s administration declared an ‘economic war’. Uganda land and vegetation would be used to increase economic growth and improve living standards of Ugandans. Trees were felled, woodlands cleared and wetlands drained en masse. This model of development had many unintended consequences. For example, extensive clearance of wetland affected local climates. The warmer climate attracted mosquitoes which spread malaria to a population that had no immunity with devastating consequences especially among children. De- vegetation exposed soils to wind and rain erosion and floods have become frequent. The rainfall pattern has changed and contributed to lower agricultural productivity.
The National Resistance Movement (NRM) government promised to reverse de-vegetation. This promise is contained in point 15 of its expanded ten-point program. The ministry of environmental protection was created, environmental laws were promulgated and a national environmental management authority (NEMA) was established. Uganda’s economic growth would be sustainable.
The adoption of structural adjustment in 1987 called among other things for increased export production and diversification which resulted in clearing more vegetation, witness clearance of trees and other vegetation to grow cut flowers in areas around Kampala City. The government even allocated a portion of Mabira forest for sugarcane production. The announcement provoked bloody and destructive demonstrations in which some people lost their lives and others were injured. The government dropped the idea of converting part of Mabira forest into a sugarcane plantation.
A few days ago, it was reported that the government still plans to allocate part of Mabira forest for sugarcane production. Many Ugandans at home and abroad and environmentalists have once again opposed the suggestion and will do what it takes to prevent expansion of sugarcane production into the Mabira forest or deforested portions of it which should be reforested instead.
Increasing sugarcane production or any other agricultural activity should use intensive methods of increasing productivity per unit of land rather than clearing vegetation on a large scale. Apart from being a major water catchment area, Mabira forest is a national
treasure that should be preserved for present and future generations. United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) calls on all Ugandans and the people of Eastern and Central Africa that will be adversely affected by the destruction of Mabira forest and the entire international community including development partners such as the World Bank to urge Uganda government to drop the idea of destroying Mabira forest for sugarcane production or other economic activities that lead to Mabira deforestation.